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Huge drop in new asylum seekers arriving in Germany

About 280,000 new asylum-seekers arrived in Germany last year - far below the influx of 890,000 in 2015, the Interior Ministry has said.

Arrivals declined sharply with the closure of the Balkan migrant route in March and the subsequent agreement between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flow across the Aegean Sea to Turkey.

Asylum applications have lagged well behind arrivals and many people who came to Germany in 2015 applied only last year.

The figures released on Wednesday showed that 745,545 formal asylum applications were made last year - 268,869 more than in 2015.

Those included 268,866 applications from Syrians, 127,892 from Afghans and 97,162 from Iraqis - the biggest single groups by far.

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which has been strengthened in the course of Europe's migrant crisis, decided last year on more than 695,000 asylum applications, more than twice as many as in 2015.

Nearly 60% of applicants were granted either full refugee status or a lesser form of protection.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that about 55,000 migrants returned home voluntarily last year, compared with the previous year's 35,000. Another 25,000 were forcibly deported.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces a national election later this year and still draws criticism for her welcoming approach to migrants in 2015, has promised a "national effort" to ensure that people who are not entitled to stay go home.

The number of returns is still too low, Mr de Maiziere said, adding that talks are under way with state authorities - who are responsible for returns - to push it up.

AP

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