German SPD, conservatives argue over repatriation of Syrian refugees

BERLIN (Reuters) - Members of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives argued on Wednesday about repatriating Syrian refugees accused of crimes, a potential foretaste of coalition negotiations on immigration.

Migration will be a key issue in coalition talks after an influx of more than a million migrants since mid-2015 hurt both the two major German parties in the September election and helped the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The SPD criticized a proposal by conservative politicians to deport Syrian refugees who commit crimes, accusing the conservative party of moving to the right, RND newspaper group reported on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the AfD called for the repatriation of all the half a million Syrian refugees living in Germany, saying the war there was nearly over.

The conservative interior minister of Saxony state, Markus Ulbig, proposed deporting Syrian refugees who commit offences after evaluating the security situation in their home country, RND reported earlier.

Ulbig’s proposal, was supported by other regional interior ministers who will meet next week to discuss whether the situation in Syria merits a new status in order to consider sending Syrians back, starting from the end of June 2018.

“We have always said: we want to respond to the developments in Syria,” said the spokesman of the head of Christian Democrats in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. “Now we have to ensure in the medium term that people return to their homeland.”

The SPD said a halt to deportations for Syrian asylum seekers should be extended at least until the end of 2018.

“Now thinking about sending people to this country as quickly as possible - as the conservatives proposed- is cynical and inhuman,” said Eva Hoegl, a senior SPD politician.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, which is led by SPD politician Sigmar Gabriel, noted that the conflict was still ongoing, suggesting that it was premature to talk about a new security assessment for the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 11 million driven from their homes in Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year. The situation on the ground has changed in the last two years since Russia joined the war on the side of the government, helping it recapture most rebel-held territory.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Peter Graff