No drop in asylum seekers reaching Germany, Berlin says

By Gabriela Baczynska BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany has seen no drop in the number of people arriving and seeking asylum despite EU efforts to confront a migration crisis, the deputy interior minister said on Wednesday, blaming a lack of controls at Europe's borders. More than a million people fleeing the Middle East and Africa arrived in Europe in 2015. Denmark began 2016 by imposing checks on its border this week, prompting the EU to call Germany, Denmark and Sweden to a meeting in Brussels. Germany has been one of the most seriously affected EU member states. Sources in Berlin said on Wednesday the country registered some 1.09 million asylum seekers last year. "We had an average influx of 3,200 refugees per day arriving in Germany, and the numbers are not declining in the last days," Ole Schroeder, the deputy German minister, told a briefing in Brussels. "Our problem at the moment in Europe is that we do not have a functioning border control system, especially at the Greece-Turkey border," Schroeder said. The European Union is counting on Turkey to help reduce the number of migrants entering the bloc following a deal between Brussels and Ankara late last year for Turkey to absorb more people fleeing Syria's civil war. Schroeder was speaking after meeting with EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos and with Danish and Swedish officials to discuss temporary border controls after Denmark implemented spot checks on its border, raising new concerns about the durability of the EU's passport-free Schengen area. Germany, Denmark and Sweden all said that they wanted to safeguard the Schengen zone but that effective controls on Europe's external borders, as well as other agreed measures, were necessary. The European Commission, which has sought to help forge an EU migration policy since the death of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean last April, underscored the limited progress so far. Of the 160,000 migrants that EU governments have agreed to relocate from Italy and Greece to other parts of the Union, only 272 people have been moved so far, it said on Wednesday. PREFERENCE FOR GERMANY Three migrant screening centers, known as hotspots, are operational in Italy and Greece now, below the target of 11, although Italy is due to add two more early this year, the Commission said. Pascal Brice, a director with Ofpra, the agency in charge of granting asylum in France, said this explained the slow start to some extent, but that refugees' own destination preferences were also a factor. "The French system is ready but the migrants' appetite for it remains weak," he told Reuters in an interview. Germany is attractive for its positive stance towards refugees as well as the strength of its economy, he said. "You have to remember the relocation mechanism is offered to migrants on a voluntary basis," he said. "For now, most of the migrants choose Germany and also Britain to some extent, which explains the situation we face in Calais," the French port city where thousands of migrants have been camped out in the hope of reaching Britain. Brice said he was nevertheless confident France would be able to take in the 32,000 refugees it has promised to accept under the mechanism on top of those it grants asylum to annually. In 2015, France gave asylum to 25,000 citizens, up 60 percent year on year. (Reporting by Gabriela Bacynska in Brussels and Matthias Blamont and Chine Labbe in Paris; Editing by Hugh Lawson)