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Germany marks steep drop in migrant arrivals

Darko Janjevic (KNA, EPD, dpa, AP, Reuters)July 8, 2016

The number of refugees entering Germany has plummeted since January, according to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. Pro-migrant activists decried the drop as a sign of a "refugee protection crisis."

Deutschland Regensburg - Flüchtlinge - Besetzung des Doms
Image: DW/K. Brady

Some 222,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Germany since the start of the year, German Interior Minister de Maiziere said on Friday.

The latest numbers for 2016 show a sharp drop compared to the same period of last year, when Germany faced a record-breaking refugee crisis.

Syrians were the most numerous asylum applicants in the first half of the year, at 171,488. Afghans, with 60,611 requests, and Iraqis, at 56,540, accounted for second and third place, according to government statistics.

Over 1.1 million people arrived in the country during 2015. The influx plummeted after January 2016, however, falling from some 91,700 newcomers to 16,300 in June.

De Maiziere said the drop was due to Balkan countries closing their borders and the EU's agreement with Turkey for Ankara to keep migrants from embarking on the dangerous trip to Europe.

"We see from this that the measures taken at a German and European level are taking effect," he told reporters. "Although the refugee crisis has not been solved, its solution is making good progress in Europe and very good progress in Germany."

Trouble with Turkey?

Refugees were still crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy at roughly last year's level, de Maiziere added. However, Rome was "behaving correctly" by registering refugees instead of waving them through to other countries.

Despite these developments, de Maiziere refused to make predictions for the rest of the year, saying that the situation was too "unstable."

The EU-Turkey deal "is working so far, but I wouldn't guarantee that this will also remain the case in the coming months," he said. "And developments on the Balkan route could worsen significantly."

The refugee crisis has shaken the Berlin government and is partly responsible for a rise of right-wing populism nationwide. The closure of the Balkan route and the Turkey deal also sparked criticism from the organizations fighting for refugees' rights.

Asylum 'out of reach'

Commenting on de Maiziere's announcement, the refugee rights' organization Pro Asyl said the drop was "no reason for joy" and instead reflected a "crisis of human rights and refugee protection."

"European borders are being sealed off and the right to asylum is pushed out of reach," the watchdog's chief Günter Burkhardt said in Berlin.

"German refugee homes are empty, while refugees in Greece live on the streets for months," he added.

Pushing the problem out of Europe

Another pro-refugee group, Medico International, accused Berlin of leading a policy of "defense against refugees"

"Seeking refuge and migration are the result of unjust global relations, which have economic interests trumping human rights," Medico's leader Thomas Gebauer said.

European politicians are attempting to "make refugees invisible" by delegating human rights abuse to non-European countries.

The policy of supporting dictatorships to contain refugees would ultimately create new reasons to flee, activists said, referring to the EU deal with Ankara.