The immigration crush that created a crisis for the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkeleased markedly in 2016, authorities said Wednesday.
Germany received 280,000 asylum-seekers in 2016, less than a third of the 890,000 total in 2015 at the height of the crisis, the Interior Ministry said. War-torn Syria remained the most common country of origin, with Afghanistan and Iraq also responsible for large numbers.
“This shows that the measures taken by the government and the European Unionare effective,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. “By means of resolute measures, we have achieved a stable turnaround.”
The timing was crucial for Merkel, who seeks re-election in September. Merkel’s government drew global praise early in the crisis when she essentially threw open her nation’s doors to immigrants fleeing war and other hardships only to find themselves stranded in Hungary, which was overwhelmed by the flow.
But her gracious policies lit a political firestorm at home, and Germany significantly toughened its migration stance.
Berlin also declared some Balkans nations “safe countries of origin,” making it harder for citizens there to gain refugee status in Germany.
Still, Merkel faces challenges. An asylum-seeker from Tunisia is accused in a terror attack that killed 12 people last month. Anis Amri had been ordered deported but remained in Germany while his native Tunisia disputed his nationality.
“While the numbers certainly look better, the terrorist truck attack on the Berlin Christmas market and other incidents in Germany in 2016 still put Merkel under a lot of pressure,” Hope M. Harrison, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, told USA TODAY. “If there are more such attacks in Germany in 2017, Merkel’s chances of winning re-election will be significantly diminished.”
Despite the sharp decline in arrivals, Germany continues to play catch-up in registering asylum applications. The number of applications rose about 60% in 2016 to 745,545. Most of the 2016 applicants entered the country in 2015.
The encouraging numbers for Germany do not necessarily reflect an improving global picture. The United Nations migration agency reported last week that more migrants were killed crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2016 than ever before.
At least 363,348 people crossed the sea — mostly to Italy and Greece — but 5,079 additional people were either killed or are missing, the report said. Final numbers are likely to be somewhat higher, U.N. migration chief William Lacy Swing said.
“Migrants and refugees aren’t coming because they believe their lives will be rescued at sea once they leave Africa or Syria or wherever conflicts drive people to seek safety,” Swing said. “They’re leaving because they believe their lives will be doomed if they stay.