Registrations of refugee arrivals in Germany slowed by a third in February compared to January, according to interior ministry data. Despite extra staff, a pile of nearly 400,000 asylum bids remains unprocessed.
A visibly relieved German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizìere, whose staff has faced calls to speed up vetting, delivered mixed results on Tuesday, saying 100,000 decisions - for and against asylum - were made during January and February.
"That is more than in the first five months of the year 2015 combined," de Maizìere said, attributing the "impressive" gain in the rate of decision-making to increased staffing, overtime and workflow improvements.
His office, though, revealed that the ministry's Federal Agency for Migrants and Refugees (BAMF), based in Nuremburg, still had 393,155 applications pending.
The stated goal of BAMF head Frank-Jürgen Weise is that his agency should decide on 1.2 million asylum applications in 2016, and shorten scrutiny, which last year took an average of 5.2 months.
The slowdown in new arrivals and increased processing of formal asylum bids in Germany follows Austria's decision in February to cap migrant entries and the Balkan's closed-border chain reaction that has left refugees stuck in Greece and the EU's 28 nations bitterly divided.
The releases of data also precede three German regional elections next Sunday for state assemblies in Magdeburg, Stuttgart and Mainz, where for months refugee arrivals have been the focus of debate.
Slowdown in new arrivals
De Maizìere's ministry said new arrivals had slowed since New Year's. Compared to January when 91,671 were registered, February's count was 61,428, it said.
Nearly half of those arrivals registered, or 24,612, were persons identified as Syrians, followed by Iraqis and Afghans.
December's count of arrivals had been 127,320. In November, 206,101 persons were registered, the ministry said.
It acknowledged that its figures probably contained inaccuracies, due to double or multiple registrations within Germany's migrant arrival database known as EASY.
BAMF said new applications for asylum - formally submitted by migrants weeks or even months after their arrivals - amounted to 120,642 across January and February.
Two-thirds recognized as refugees
Of the 51,528 decisions on asylum reached in February, 33,516 persons were recognized as civil-war refugees under the UN's 1951 Convention on Refugees.
Only 271 were recognized as third country nationals or stateless persons needing international protection, otherwise known as "subsidiary status," BAMF said.
Compared to January and February of last year, the rate of decision-making early in 2016 represented a jump of 132 percent, it said.
Austria's Mitterlehner to visit Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who since September has propagated a multipronged, open-border approach, is to be visited on Wednesday in Berlin by Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austrian vice-chancellor.
Mitterlehner, who is also Austria's economy minister and leads the conservative Austrian People's Party, last week defended Vienna's restrictive approach, saying it was aimed at promoting dialog within the EU and reducing emotionalism.
ipj/jil (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)