German Interior Minister Favors Temporarily Banning Families of Syrian Refugees

The move reflects a growing popular opposition to family reunification for asylum seekers, though it is allowed under German law

Syrian refugee children hold banners during a demonstration against delays in reunifications of refugees families from Greece to Germany in Athens on August 2, 2017.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he favors extending a temporary ban on Syrian migrants bringing their families to Germany, a move that reflects growing popular opposition to family reunifications.

De Maiziere, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper that a “huge” number of Syrians were expected to enter Germany unless the ban was extended when it expires in March 2018.

Officials expect every refugee to bring at least one family member to Germany, he said in an article published on Thursday.

Bild newspaper said this week that internal government estimates showed that about 390,000 Syrians who had been recognized as asylum seekers could request visas for family members when the two-year ban on reunifications expires next March.

Merkel, who is expected to win a fourth term in September 24 elections, has said the government will decide the issue after the election. The government has sought to tighten asylum rules after suffering regional election losses over Merkel’s 2015 decision to leave borders open to over a million migrants.

Concern about migration has fueled support in particular for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is expected to win seats in the national parliament for the first time at the election.

A poll conducted by the INSA institute for daily newspaper Bild this week showed that 58.3 percent of Germans opposed family reunifications for recognized asylum seekers, although they are allowed under German law.

The poll showed that 95.8 percent of AfD supporters and 66.8 percent of supporters of the pro-business Free Democrats opposed family reunifications. About 54.3 percent of conservatives were also opposed, compared to 42.7 percent of backers of the Social Democrats, junior partners in the current coalition government.

Richard Hilmer, head of the Berlin-based Policy Matters think tank, said migration remained a key issue for German voters in the 2017 election.

He said German law allowed family reunifications to help ensure good integration of asylum seekers whose applications were accepted.

“Otherwise you wind up with single men who are not integrated into the social fabric, and in the worst cases, even a sort of ghettoisation,” he said.