German immigration jumps to highest levels in 16 years

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

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Immigration has leaped to its highest level in 16 years in Germany, according to government figures.

The number of people moving to Germany from Greece and Spain have seen particular jumps, with arrivals from Greece almost doubling.

Data from Germany's statistics office showed that 958,000 people moved to Germany in 2011, while 679,000 left, the highest net inflow since 1996.

Most of the migrant arrivals were from new eastern European EU member states.

The rise came after Germany's seven-year exemption to EU rules on the free movement of labour expired, allowing people from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to enter the country.

Some 163,000 Poles moved to Germany in 2011, 49,000 more than in 2010, while a total of 41,000 Hungarians moved last year, 12,000 more than a year earlier.

Immigration from Bulgaria and Romania also rose.

However, countries facing the sharpest economic crisis showed a particular spike in numbers moving to Germany.

Some 24,000 Greeks moved to Germany in 2011, a 90% increase on 2010, while around 21,000 Spaniards arrived, a 52% rise.

"Immigration rose especially from those countries hit hard by the crisis, notably Greece and Spain", the federal statistics office said.

The BBC's Steve Evans, in Berlin, says that many in Germany say the economy badly needs immigrants to keep it going, particularly if they bring skills.

At the same time, he says, there has been some resentment expressed, though not noticeably more than in other countries with high levels of immigration.

Overall, Germany's population is estimated to have reached 81.8 million last year while its unemployment rate - unlike those of its European neighbours - has actually fallen to 6.8%.

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