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Germany to Replace Cash Payments for Asylum Seekers with Restricted Debit Cards

In a significant policy shift, asylum seekers in Germany are set to receive special debit cards instead of cash payments, according to an announcement by Boris Rhein, the governor of Hesse. The new payment method, expected to be implemented nationwide this year, aims to streamline administrative processes and mitigate the risk of funds being transferred to countries of origin, combating human-trafficking crimes.

Nationwide Rollout with Limited Functionality

Several municipalities, including those in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Thuringia, have already introduced the new payment method. The special debit cards, as outlined by Rhein, will have restricted functionality, prohibiting features such as free cash withdrawal and transfers to recipients both inside and outside of Germany. This move comes as 14 out of 16 German states have agreed on uniform standards for these cards, with Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern pursuing alternative schemes.

Preventing Misuse and Enhancing Administrative Efficiency

Governor Rhein emphasized that the introduction of the payment card aims to reduce the administrative burden on local municipalities. By preventing the possibility of transferring state subsidies to countries of origin, the initiative seeks to curb illicit activities associated with human trafficking.

The pre-paid cards will not be linked to any bank account and will lack the capability for card-to-card transfers within Germany or to recipients abroad. Additionally, the cards will only funtion within Germany, limiting their use in other countries, should asylum seekers travel elsewhere. Local governments will have the flexibility to restrict the card's functionality to a specific region if desired.

Mixed Reactions and Criticisms

While German Finance Minister Christian Lindner lauded the scheme as a "milestone," critics from the left have denounced it as "cheap populism" and "discrimination." The debate surrounding the effectiveness and ethics of such measures underscores the broader challenges associated with immigration policies.

Managing Rising Asylum Applications

Germany faced over 350,000 asylum applications in 2023, marking the highest number since 2016 and a 51% increase from the previous year, as reported by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) in early January. In response to the growing influx, Germany's parliament recently passed legislation facilitating the deportation of failed asylum seekers. The new rules extend the custody period pending deportation, aiming to address situations where failed applicants evade deportation.

Additionally, enhanced police powers to search migrant accommodations and access their cell phones were granted to facilitate the identification of asylum seekers, reflecting Germany's efforts to manage and reform its asylum and immigration policies.

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