Row over refugees' status reopens divisions in German government

By Caroline Copley BERLIN (Reuters) - Just two days after resolving a coalition row over how to handle a record influx of refugees, Germany's ruling parties are embroiled in another spat over whether to limit the asylum rights of refugees from Syria. The government was forced to clarify on Friday that its asylum policy for refugees from Syria remained unchanged after the interior minister said they would receive a modified refugee status and be barred from having family members join them. But the comments made by Thomas de Maiziere in a radio interview have reopened a rift between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CSU), its Bavarian sister party (CSU) and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners. On Saturday, Ralf Stegner, deputy chairman of the SPD, accused the CDU of making half-baked proposals instead of implementing the decisions agreed on by the coalition. Restricting family reunions would only mean that more women and children would undertake the dangerous journey from Syria to Europe, he said, adding that the SPD opposed the idea. "It's off the table as far as the SPD is concerned," Stegner told German radio. "This won't wash with the SPD, and the CDU knows this perfectly well." However, lawmakers from the CSU, who govern the state of Bavaria which has borne the brunt of the refugee influx, backed de Maiziere's proposals. "Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are getting shelter here, but it must only be subsidiary protection - this means for a limited period and without having family members join them," Andreas Scheuer, the secretary general of the Christian Social Union (CSU) told Bild am Sonntag. Subsidiary protection means migrants are not granted asylum or refugee status and their rights are limited. The latest row comes after the coalition ended weeks of infighting on Thursday evening on how to speed up the deportation of asylum seekers who have little chance of being allowed to stay. UNDER FIRE It is not the first time de Maiziere, a reserved man who prefers to operate out of the spotlight, has come under attack over his handling of the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of whom are fleeing war in the Middle East. De Maiziere was lambasted by mass-selling daily Bild earlier this week for taking a short break in Majorca while the government struggled to manage the pace and scale of the influx, which is putting communities under strain. Last month Merkel appointed her chief of staff Peter Altmaier to oversee the government's handling of the crisis, a move widely viewed as a rebuff to de Maiziere. Opposition lawmakers kept up the pressure on de Maiziere on Saturday, with Green politician Renate Kuenast calling him a "loose canon". "In this government the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," said Ulla Jelpke from the opposition Left Party. "The interior minister is treating the chancellor and his coalition partner with disrespect." (Editing by Gareth Jones)