Plans to establish extra-territorial holding and assessment transit zones for the hundreds of thousands of migrants coming to Germany have been rubbished by a leading Catholic bishop who compared them to concentration camps.
Liberal churchman Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, bishop of Essen and military bishop to the German army, threw his weight behind Germany’s left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) this morning with his comments.
Calling on Europe not to build another Berlin wall, the bishop said people who wanted to save their own lives by fleeing conflict would be imprisoned by Germany in conditions he said would by necessity resemble “concentration camps”, reports Focus.de. The accusation is a particularly harsh one in Germany, which is still wrestling with collective national guilt from the Second World War and Nazism.
The bishop has not been afraid to be outspoken on controversial topics in the past, having agitated publicly for the Catholic church to promote homosexuality. He is also a co-signatory of a declaration calling for more mosques in Germany, which condemned right-wing Germans who wanted to ban the construction of minarets.
The German government, which has been discussing the possibility of instituting so-called transit zones for some weeks, appeared to have come to an agreement after emergency talks over the weekend, but there is still significant opposition. While the Christian Social Union, which is active in border state Bavaria where the majority of migrants enter Germany has convinced senior coalition partner the Christian Democratic Union of the merits of the scheme, the Social Democrats strongly oppose it.
SPD leader and federal vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has called the plan to establish between 15 and 20 zones just outside German borders “freakish” and has even questioned whether they would be legal under the German constitution.
Although the German government has made no solid plans public, the transit zones would exist legally in the same way as the international zone at an airport. Most likely to be constructed within Austria close to the German border, the German government hopes migrants would go to these camps to have their asylum claims assessed quickly — within just a couple of days — before being either admitted to Germany, or sent home.
Because the zones would need to prevent would-be migrants from taking the decision into their own hands and just walking to Germany, there would have to be measures to prevent them leaving the camp without authorisation — as migrants already do in enormous numbers in asylum facilities inside Germany. Despite that, senior CSU figures insist the zones would not be prisons in the true sense of the word, as inmates would be free to return to their homelands at any time they please.
Whether they would recall periods from Germany’s history many in the nation would rather forget, Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted establishing the zones is a preferable alternative to closing the border with Austria. The chancellor believes, as she explained in a speech to 2,000 party members on Monday evening, that doing so could trigger armed conflict in the Balkans.
Were Germany to completely close the border then the flow of migrants, which can total 10,000 a day or more, would begin to back-up south through Slovenia, Croatia, and beyond. While these nations are presently tolerating the through-flow of refugees heading to Germany, and in some cases even helping them on their way, they would be a lot less cooperative should migrants start to settle. “We’re experiencing something we’ve never experienced before, that conflicts that appear to be far away, suddenly are here on our doorstep”, said Mrs. Merkel, reports EUObserver.
Follow Oliver Lane on Twitter: Follow @Oliver_Lane or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org