Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has agreed to build border camps for asylum seekers in a stunning change of policy. The new policy would establish camps, called “transit centers,” at points along the border to screen newly arriving migrants.
Any migrants determined to have already applied for asylum elsewhere in the European Union would be blocked from entering the country. Applicants rejected by Germany will have to return to their first EU country of arrival, if that country agrees to take them.
Merkel has been one of the most popular politicians at home and abroad, but now nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment is taking root in mainstream German politics. Merkel supports free movement across Europe’s borders and has been opposed to any moves effectively resurrecting border controls.
Merkel has come under intense pressure over her migration policy, which welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants into Germany. She has welcomed more than a million since 2015. Since then the number of new migrants has dropped to a fraction of what it.
The new moves are part of a political deal to save her government. An insurrection led by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, threatened to bring down her coalition. Seehofer announced he would resign as Germany’s interior minister if Berlin did not back stronger border-control measures in the south.
The issue had threatened to break up Merkel’s coalition only four months into her new term. Seehofer is the leader of the Bavarian party Christian Social Union. If Seehofer had resigned it would have put Merkel in a difficult position and raised the possibility of another election.
Seehofer has since dropped his threat to resign, announcing, “We now have a clear agreement on how to prevent illegal immigration across the Austrian-German border in the future.” The deal is subject to the approval of the Social Democrats, the third party in Ms. Merkel’s coalition.