Ms. Merkel, who in 2015 declared that there was “no limit” to Germany’s acceptance of migrants, has since changed her position ahead of elections scheduled for this fall. Among her government’s proposals are new background checks for more than one million migrants; electronic monitoring of foreigners considered security risks; expanded federal police powers; and increased deportations.
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According to the Interior Ministry, the government received 745,545 applications for asylum in 2016. They included 268,866 applications from Syrians, 127,892 from Afghans and 97,162 from Iraqis.
The measures that the federal government and the European Union have taken to address the crisis “are taking hold,” Mr. de Maizière told reporters. “We’ve been successful in managing and controlling the process of migration.”
Arrivals to Germany have declined since the European Union and Turkey negotiated a deal last spring to limit the number of migrants reaching the Continent by crossing the Aegean Sea, said Frank Laczko, director of data analysis for the International Organization for Migration. But migrants from elsewhere in Europe and Africa are taking routes that do not take them through Turkey, he said.
“Policy makers in Germany are especially concerned about the steadily increasing migratory pressure from the African continent, particularly West Africa,” Mr. Laczko said. Migrants from West Africa are often seeking economic opportunities in Europe rather than fleeing war, like those from Syria.
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Many of the migrants who made it to Germany last year did not receive asylum and were returned to their countries of origin. However, Mr. Laczko said, most of that group were not deported but returned voluntarily.
A “record number of migrants, whose claims for asylum have been rejected, are being returned from Germany,” he said. “But most of these migrants left Germany voluntarily: 55,000 in 2016, compared to 37,220 in 2015. The number of migrants forcibly returned is much lower: 25,000 in 2016, and 20,914 in 2015.”
Elsewhere in Europe, cold weather is forcing governments to provide better shelter to migrants, many of whom live on the streets or in threadbare tents in refugee camps.
In Greece on Wednesday, a naval ship used for ferrying military tanks was sent to the island of Lesbos to house about 500 migrants living in a refugee camp.
In Serbia, officials said, about 400 migrants agreed to stop sleeping on the streets, in parks, in an abandoned warehouse and in train cars, and instead sought shelter at official asylum centers. A government statement said that no migrant women and children remained on the streets of the country’s capital, Belgrade, after a winter storm brought heavy snows and frigid temperatures.