Germany expects up to 300,000 asylum seekers to arrive this year, less than one-third of the total during 2015’s record influx, the Federal Office for Migrants and Refugees (BAMF) said on Sunday.
BAMF chief Frank-Juergen Weise told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Germany’s healthy economy and improvements to refugee services over the last year meant that the country was well-placed to absorb new arrivals, particularly as their numbers have dropped off.
“We are preparing for between 250,000 and 300,000 refugees this year,” he said.
“We can ensure optimal services for up to 300,000. Should more people arrive, it would put us under pressure, then we would go into so-called crisis mode. But even then we would not have conditions like last year.”
Nearly 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany, Europe’s top economic power, last year, putting enormous strain on the country’s bureaucracy to process claims and testing confidence in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-left coalition government.
The closure of the so-called Balkan migrant trail and a controversial European Union deal with Turkey to keep migrants from reaching Greece – a main entry point into the bloc — has driven down arrivals from the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Weise said his agency had made major strides in working through a large backlog in asylum claims but that it would not manage to clear the remaining 530,000 cases by the end of the year.
He said integrating those allowed to stay in Germany into the labour market would be a “lengthy and costly” process.
Weise was nevertheless upbeat about the long-term prospects.
“We can do it,” he said, echoing Merkel’s rallying cry during the crisis.
“A lot of what was going badly in the beginning (one year ago) we’ve eventually managed to do pretty well. And the economy in Germany is so good, thank god, that we can afford it.”
Public sentiment is nevertheless sharply divided when it comes to Merkel, who has not yet said whether she will stand for a fourth term in a general election expected next September or October.
Bild am Sonntag cited a poll by independent opinion research group Emnid showing 50 per cent of respondents opposed another four-year term for Merkel, while 42 per cent said they wanted her to stay in office.