BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to limit the financial incentives for refugees coming to the country as their numbers soar, a paper showed on Wednesday, underlining the strain the crisis is putting on Europe’s largest economy.
With relatively liberal asylum laws and generous benefits, Germany is the EU’s biggest recipient of people fleeing war in the Middle East and economic migrants from southeastern Europe.
A record 104,460 asylum seekers entered the country in August, and it expects about 800,000 people to file for asylum this year - four times last year’s level.
Leaders of the conservative parliamentary bloc made up of the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, wrote in a 12-point program that dealing with the refugee crisis had become “the biggest domestic and foreign policy task of our time”.
They stressed that while Germany should accept civil war refugees, it needed to avoid attracting migrants who seek to benefit from its welfare system: “We don’t want immigrants coming due to our social security systems.”
Their paper is due to be discussed along with one by junior coalition partner the Social Democrats at a coalition meeting on Sunday.
The conservative leaders said refugees at centers for new arrivals should only get non-cash benefits in future. They slapped down a proposal from some federal states to hand out health cards that would entitle refugees to free treatment.
“Such a card would be very symbolic and create a strong incentive to apply for asylum because it would allow people to get free healthcare in Germany,” they said in the paper.
They rejected calls for asylum seekers to be given a work permit on the first day of their application, saying the time taken to process applications should be drastically reduced instead.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees should get an extra 1,000 employees in 2016 for that purpose, they said.
But in the paper they also emphasized the importance of taking in civil war refugees and people who have been granted asylum.
They said Germany’s national voluntary service - a scheme set up by the government in 2011 to place volunteers in a range of sectors - should be more involved and provide at least an extra 5,000 people to help deal with the crisis, while the government should increase support for the federal states and municipalities.
They called for more consistent deportation of economic refugees and rejected asylum seekers, saying the latter group should be banned from entering Germany for up to five years.
Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer said his state, the first point of entry for many refugees in Germany, needed billions more in aid from the federal government.
Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson