BERLIN (AP) — Some 222,000 asylum-seekers arrived in Germany in the first half of this year, the government said Friday — reflecting a much-reduced influx after the route through the Balkans was largely blocked and the European Union made a deal with Turkey to cut arrivals by sea.
Last year, nearly 1.1 million people were registered as asylum-seekers in Germany. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he isn't making any forecast for how many will arrive in 2016, given uncertainty about future developments.
In all, 222,264 people were registered as asylum-seekers between January and June. The numbers declined sharply after 91,671 arrived in January. In June, the figure was 16,335, similar to the previous two months.
At the height of the influx through the Balkans last year, Germany registered more than 206,000 asylum-seekers in a single month in November.
Syrians were the largest single group so far this year, accounting for 2,615 people in June and 74,511 in the year's first half, followed by Afghans.
De Maiziere pointed to central European countries' squeeze on the overland Balkan route and the EU-Turkey deal to reduce migrant landings in Greece as the main factors in the drop. He said the number of people arriving via the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy was roughly at last year's level, and that "Italy is behaving correctly" — registering them all and not simply waving them through to other countries.
However, de Maiziere said the situation is "unstable."
"The implementation of the agreement between the EU and Turkey is working so far, but I wouldn't guarantee that this will also remain the case in the coming months," he told reporters. "And developments on the Balkan route could worsen significantly."
The minister said that, while the Balkan route is now closed to large groups of people, smugglers are getting small groups across borders. He added that there are increasing — though still small — numbers of arrivals from Italy via Switzerland, and that there also has been an increase in asylum-seekers from Russia's Chechnya region.
Russian citizens, some arriving from Poland, were the fourth-biggest group of arrivals in June.
Asylum applications have lagged well behind arrivals, and the Interior Ministry said 387,675 were filed in the year's first half — more than double the number a year earlier. Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has been beefed up over recent months following criticism last year of its slowness in handling the influx of migrants.
Between January and June, it processed 283,236 applications — as many as the whole of last year, de Maiziere said. Out of those, 148,815 were granted refugee status and 23,302 a protection status that falls short of formal asylum.
Still, refugee office chief Frank-Juergen Weise said it now has 500,000 unprocessed applications to deal with. That number has risen from 370,000 at the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, Germany has been stepping up deportations of people who came from countries deemed safe, including those in the western Balkans.
De Maiziere forecast that about 100,000 people whose asylum requests were rejected could leave the country or be deported this year, up from about 59,000 in 2015.
Some have been resisting orders to leave, however. A group of 45 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo have been camped out in Regensburg Cathedral since Tuesday in protest against their deportation.
The archdiocese in Regensburg said it is negotiating with the group to move to a different building where they will have access to washing facilities and a kitchen.