The German interior ministry presented its latest migration report on Wednesday, showing a steady increase in immigration. Statistics show that the refugee influx in recent years has halted Germany's population decline.
Germany's Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday what last year's blanket news coverage has suggested - Germany took in a record number of refugees in 2015. Some 476,649 formal asylum applications were filed - 273,815 more than in 2014. Though the actual number of refugees entering the country was considerably higher - nearly 1.1 million total registrations. That figure was significantly higher than the 800,000 that Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière had predicted as late as August, but it was in line with various other estimates the government had made since then in the media. Nor was it much of a surprise to learn that the largest single group of refugees were Syrians, making up 34 percent.
But these figures are merely one part of a larger flux of humanity in and out of the country, as the government's latest migration report - covering the year 2014 - showed on Wednesday. "Migration to Germany increased further in 2014, above and beyond the arrival of refugees," de Maizière said as he presented the report in Berlin.
It turns out that 2014 was a record year for migration to Germany - that year, the country welcomed some 1.46 million new arrivals, the largest number since 1992, when the collapse of the Iron Curtain triggered a wave of population movements across Europe. The report did also show that more than 900,000 left the country that year, leaving what the report called a "migration profit" of around 550,000 people - a number roughly equivalent to the population of a city such as Leipzig or Bremen. The biggest group of migrants, by far, came from neighboring Poland, which made up nearly 200,000 of the new arrivals. (Though some 140,000 Poles also left the country.)
Refugees boost population and work force
Probably not coincidentally, Germany's federal statistics office Destatis also released new figures on Monday, which showed that the new influx of refugees has served to reverse Germany's declining population.
"The total number of persons in employment has now reached the highest level since German reunification," Destatis said in a statement. "Higher labor force participation of the domestic population and the immigration of foreign workers offset negative demographic effects."
Germany's job market, which remained robust throughout the financial crisis, has also remained healthy. The number of unemployed people declined by 140,000 in 2015 - putting the figure below 2 million for the first time since reunification, while the active labor force - defined as the total number of people both in employment and unemployed, increased by 184,000 to 44.9 million in the same period.
Despite this, even the current population-high of 82 million is unlikely to be sustained - Destatis' long-term statistical projections suggest that Germany's population could decline to 73.1 million by 2060, because an ever-increasing birth deficit cannot be compensated even by net immigration levels of 300,000 a year.
Moving refugees 'where we want them'
This is not the first time that Germany has faced a major immigration shift - apart from the influx of people into the country from Eastern Europe, and to the former West from the former East of Germany itself, there was also the matter of some 12 million German refugees who had to be assimilated within the country's massively-contracted borders after 1945.
Earlier this week, the association of German cities and municipalities (DStGB) - a politically independent organization of local administrations - recommended a fairly radical proposal for dealing with the current influx based on lessons from that history: settling refugees in Germany's under-populated areas, and implementing targeted job creation schemes in the area.
"We have to discuss whether there should be a residence duty for recognized asylum seekers, to settle them where we want them," DStGB head Gerd Landsberg said. Though there are many empty blocks of flats in certain towns, particularly in eastern Germany, the integration of the new arrivals will require a lot more infrastructure, not least the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes and thousands of extra teachers. Here again, Landsberg said, some taboos may need to be broken. "You should be allowed to think about how big a school class can be," he said. "It's better we teach at all than not... In this special situation we will not get far with current German administrative and social standards."