Germany popular because of social welfare benefits

If one looks at a map, Germany seems an unlikely destination for refugee boat arrivals - it's a long way from the Mediterranean .

But they head in growing numbers to Europe's biggest economy, lured by its social welfare benefits. Their entry point is the state of Bavaria in the south, which shares borders with Austria on its eastern flank.

About 104,000 asylum-seekers entered Germany last month, the Interior Ministry said. Of these, 36,422 formally applied for refugee status - 106 per cent higher than in the same month last year.

Germany sends them to 16 federal states, based on a quota that takes into account tax revenues and population. The states then allocate them to towns and cities based on similar criteria.

Those who arrived in Bavaria's capital, Munich, earlier this month were absorbed mostly by North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's biggest state in terms of population.

The state had no choice. The refugee quota system requires it to absorb 21.24 per cent of those applying for refugee status. Bavaria comes next with a 15.33 per cent quota.

When Hesse state's first transit point in Giessen breached the 6,000-bed capacity at its refugee camp this month, Frankfurt and other cities had to absorb the overflow. There are now about 15,500 refugees in Giessen and its outlying ad-hoc transit camps.

It would normally take four to eight weeks to process refugees before a decision on official status is made at the national level. Since the exodus to Germany last year, the average was about seven months - it is now 5.3 months. The refugees await their fate in sports stadiums, school gymnasiums, abandoned buildings and even containers converted into flats. Those rejected normally appeal to the courts, which can take up to two years.

An official refugee is given about €400 (S$632) a month, a nationwide social welfare benchmark, and a housing allowance until he or she finds a job. If a refugee's income then falls short of the benchmark, extra social aid can pay for health insurance or top up for housing. 

The Munich-based Ifo research institute estimates annual costs of at least €10 billion, based on the interior ministry's forecast of at least 800,000 asylum-seekers this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Germany popular because of social welfare benefits'. Print Edition | Subscribe