Merkel Pushed to Tighten Border Against Asylum Seekers

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, left, attend a special faction meeting of the Christian Union parties ahead, of a debate at the German parliament Bundestag at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Tuesday, July 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

CASTELBUONO, Italy (CN) – Germany’s ruling coalition has averted a crisis – for now at least – after Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to tighten her country’s southern border against asylum seekers, according to news reports.

Late Monday, Merkel agreed to set up centers where asylum seekers wanting to enter Germany from Austria would be screened.

Until recently, Merkel advocated an open border policy for asylum seekers in Europe but she has changed her position, largely due to growing unease in Europe over the influx of refugees and migrants from impoverished and war-torn African and Asian nations.

In a deal with her ruling partner, Merkel agreed that asylum seekers registered in other European nations should be sent back to the countries where they came from when they show up on the German border.

She struck the deal with Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer. Seehofer heads the Christian Social Union, a sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. A third party in the ruling coalition, the Social Democratic Party, was reviewing the deal Tuesday.

On Sunday, Seehofer threatened to resign unless Germany’s borders were tightened against asylum seekers. Merkel and Seehofer face growing anxiety over immigration in Germany, where a far-right and anti-immigrant party, the Alternative for Germany, is growing.

In response to the deal between Merkel and Seehofer, Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said his country may be forced to enforce stricter border controls with Italy and Slovenia, the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported Tuesday.

Europe is in the grips of tension over asylum seekers this summer.

Last week European leaders held a summit where they agreed to tighten the EU’s borders and make it more difficult for migrants and refugees to move between EU countries. The EU also said it would seek to work with African nations to set up screening centers in Africa to prevent asylum seekers from attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe. Tens of thousands of people have drowned at sea in their search for refuge in Europe.

Across Europe, right-wing parties have gained ground in recent years, often by campaigning on anti-immigrant platforms.

Meanwhile, the number of asylum seekers has dropped sharply since 2015, when Europe saw more than 1 million people seeking refuge in Europe.

As of July 1 this year, 45,808 people arrived by sea into Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration, a UN agency.

By comparison, 100,923 people arrived in Europe by sea last year by July 1 and 230,230 in 2016 for the same period, the agency reported.

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