The German government assured Friday there had been no changes to its refugee policy for Syrians, after the interior minister said they would be given a lesser status that excluded family reunifications.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said “a change” to the decision-making processes of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees had “not yet taken place”.
Germany has to date maintained an open-door policy for Syrians escaping their country’s bloodshed, giving them “primary protection” — the highest status for refugees.
Among other benefits, it includes a three-year residence permit and family reunification.
Germany “is sticking to the practice currently in place”, Seibert said on Twitter.
Seibert’s statement came after Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told German radio that Syrians would be given shorter residence permits and denied the right to be reunited with their families.
“What we will do in future with the Syrians… is we will say to them: you will be given protection, but only what we call ‘subsidiary protection’, meaning it is for a limited time, and without family reunification,” De Maiziere told Deutschlandradio earlier Friday, without specifying when the change in policy would be enforced.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) had been first to report that Europe’s top economy, which is expecting around one million asylum seekers this year, was considering a change in refugee policy.
“The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has been ordered to only grant secondary protection for refugees from Syria’s civil war,” the FAZ quoted an interior ministry document as saying.
Following infighting in her left-right “grand coalition” government on the migrant crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with party leaders Thursday at which they agreed on a raft of measures to bring more order to the record influx.
Among the steps announced at a joint press conference were plans to speed up repatriations of rejected asylum seekers from new central hubs.
Merkel and her partners did not speak publicly about any change in policy for Syrians.
The FAZ cited official figures showing that Germany had received 55,600 asylum applications from Syrian citizens in August. More than 38,600 were accepted, with only 53 receiving subsidiary protection.