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Germany records big increase in asylum claims

The number of asylum seekers in Germany has grown rapidly in the past year, the Interior Ministry has announced. The biggest number of those hoping to enter the country came from Serbia, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Germany has seen 41 percent growth in asylum seekers compared with the previous year, with the country's interior minister saying that a large number have applied for economic reasons.

The surge of asylum seekers brings the total number to about 65,000, up nearly 19,000 from 2011.

Despite a large increase, the 2012 numbers are still much lower than in the 1990s, when Germany had more than 100,000 asylum seekers per year.

According to the Interior Ministry, about a third of last year's asylum seekers came from the Balkan states, including Serbia (which had the most, at 8,477), Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

After Serbia, Afghanistan had the most asylum seekers with 7,498 applications, followed by Syria with 6,201 (up 135 percent from last year), and Iraq with 5,532 (down 8 percent).

'Genuinely vulnerable'

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he was surprised at the large numbers of people from Balkan countries wishing to come to Germany. The region is not known as suffering from a re-emergence of political persecution, Friedrich said.

The interior minister stressed that the main reason for the increase in asylum seekers is economic.

No asylum seekers from the Balkans were accepted, according to the Interior Ministry.

"We are determined to take action to ensure that our asylum system is not subject to abuse so that those who are genuinely vulnerable can find protection in Germany," Friedrich said.

The refugee organization Pro Asyl has demanded that the German government increase the number of people it accepts in proportion to the rise in applicants.

"The number isn't dramatic, but rather the situation of the asylum seekers," said Günter Burkhardt, the organization's manager.

After a decline in the number of asylum seekers from 1995 until their resurgence in 2008, Germany has continually reduced the number of people granted entry into the country.

dr/mkg (dpa, AFP, epd)