A leading Bavarian politician has suggested Germany can take in no more than 200,000 refugees per year. Political allies, Horst Seehofer's CSU and Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats are at odds over refugee policy.
After months of insisting Germany needs to cap the number of refugees it can accept, the leader of the state of Bavaria and head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) has for the first time put forward a concrete figure.
Horst Seehofer told the German mass circulation newspaper "Bild am Sonntag" that Germany can take in a "maximum of 200,000 refugees" per year, putting the CSU again at odds with Chancellor Angela Merkel's persistence that Europe's largest economy must keep its borders open to a massive influx of refugees.
"From our past experience I can say Germany has no problem with an influx of 100,000 or at most 200,000 asylum seekers and refugees fleeing war," said the head of the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Refugee policy has driven a wedge between Seehofer (L) and Merkel - and between Merkel and some in her CDU
"This number is manageable and also allows for integration. Anything more than that I think is too much," Seehofer said, adding that families joining refugees already in Germany needed to be taken into consideration.
Seehofer insisted that there "cannot be any discussion" over obligatory integration for refugees.
More than 1.1 million people came to Germany seeking asylum in 2015, a roughly five-fold increase from 2014. Half the refugees came from war-torn Syria.
Nearly all of the asylum seekers first entered through the southern state of Bavaria, where some 160,000 remain, while the rest have been shared out among Germany's 15 other federal states.
The refugee influx has tested housing, education and social services as authorities scramble to register and process the asylum applications of new arrivals and integrate refugees into society.
'1.5 million refugees in Germany in 2016'
Seehofer warned that if steps were not taken to curb the influx, as many as 1.5 million refugees could reach Germany in 2016. This "unmanageable" prospect would put huge strain on the country and its ability to integrate refugees, he said.
"The central goal of 2016 must be to limit the number of migrants. We are currently very far from reaching this goal," Seehofer said.
Merkel's CDU has opted for an open Germany, policies to strengthen EU borders and keep refugees in Turkey, while calling for Europe to embrace a distribution scheme that would help share the burden across EU member states. These measures, it is believed, would help reduce the influx of refugees to Germany.
In addition, the CDU and CSU have developed a policy of giving priority to refugees fleeing conflict, while warning economic migrants from the Balkans that they are unwelcome and will be deported.
But Seehofer argued more needed to be done to stem the flow. "A reversal of refugee policy" is urgently needed, he said. This includes a CSU proposal to turn back refugees at the border who don't have documents or a passport. Merkel and the CDU have shot down this proposal.
Seehofer also criticized other EU members for not sharing the burden of hosting refugees, while pointing out that the United States and Arab Gulf states - both of which have taken in few refugees - need to take greater responsibility.
cw/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)