Germany has said the number of new migrants is expected to fall for a second year in a row after peaking in 2015. And Interior Minister de Maiziere has praised a scheme that pays failed asylum seekers to return home.
The number of new asylum seekers arriving in Germany is expected to be lower than the maximum intake of 200,000 being pushed by some corners of the Bundestag, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Sunday.
"I presume a total of fewer than 200,000 migrants" for all of 2017, de Maiziere told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper. The total number of new arrivals welcomed in Germany by late November stood at around 173,000, the interior minister added.
Europe's largest economy took in almost a million migrants in 2015 following a mass exodus of people from conflict-ridden regions such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. New arrivals fell to around 280,000 in 2016, with most arriving in the first quarter of that year.
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The latest migrant figures could have significant political implications in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has come under intense pressure from her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, to set an annual maximum intake of 200,000. Merkel has agreed to the figure but labelled it as a "benchmark" rather than a fixed number.
Merkel's decision to effectively tolerate the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 sparked a xenophobic backlash from certain pockets of the country, and contributed to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party's picking up almost 13 percent of the vote in September's federal election.
Germany has for years provided rejected asylum seekers and others with financial help to return to their home countries, including costs associated with travel and restarting life back home. Under the new scheme, families can now receive up to €3,000 ($3,526) and individuals up to €1,000 if they voluntarily return home by the end of February.
According to de Maiziere, the Interior Ministry received around 200 applications in the first 10 days after the scheme was launched, with most applicants coming from Russia, Iraq and Afghanistan.