Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, postponed a vote on introducing a new law regarding safe countries of origin for refugees. The divisive vote on migrants coming to Germany from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria was originally tabled to be held on Friday.
The proposed law would affect the outlook of thousands of migrants arriving from the three countries and will now be adjourned for three weeks - to be held on July 8, just before the Bundesrat enters its summer break.
Opposition to the proposed law, which has already passed the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, has come from members of the Green Party. As a member of governing coalitions in 10 of Germany's 16 states, the Greens have more power in the Bundesrat, where states are represented, than the Bundestag, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel's so-called "grand coalition" has a solid majority.
The Greens' main concern is that migrants returned to the North African countries could face persecution and human rights abuses after being deported from Germany. There is particular concern for the fate of homosexuals. If enacted, the proposed law would make it much easier to deport migrants from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
But in order to pass, the draft law would need support from at least three states with Green Party coalition government - in addition to the five states that have already shown a willingness to vote in favor of the bill. Only one state with a Green Party coalition, Baden-Württemberg, has shown rapprochement in the matter so far.
Merkel: the public expects a response
The government is hoping to find a compromise by making concessions to groups that face persecution. The plight of homosexuals in North African countries has been particularly highlighted, as was the fate of journalists facing incarceration and torture for criticizing their governments. Options to reach an agreement include setting a time limit for the bill such as the next three years, at which point parliament would have to reconvene and reassess the situation.
Merkel said supporting the law would benefit both Germany and the trio of countries involved. She stressed that when Germany decided to categorize the Balkan countries as safe countries of origin in 2014 and 2015, numbers of illegal migrants from there had significantly dropped.
Merkel also said the proposed law would not mean that applicants would continue to be assessed on their individual circumstances and not see their asylum applications collectively rejected. However, she also highlighted that the public expected a decisive policy on the subject of North African countries since the violent events of New Year's Eve 2015 in Cologne, when a number of women fell victim to rape and scores of people were mugged by a group of immigrants from North Africa.
Merkel added that regardless of the outcome of the vote, asylum-seekers from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria rarely saw their applications accepted.
The vote is also considered to be a litmus test for the Green Party, which has been enjoying growing popularity on state level but is yet to show whether it could be a serious contender in next year's general elections.
ss/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, epd)