Germany expects migrant influx this year to be a third of 2015's total

This photo taken on Feb 24 shows migrants following lessons for refugees and asylum seekers on German legislation in a hall of the "Bayernkaserne" reception center in Munich, southern Germany.  Germany expects up to 300,000 asylum seekers to arrive t
This photo taken on Feb 24 shows migrants following lessons for refugees and asylum seekers on German legislation in a hall of the "Bayernkaserne" reception center in Munich, southern Germany. Germany expects up to 300,000 asylum seekers to arrive this year. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN • Germany expects up to 300,000 asylum seekers to arrive this year, less than one-third of the total during 2015's record influx, according to the Federal Office for Migrants and Refugees (BAMF).

BAMF chief Frank-Juergen Weise told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper yesterday, that Germany's healthy economy and improvements to refugee services meant that the country was well placed to absorb new arrivals, particularly as their numbers have dropped off.

"We are preparing for between 250,000 and 300,000 refugees this year," he said.

"We can ensure optimal services for up to 300,000. Should more people arrive, it would put us under pressure, then we would go into so-called crisis mode. But even then, we would not have conditions like last year."

Authorities said nearly 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year, putting enormous strain on its bureaucracy to process claims and testing confidence in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition government.

However, Mr Weise said the BAMF had determined that several people were registered twice, meaning that the official total for 2015, to be announced soon, was likely to be less than one million.

The closure of the so-called Balkan migrant trail and a controversial European Union deal with Turkey to keep migrants from reaching Greece - a main entry point into the bloc - has driven down arrivals this year from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Mr Weise said his agency had made major strides in working through a large backlog in asylum claims but that it would not manage to clear the remaining 530,000 cases by the end of the year.

Integrating those allowed to stay into the labour market would be a "lengthy and costly" process, he said, adding that he was nevertheless upbeat about the long-term prospects.

Public sentiment is nevertheless sharply divided when it comes to Dr Merkel, who has not yet said whether she will stand for a fourth term in a general election expected in September or October next year.

Her open-door immigration policy, which allowed a huge influx of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere into Germany, has been blamed for a series of violent attacks on civilians last month, two of which were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group.

Bild am Sonntag cited a poll by independent opinion research group Emnid showing 50 per cent of respondents opposed another four- year term for Dr Merkel, up from 48 per cent in November last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Germany expects migrant influx this year to be a third of 2015's total'. Print Edition | Subscribe