The mass influx of asylum seekers into Germany stopped after several Balkans transit countries shuttered their borders and the EU reached a deal with Turkey to stop arrivals to the Greek islandsThe mass influx of asylum seekers into Germany stopped after several Balkans transit countries shuttered their borders and the EU reached a deal with Turkey to stop arrivals to the Greek islands (AFP Photo/Vladimir Simicek)
Berlin (AFP) - 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 Sunday.
BAMF chief Frank-Juergen Weise told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Germany's healthy economy and improvements to refugee services 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."
Authorities said that nearly 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived last year in Germany, putting enormous strain on the country's bureaucracy to process claims and testing confidence in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition government.
However Weise said the BAMF had determined that several people were registered twice, meaning that the official total for 2015, to be announced soon, was likely less than one million.
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 in 2016 from the Middle East and Afghanistan.
He 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.
- 'Lengthy, costly process' -
Integrating those allowed to stay into the labour market would be a "lengthy and costly" process, he said, adding that he 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 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 in September or October next year.
Bild am Sonntag cited a poll by independent opinion research group Emnid showing 50 percent of respondents opposed another four-year term for Merkel, while 42 percent said they wanted her to stay in office.