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Fewer arrivals lead to vacant migrant reception centers in Germany

More than half of the places inside Germany's reception centers are vacant, the "Bild" newspaper reports. Sealing the Balkan route has largely cut off the flow of refugees into Western Europe.

The "Bild" daily newspaper reported Monday that reception centers in Germany's 16 states are now less than half full. The occupancy rate stood at roughly 45 percent in centers designed to hold 348,000 people across the country.

This is largely due to

tighter border controls imposed by countries along the Balkan route, including Austria.

The moves have created a backlog of some 50,000 asylum seekers now stranded in Greece.

"It is with great caution that I say the high point of the migrant crisis is behind us," Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the "Tagesspiegel" newspaper in response to falling numbers of arrivals.

Quiet on the Austrian front

Authorities along the border report that inflows have slowed to a trickle in recent weeks. At a shelter in the Bavarian border town of Freilassing, which registered up to 2,000 people a day at peak times last September, barely a handful of migrants arrived last week. The center's dining halls and sleeping quarters were largely vacant.

"(After last summer's peak), we had around 1,200 refugees per day and this went on until the beginning of February, when the Balkan route was closed," said Josef Flatscher, mayor of Freilassing, a town that lies across the border from the Austrian city of Salzburg. "Since then, the numbers dropped drastically, one can say to close to zero. Tonight, only three people arrived."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel came under domestic political pressure to slow the number of arrivals of migrants after 1.1 million people entered Germany last year, fueling fears about integration, security and related costs.

She helped orchestrate

a deal between the EU and Turkey last month

that will allow the EU to begin deporting refugees back to Turkey. Under the protocol - set to go into effect Monday - for every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey, another will be resettled from Turkey in the EU.

But the number of resettlements is capped at 72,000, and Turkey will be paid 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) for its cooperation. Human rights groups and the UN refugee agency have

condemned the deal as unethical and have suggested it violates international law.

Meanwhile, about 40 migrants are expected to arrive in Germany on Monday, an interior ministry spokesman said. German media reported that they will land at Hanover airport, in northern Germany.

Griechenland - Idomeni

The Greek government wants to empty the camps along the Greek-Macedonian border and move the people to organized camps without using force. But many refuse to budge, sometimes believing rumors that the closed borders will reopen

Tens of thousands stranded in Greece

Asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East and beyond, are now stranded in Greece after crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey.

But the mayor of Freilassing told Reuters he's skeptical that Germany and the EU will be able to hold migrants back in the long term.

"It's a matter of putting two and two together if you know the people's conditions everywhere down there, and that they are obviously waiting to get away into a so-called 'Promised Land,' such as Germany," he said.

An estimated 40 percent of last year's refugees entering Germany were Syrians fleeing the country's civil war.

jar/gsw (Reuters, AFP, Bild)

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