Sunday 25 March 2018

Germany expecting flood of 1.5m refugees

Merkel insists country can cope but pressure grows from own party

A migrant woman holds a child as refugees and migrants arrive at the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on October 5, 2015
A migrant woman holds a child as refugees and migrants arrive at the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on October 5, 2015
A mother holds her child on October 5, 2015 after spending the night on the street with other refugees and migrants following their arrival on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey
Angela Merkel

Justin Huggler and Matthew Holehouse in Berlin

Germany is facing an influx of 1.5 million refugees this year - almost twice its official estimate - leaked government figures say as the EU struggles to find a solution to the migrant crisis.

The German authorities expect 920,000 asylum seekers to arrive between October and December, according to the classified figures.

With each refugee having an estimated four to eight family members who could be permitted to enter, the total number resettled could ultimately top seven million.

The figure is drastically higher than the official estimate that Germany would host 800,000 asylum seekers this year and could lead to further pressure on Angela Merkel.

It will also shock EU leaders, some of whom have criticised Germany's willingness to accept large numbers of refugees who they say could eventually end up in other countries under freedom of movement rules.

The EU is discussing a proposal to offer another half a million Syrians asylum in Europe by airlifting them from Turkey in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees risking their lives making the sea crossing to Greece or Italy.

The idea is thought to be among plans put to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who met EU leaders in Brussels yesterday, to encourage him to tighten border controls.

The German government has not confirmed the new asylum estimate. Sigmar Gabriel, the vice-chancellor, has previously conceded that the figure of 800,000 may be too low.

"For the fourth quarter, we now expect 7,000 to 10,000 illegal border crossings a day," said the classified report, which was leaked to 'Bild' newspaper.

"This high number of asylum seekers threatens to be an extreme burden on state and local governments."

Mrs Merkel has come under increasing pressure over her refugee policy in recent days, after an opinion poll showed her approval rating had fallen to its lowest in four years.

Thousands of people took to the streets in eastern Germany to protest against the influx over the weekend and a refugee shelter was set on fire in the latest in a series of arson attacks.

Mrs Merkel insisted that Germany could cope and defended her decision to take in thousands of refugees from Hungary last month.

Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister, called for the government last night to restrict the number of refugees coming to Germany, adding to the pressure on Mrs Merkel. "Our capabilities are limited," he said.

The EC has blocked a proposal by Mr de Maiziere to set up airport-style transit zones on the border with Austria.

EU officials, meanwhile, have claimed that the Turkish authorities have stopped just 50,000 of the 350,000 refugees who have tried to travel to Greece since January.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, who met Mr Erdogan yesterday, said he expected Turkey to act. "Europe has to manage its border better. We expect Turkey to do the same," he said.

EU sources said they were considering an offer to relocate about 500,000 Syrian refugees. That could reignite a row among nations that opposed the plan to find places for 160,000 people already inside the EU. The EU has so far taken in just 22,000 people directly from countries neighbouring Syria.

In another overture to Mr Erdogan, Mr Tusk said he would consider proposals to use the military to create a "safe zone" within Syria to absorb refugees, something officials think would be far-fetched given likely opposition from Russia.

He also said that more financial assistance was on the table. Turkish officials say they have spent €6.7bn on hosting refugees but have been offered just €372m in aid from the UN, the EU and other international donors.

In a boost to Mr Erdogan before Turkish parliamentary elections next month, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said he was "strongly in favour" of speeding up a deal that will allow Turkey's 75 million people to travel to Europe without visas. Sources said the visas were "linked" to Turkey controlling its borders. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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