BERLIN (AP) — Germany should step up deportations of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected, the country's government coordinator for migrant issues said in comments printed Saturday, suggesting it would be realistic to double last year's numbers of those sent home.
Some 22,200 migrants were deported from Germany last year and 37,220 returned home voluntarily, Peter Altmaier was quoted by the Funke Media group of newspapers saying.
"A realistic benchmark for 2016 would be a doubling of these numbers — that's where the states must take action," he said.
Germany saw 1.1 million migrants enter the country last year and has been working to speed up the process of either granting them asylum or sending them home if they don't qualify for it.
So far, most of the migrants who have been deported have come from the Balkans, after Germany made clear that it would only accept the asylum requests from people fleeing conflict or persecution, not those seeking to improve their economic situations.
Germany is currently working on a deal with Afghanistan that would allow Afghans from areas of the country considered safe to be sent home, but negotiations have been ongoing for months and are not yet concluded.
In other comments, Altmaier defended the European Union's new deal with Turkey that seeks to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, which came into effect on Monday, saying "it's working better than everyone expected."
Germany has seen the number of new arrivals drop sharply, though officials concede that's largely due to the closure of the Balkan migrant route.
The EU-Turkey deal has faced several setbacks and sharp criticism in its first week of implementation and has left many would-be migrants in limbo along the coast of Turkey.
"Our goal was and is to clearly reduce the number of refugees," said Altmaier, who is also Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff. "That seems to be happening."