By Joseph Nasr
BERLIN (Reuters) - Asylum applications in Germany jumped in the first quarter as authorities processed part of a huge backlog of arrivals from last year.
Syrians accounted for almost half of the 181,000 applications, more than double the total of a year earlier and more than six in ten of which were approved, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.
Most of the record 1.1 million migrants who arrived in Germany last year were registered at shelters where they wait for weeks or months before they can file an asylum application.
Numbers entering Germany dropped to a trickle in March, as countries along the Balkan route through southeastern Europe imposed tight border controls to stem the flow of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond.
But the backlog has strained Germany's local communities and Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition, fuelling the rise of a populist anti-immigrant party that took votes from her conservatives and the co-governing Social Democrats in three state elections last month.
The arrival of mostly Arab Muslims has also prompted a heated debate about integration as some Germans fear the influx could undermine German culture.
German authorities recorded around 60,000 asylum applications in March, down 11.5 percent from February but up 87 percent on March 2015.
Iraqis and Afghans were the second and third largest groups of asylum seekers in the first quarter.
An overstretched Federal Office for Migration and Refugees made decisions on 150,233 applications in the first quarter, an almost 159 percent jump from a year earlier.
The asylum approval rate was 61.6 percent, up from about 42 percent before the refugee crisis, the ministry said, as numbers of Syrians fleeing civil war increased disproportionately.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by John Stonestreet)