Number of refugees arriving in Germany slowing sharply: Govt

German Family Minister Manuela Schwesig helps children to leave a room through a window during a visit at a refugee shelter in Berlin on June 21, 2016.
German Family Minister Manuela Schwesig helps children to leave a room through a window during a visit at a refugee shelter in Berlin on June 21, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - The number of refugees arriving in Germany is falling sharply as a result of the closure of the Balkans migration route and the EU's deal with Turkey, government figures showed on Friday (July 8).

In April, May and June, the number was around 16,000 each month, less than a fifth of the tally seen at the start of the year, according to data from the government's Easy computer system, which counts the number of arrivals who plan to seek asylum.

In June, the system registered 16,335 people compared with 91,671 in January and 61,428 in February.

"We see that the measures taken on the German and European level are having an effect," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told journalists.

He observed a "tangible easing" of the situation compared with last year when more than a million people arrived in Germany seeking asylum.

Under intense political pressure, Berlin has been at the forefront of European efforts to secure a deal with Ankara under which EU countries can send people entering their territory illegally back to Turkey - if they take in bona-fide refugees in return.

The agreement has been criticised by numerous human rights organisations as running counter to EU and international law.

Balkan countries have also closed borders along the main route through Europe from Greece, where most refugees from the Middle East first set foot on EU territory.

"The refugee crisis has certainly not been resolved. But the solution is progressing well in Europe and very well in Germany," de Maiziere said.

According to the government data, Syrians were the most numerous asylum applicants in the first half of the year, at 171,488.

Afghans, with 60,611 requests, and Iraqis, at 56,540, accounted for second and third place.

Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) - which has come in for harsh criticism over its slow response to the crisis - said it had processed 283,236 asylum applications in the first half of 2016, more than double the number in the same period in 2015.

The figures come just one day after Berlin lawmakers voted through tough new rules on asylum and integration.

While refugees will have access to subsidised integration and language courses, those who fail to take them up will be denied residency permits.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition government has come under increasing pressure from public opinion and a populist challenge from the young Alternative for Germany party to tighten conditions for refugees already in the country and limit the influx of people.