The refugee coordinator of the German government has called on the states to deport more rejected asylum-seekers. He also defended the EU-Turkey migrant deal, which has been slammed by human rights agencies.
Peter Altmaier told newspapers of the Funke Media group that German states should be trying in 2016 to double the number of deportations of asylum-seekers whose application have been rejected.
"Last year, we had 37,220 voluntary returnees and 22,200 deportees," he said. "A realistic dimension for 2016 would be a doubling of these figures. That's where the states must take action."
Altmaier, who is also chancellery minister to Angela Merkel, said that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees was currently deciding on more than 50,000 cases per month, with more than a third of applications rejected.
"We must ensure that the number of repatriations greatly increases," he added.
Altmaier also defended the recently sealed EU-Turkey agreement on migrants, which entered into force on Monday. The pact, which means that migrants who have reached Greece over the Mediterranean can be taken back to Turkey, has been vehemently criticized by several human rights organizations.
"Our goal was and is to clearly reduce the number of refugees," said Altmaier, adding: "That seems to be happening."
Greek authorities have already sent more than 400 refugees who do not meet asylum criteria back to Turkey since the agreement went into force. The pact foresees that one Syrian refugee will be taken into the EU for every one returned to Turkey, though the total number is to be restricted to just 72,000 - far fewer than the 108,000 a year recommended by international aid agencies to ensure the burden is fairly distributed throughout the world.
Libya as partner?
Chancellor Angela Merkel has meanwhile said that she was seeking a similar agreement with Libya, which, like Turkey, often serves as a springboard to Europe for refugees, most of them Africans and Arabs.
"We now have before us the task of achieving such cooperation with Libya," Merkel told state CDU delegates in Berlin on Friday.
"For a few days, we have had a unity government that has finally arrived in Tripoli," she said, referring to the UN-mediated transitional government that has been installed in a bid to establish some form of political stability in the war-ravaged country.
"Whether we can bring some order and guidance to the refugee route to Italy will depend on whether we succeed in making sensible agreements with Libya, as we have done with Turkey," she said.
Earlier, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who also belongs to Merkel's Christian Democrats, said he was expecting a large number of refugees to come from Africa. He said numbers could be well above the 200,000 sub-Saharan Africans who Development Minister Gerd Müller estimates are waiting in Libya to travel to Europe.
Libya has been in a state of profound lawlessness since the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi five years ago.
More migrant drownings
Despite the increasing deterrents to enter Europe, including several border closures on the route through the Balkans that was often used by migrants wanting to head from Greece to more northern countries such as Germany and Sweden, some are still undertaking the often perilous voyage across the Mediterranean.
Greece's coast guard said on Saturday that five migrants - four women and a child - drowned when their small plastic boat capsized northeast of the island of Samos, close to the Turkish coast. Five other migrants were rescued, it said.
Greek authorities said 149 migrants had reached the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios in the 24 hours to Friday morning.
tj/jlw (AP, Reuters, AFP)