Migrant arrivals in Germany fell sharply in 2016

Migrants arrive at the first registration point for asylum seekers in Erding near Munich, southern Germany, on Nov 15, 2016.
Migrants arrive at the first registration point for asylum seekers in Erding near Munich, southern Germany, on Nov 15, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (REUTERS) - The number of people arriving in Germany wanting to seek asylum fell dramatically last year, figures showed on Wednesday (Jan 11) - good news for Chancellor Angela Merkel as she prepares to seek re-election.

The fall reflected tougher rules at home and border closures by other countries that made it harder for people to travel across Europe to get to Germany.

Some 280,000 migrants seeking refuge entered Germany in 2016, down from 890,000 the previous year, the Interior Ministry said. Yet the number of people who filed asylum applications was about 750,000, 270,000 more than in 2015.

Migrants who arrive in Germany are first registered at reception centres where they have to wait for months before they can file an asylum application, creating a huge backlog and putting strain on civil servants.

Syrians remained the largest group of asylum seekers, accounting for 36 per cent of applicants in 2016. Next came Afghans on 17 per cent and Iraqis on 13 per cent.

The huge influx of migrants in the past two years has eroded Dr Merkel's popularity and fuelled the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

A failed asylum seeker from Tunisia killed 12 people last month by ramming a truck into a Berlin Christmas market, fuelling accusations by Dr Merkel's opponents that mass immigration is making Germany more vulnerable to Islamist attacks.

Integration of migrants is likely to be a major campaign issue in the September federal election, in which Dr Merkel is running for a fourth term.