Germany adds Georgia and Moldova to list of safe countries of origin

A ceremony marking the Moldovan State Flag Day in Chisinau

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's coalition government on Wednesday listed Georgia and Moldova as safe countries of origin in a bid to cut asylum applications from those nations, which are almost always rejected.

The cabinet passed a draft law by Interior Minister Nancy Faeser as part of a series of measures agreed at a two-day cabinet retreat at Schloss Meseberg, a castle outside Berlin.

The move means asylum applications from those countries could be processed more quickly and lead to faster deportations for failed applicants.

According to ministry data, 99.9% of applications from both countries were rejected in 2022 and the first half of 2023. Together they make up more than a tenth of all rejected applications. Some 8,865 Georgians and 5,218 people from Moldova applied for asylum in Germany last year.

The ministry defines safe countries of origin as those where there is generally no fear of state prosecution and where the state protected its citizens.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government this year has sought to make it easier for skilled migrants to obtain German citizenship in a bid to ease chronic labour shortages.

But migration remains a politically charged issue and has fuelled the rise of the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is polling above most mainstream parties and is on course to make gains in upcoming state elections.

The refugee rights group Pro Asyl criticised the government's move on Georgia and Moldova, saying it ignored the fact that Russia occupies breakaway regions in both countries, threatening security.

Pro Asyl also highlighted what it cast as setbacks to the rule of law in Georgia and LGBTIQ+ rights, and the issue of press freedom in Moldova.

Georgia has passed laws against discrimination and hate crimes, but LGBT+ rights groups say there is a lack of adequate protection by law enforcement officials and homophobia remains widespread in the socially conservative South Caucasus nation.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mike Harrison)