German Government Divided Over Refugee Policy

Germany's finance minister has said that the country cannot take in an unlimited number of refugees as divisions deepen in the coalition government over how to handle arrivals from Syria seeking asylum in Germany.

Reuters reported that Wolfgang Schaeuble, who is also a senior member of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said in an interview with German broadcaster ARD: "We need to send a clear message to the world: We are very much prepared to help, we've shown that we are, but our possibilities are also limited."

Schaeuble's comments followed a controversial announcement by the German interior minister, Thomas de Maziere, who said on Friday that the country was toughening up its restrictions on Syrian refugees.

De Maziere said that Syrians would only enjoy "subsidiary protection" and be allowed to stay in Germany for one year, rather than the three years currently permitted. Family reunifications would also be disallowed, De Maziere said. According to Reuters, de Maziere retracted the proposals shortly afterwards.

Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier—who was handed control of the refugee crisis in October after De Maziere was stripped of the responsibility—issued a denial of the proposals on Sunday, The Local Germany reported.

De Maziere's tougher proposals were rejected by the Social Democrats (SPD), the CDU's junior coalition partner, but received support from Schaeuble and also from Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavarian sister party. Seehofer told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the status of Syrian refugees should be individually checked.

Germany expects to receive up to one million refugees by the end of 2015, Reuters reported. However, German tabloid Bild reported in October that the number could rise to 1.5 million, though the German migration office could not confirm that figure.

Merkel has sought to keep Germany open to refugees, saying that closing off borders in Europe could lead to "fault lines" and "military conflicts" arising in the continent. The German chancellor also announced recently that transit zones would be created on Germany's borders, allowing for asylum applications to be processed before refugees are let into the country. Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SPD, criticized the decision and said that the debate about transit zones was "totally phoney" since they would not serve to substantially reduce the number of refugees arriving in Germany.

Germany has led Europe's response to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, but public sentiment also seems to be waning. Sporadic violence against refugees and attacks on refugee shelters have been on the rise. An October poll found that only one in three Germans agreed with Merkel that Germany could handle the number of refugees entering, an 11 percent dip on the previous month.