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Govt denies plan to cut refugee numbers by half

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Govt denies plan to cut refugee numbers by half
Refugees arrive at the train station in Passau, Bavaria, after passing through Austria in November 2015. Photo: DPA
08:43 CET+01:00
The Interior Ministry on Tuesday said that there was no hard limit on the number of asylum applications to be processed in 2016, after a newspaper reported that it had set a limit of 500,000 - less than half the number that arrived in 2015.

The Rheinische Post reported early on Tuesday that the Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière had ordered the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees to be prepared to process 500,000 asylum applications this year.

But an Interior Ministry spokesman later told The Local that "there is no specification [of the number of refugees] from the Interior Ministry and no new forecast [of refugee arrivals]."

What's more, the 500,000 figure directly contradicts BAMF head Frank-Jürgen Weise, who said last week that he expected to deal with more than a million cases this year.

500,000 would be a massive decrease compared with the number of refugees who arrived in 2015, with the final count standing at 1.1 million.

The Rheinische Post further reports that 370,000 files are still awaiting processing at the BAMF.

And there are up to 400,000 refugees who arrived in 2015 who have not yet been able to submit an application because of the backlog.

Workers at the BAMF – which has taken on large numbers of extra staff since the uptick in refugee arrivals – might be able to reduce the number of outstanding cases if the government can really keep arrivals down to 500,000.

Crunch EU summit this week

Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes to make progress towards reducing arrivals at a European summit on Thursday and Friday.

Leaders of the 28 EU nations are gathering to discuss the refugee crisis, with Germany hoping to secure beefed-up protection for the Union's external borders, faster work to create "hot-spot" registration centres in Greece and Italy, and a system to share out refugees among different countries.

But she faces stiff resistance from Greece, which says it has not received the resources it needs to act as Europe's front-line in the refugee crisis, and eastern European nations including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, which are highly resistant to taking refugees.

Even France has in recent days begun showing a tougher face, saying that it would not take any more refugees than the 30,000 it had already agreed.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is heading to Brussels with a very different agenda, hoping to lock down a new deal for Britain that will convince his country to stay in the European Union at a referendum expected this year or next year.

Talks to avoid a Brexit are likely to last deep into the night and could distract from the refugee question.

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