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Fewer refugees - still plenty to do

Kay-Alexander Scholz / groApril 8, 2016

The refugee crisis can be seen in the challenges posed by arriving refugees and the processing time for asylum. In both cases, Germany can loosen up a bit for the time being, but it still cannot sound the all-clear.

Refugee camp in Bavaria
Image: Ali

With a total of 5,000 refugees, relatively few people came to Germany in March - about 200 per day. These are the latest figures that have been released by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in Berlin. In January, more than 2,000 people were still arriving in the country every day.

The decline can mostly be attributed to the closing of the Balkan route, said the minister. He openly admitted that Germany is benefitting from the national measures that it had always rejected. Moreover, the dispute with Austria and the Western Balkan countries is now over, according to de Maiziere. The reasons for the lasting reduction of refugee arrivals are the EU-Turkey refugee deal, the protection of external borders and the European approach.

If one goes by this account, then Germany has asserted itself. At the Franco-German Council of Ministers' meeting on Thursday, Angela Merkel once again stressed that the EU must manage its external borders instead of closing national borders.

However, only one route is closed right now. In Libya, hundreds of thousands of new refugees, mostly from African countries, may already be waiting to travel to Europe. Smuggling gangs are apparently fully operational.

Hardworking public sector

Hundreds of thousands of refugees in Germany are waiting to have their paperwork processed. Germany's Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has massively expanded its staff in recent months and partly restructured with the help of external consultants. As a result, the number of asylum decisions has tripled in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year, stated BAMF chief Frank-Jürgen Weise. Two-thirds of the applicants are allowed to stay.

Still many asylum seekers from the Western Balkans

Now clear-cut cases are processed much more quickly. People from Syria, for example, are allowed to remain, but people from Western Balkan countries have little chance of being granted asylum in Germany. For the latter group, the German government has changed legislature and it has thus produced the desired effect, stressed the interior minister. In the first quarter of the year, the number of asylum applications from Albania, for example, fell from 6,500 to 3,600 and Serbian applications went down from 9,000 to 2,600. However, de Maiziere emphasized the fact that the numbers need to drop further.

Interior Minister de Maiziere presented the latest figures
Interior Minister de Maiziere presented the latest figuresImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz

More safe countries of origin soon?

Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are not ranked among the top 10 countries in current asylum statistics. The three North African countries will soon be declared safe countries of origin, so chances of their citizens receiving asylum are relatively low. Many people from these countries are already in Germany but have not been able to submit an application for asylum as it take months to get an appointment with immigration authorities.

Nearly 2,000 refugees per day were registered in the first quarter of the year in a new, centralized system. The number of new registrations is much higher than the number of new arrivals because thousands have still not officially registered in Germany. This gap is narrowing.

Many unreported cases

Nevertheless, many refugees live in Germany illegally. The interior minister did not want give an estimate, but ministry insiders say between 350,000 and 500,000 unreported refugees live in Germany. Among them is the one percent of so-called "jeopardizers," i.e., potential terrorists. These individuals are not the only ones who have little interest in registering: People from safe countries of origin avoid registration because they have little chance of staying in Germany. They fear deportation, and instead, prefer to live with relatives, or work under the table. Only the state of Bavaria performs targeted identity checks for this reason; for example, at train stations.