Germany’s Bundestag votes to expand refugee family reunifications

German lawmakers have agreed to lift the suspension of family reunifications for migrants with so-called “subsidiary” status. The reunifications bill is a breakthrough in Angela Merkel’s bid to forge a new government.

The German lower house voted on Thursday to partially reintroduce a law allowing lower-level-migrants to bring their closest relatives with them to Germany.

From August 1, a maximum of 1,000 additional migrants will be allowed to settle in Germany per month, provided they are direct relatives of refugees already living in the country.

The new law, tabled by Angela Merkel’s conservative Union and the Social Democrats (SPD), passed by 376 to 248 votes.

In March 2016, Germany imposed a two-year suspension on family reunifications for migrants with so-called “subsidiary” status, a lower level of protection that falls short of full asylum. The suspension, set to expire in March, will instead extended by just over four months, before being lifted in August.

The new migration law forms crucial part of the Union and SPD’s grand coalition policy blueprint.

Although the decision to impose a monthly cap prompted scrutiny from both the Bundestag’s left- and right-wing parties, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere defended the decision. “Our compromise stands for humanity and responsibility, for integration and limitations, for generosity and realism,” he said.

“Some idealists think we are too strict,” de Maiziere added, before insisting that exceptional cases for reunification would not fall under the monthly quota.

Restrictions on families have a particular bearing on many Syrian refugees in Germany, who were only granted subsidiary protection because they were fleeing a civil war and couldn’t prove they had personally persecuted. In theory, migrants from Syria with subsidiary status will be required to return home once the civil war is officially over and the German government rules it is safe to go back.

Ahead of the vote, some 100 affected migrants gathered outside of the Bundestag to protest against perceived shortcomings of the bill.

Despite passing in the Bundestag, details to the law still need to be fleshed out. For example, it remains unclear how the 1,000 people permitted to come to Germany will be selected.

The bill also gives the government the power to resettle 1,000 migrants per month but by no means compels it to do so.

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