German Chancellor Angela Merkel had her back against the wall on Wednesday as she tried to defend her migration policy to the far right, which accuse her of being too soft, and to the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is angry at Merkel’s increasingly hardline turn.
“There must be legal possibilities for study and work,” Merkel said, adding, “We need a law on immigration for skilled workers so we can create a win-win situation. Otherwise we won’t be able to combat the people traffickers.”
She got some applause from lawmakers in her coalition, but was booed by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. (SPD forms part of the coalition that keeps Merkel in power.)
Despite AfD’s displeasure, Germany’s kowtowing to Europe’s rising far-right is alarming to human rights advocates, who continue to call for more protections for vulnerable asylum seekers:
Closing ports & leaving people at sea unnecessarily is cruel & inhumane. #European countries can't look away while people in desperate need are looking for a safe place to disembark. Take action & write a message to #European leaders now. 📧📢🕯 https://t.co/TMsd5GkLEp
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) July 4, 2018
An agreement on Monday also included a path for Germany officials to start returning migrants who are registered in other European countries but have come to Germany, with processing centers being build near the border with Austria for that purpose.
Many migrants cross Mediterranean and Aegean seas to arrive in Italy and Greece, hoping to make it to other E.U. countries with stronger economies and better social services.
They are compelled by law, however, to remain in the country where they first arrive, though many try to move anyway.
One potential model for these centers? Hungary. There, a “no-man’s land” transit zone, reports Deutsche Welle, is a “closed-off container village” where asylum seekers can be deported within hours.
Meanwhile migrants fleeing war, hunger and other crises continue to flee. As Merkel did her best to maintain her political power, another 125 people were rescued off the coast of Libya when the boat they were on sank. But not everyone survived: So far, six bodies have recovered. On Sunday, over 60 people were presumed dead after their vessel sank in the same waters.
The anti-immigration AfD has been increasing pressure on Merkel, who in 2015 deployed a very liberal migration policy, allowing nearly 1 million refugees. Almost immediately, she began facing backlash from the populists and by 2017, had to start backtracking on her promises to ensure her political survival.
Things came to a head in January when Merkel was in danger of losing her coalition. She was facing a dangerous snap election until Monday, when an agreement on how to deal with the issue of migration served to stabilize the coalition.
This followed the European Commission agreement reached on Friday that calls for faster deportation of asylum seekers whose refugee requests have been denied, the further tightening of borders and requires more European Union states to voluntarily open refugee processing centers.
Merkel hoped that her 2015 policy would serve to apply pressure to other European Union countries to accept more refugees, as many had responded to the mass movement of people (mostly Syrians, fleeing the horrors of war and the self-proclaimed Islamic State) by shutting their borders.
In fact, what happened was the opposite, with several countries, such as those in Hungary, Italy, and Austria only employing ever harsher anti-immigration policies, and in the case of Italy and Austrian, electing far far-right leadership.