BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government wants to open the first federal migrant repatriation center this autumn, and will likely use existing facilities such as transit centers in the state of Bavaria, a top interior ministry official said on Thursday.
State Secretary Stephan Mayer, a member of the CSU Bavarian conservatives, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper he was optimistic that his ministry could finalize a paper outlining those plans shortly after the Easter holiday.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a longtime critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the doors to more than a million migrants in 2015, has vowed to increase repatriation rates and crack down on any illegal activity by migrants.
Mayer said establishment of a federal repatriation center was “a top priority” for the new German government, which took office earlier this month after nearly six months of political wrangling and uncertainty following the Sept. 24 election.
He said possible sites included transit centers in Manching or Bamberg, both in Bavaria, or at a migrant entry site in Giessen in the state of Hessen, that could house 13,000 people. There were also 3,000 spots free in former U.S. military sites, Mayer told the newspaper.
Human rights groups and other opponents have sharply criticized plans to open federal centers based on the Bavarian model, arguing that the Bavarian sites tend to isolate residents in difficult conditions.
Mayer said the government should also work to increase the 400 slots now available for rejected asylum seekers who were being detained ahead of deportation, often due to convictions for various crimes. That number is “clearly too low,” he said.
Seehofer and other Bavarian CSU politicians have taken a hardline stance on migration ahead of a regional election on Bavaria in October, keen to woo back the large number of voters who fled the party for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the September national election.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Richard Balmforth