Migrant crisis: Germany sees huge fall in asylum claims

Migrants at a camp in Friedland, Germany Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Germany has been accepting migrants under an EU-Turkey deal, but overall numbers have dropped

Germany has seen a slump in the number of people arriving to seek asylum, weeks after several Balkan states tightened their borders, figures show.

Some 20,000 people applied in March; last December it was 120,000.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the focus had switched from crisis management to integrating the more than one million who arrived in 2015.

The news came as a second group of migrants were deported from Greece to Turkey under a controversial EU deal.

Two ferries carrying more than 120 people, mostly Pakistanis, arrived in western Turkey from the Greek island of Lesbos.

Three protesters dived into the harbour before the first vessel's departure but were fished out by coastguards.

More than 200 people were sent back on Monday, but returns have been stalled by a surge of asylum applications in Greece.

The EU-Turkey deals aims to ease the uncontrolled mass movement of people into Europe.

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Media captionIs the EU migrant deal working?

Under the agreement, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20 March are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

Human rights have attacked the scheme as badly flawed, warning that Turkey was not a safe place to return people.

Amnesty reported that there was just one official processing applications on the island of Chios, and out of 833 claims that had been filed he had processed only 10.

What next for the deportees

Image copyright AP
Image caption The first deportees arrived in Kirklareli, on Monday
  • Upon disembarkation in Turkey, they are given medical checks, and are registered and fingerprinted
  • They are then bussed to "reception and removal" centres, possibly in the north-western town of Kirklareli, near the Bulgarian border
  • The Turkish authorities apply to their home countries and they are deported

Sources: international news agencies, Turkish media

Germany registered about 170,000 asylum claimants in the first three months of this year, compared with half a million people in the final quarter of last year, according to the interior ministry.

The country is the top destination for arrivals in Europe, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this has put Chancellor Merkel's coalition government under strain, with the populist Alternative for Germany party performing well in recent local elections.

Mrs Merkel said a partial ceasefire in Syria may have contributed to the drop in claims.

"At least there is no fear that hundreds of thousands of new refugees are coming to us," she said.

Analysts however pointed to the border controls introduced in the Balkans that left 11,000 migrants stranded at Greece's border with Macedonia as being behind the fall.

Migrant arrivals to Greece


in 2016, up to 20 April

  • 376 died on Turkey-Greece route

  • 37% of 2016 arrivals are children

  • 853,650 arrivals in 2015

Getty Images

There are meanwhile worries in Italy that migrants deterred from trying to reach Greece might try to enter the EU from North Africa instead, using the sea route from Libya to Italy.

"We are concerned because it's predictable that this summer, maybe hundreds of thousands of people will arrive from Syria and African countries through Italy going to Europe," Giorgia De Acutis of the Italian Red Cross told Reuters news agency.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.