Germany on course to accept one million asylum-seekers this year

Migrants queue on a bridge at the German-Austrian frontier on Nov 1, 2015.
Migrants queue on a bridge at the German-Austrian frontier on Nov 1, 2015.REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - Chancellor Angela Merkel was holding crisis talks with party and state leaders on Thursday as new data showed Germany is on course to accept one million asylum seekers this year.

Europe's top economy registered more than 758,000 asylum seekers from January to October, the interior ministry said, with Syrians making up one third, followed by citizens of war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

In October alone, 181,000 migrants arrived seeking refuge, surpassing the previous monthly record of around 163,000 in September.

 

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere declined to update the official full-year forecast of 800,000, voicing fears that human traffickers could deliberately misinterpret a higher number as "an invitation to come to Germany".

The surge has left local authorities across Germany scrambling to cope as the newcomers have been housed in hostels, mobile homes, army barracks, sports halls and even heated tents.

The head of the UN refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, on Tuesday praised Berlin's welcoming stance and said "it is absolutely essential that all members of the European Union follow the example of Germany".

But the influx has also provoked a backlash, as xenophobic attacks against refugee homes spike and Merkel's long-stellar support ratings drop amid worries about how Germany will cope.

Merkel on Thursday met Horst Seehofer, the head of her CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU, who has strongly criticised her open-door policy.

She was also later scheduled to meet the premiers of Germany's 16 states.

A special focus of the meetings was expected to be whether Germany will set up "transit zones" along the Austrian border to register and hold new arrivals, a plan critics have charged would create "internment camps".

The conservative CSU in Bavaria, which borders Austria, has called for closed transit zones, from where ineligible asylum seekers could be quickly repatriated.

Merkel's other coalition allies, the centre-left Social Democrats, have rejected closed camps and proposed other ways of encouraging newcomers to head to "reception centres" nationwide, such as making registration there a condition for receiving benefits.

Berlin has already taken a firmer line against what it considers economic migrants from nations not at war, leading to a sharp drop in October of arrivals from Balkan states.

Germany has also begun looking at limiting arrivals from Afghanistan, where the German army has been part of Nato efforts to stabilise the country.

The latest figures showed 31,000 Afghan asylum seekers arrived in October, with figures rising recently.

"Now, every day, about 2,000 or more" Afghans come to Germany, de Maiziere said.

"This is something that concerns us and it is something we want to prevent."

De Maiziere said last week that the rise from Afghanistan was "unacceptable" and that Berlin and Kabul had agreed that "young Afghans from middle-class families should stay in their country and rebuild it".