BERLIN (Reuters) – Fewer people applied for asylum in Germany last year, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday, putting the second yearly slide in a row down to restrictive measures introduced by the government after a record influx in 2015.
Immigration remains a contentious topic in Germany, four years after Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome a record 890,000 asylum applicants, mainly Muslims fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The latest figures show that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has met its target to limit the number of asylum seekers to between 180,000 and 220,000 a year.
About 162,000 asylum applications were registered in 2018, a 13 percent drop from the 186,000 requests recorded a year earlier.
The applicants included 32,000 infants under the age of one who were born in Germany to asylum-seeking mothers, Seehofer said.
Syrians remained by far the largest group of applicants with 46,000, followed by Iraqis and Afghans, who numbered 18,000 and 12,000 respectively.
Seehofer almost brought down Merkel’s coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPD) last year with demands for stricter controls on Germany’s border with Austria, the main gateway for migrants.
Both Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD were punished in a 2017 election by voters angry about their welcoming asylum policies, which propelled the Alternative for Germany (AfD) far-right party into the Bundestag lower house for the first time.
The government has tried to cut asylum arrivals with restrictive measures such as limiting to 1,000 a month the number of people who can join their loved ones in Germany under family reunification laws for refugees.
Germany has also been granting asylum to fewer applicants. Last year around 35 percent of applications were positive, down from 43 percent in 2017.
But the main reasons for the gradual drop in arrivals are down to factors beyond Germany’s control, including a drop in the level of violence in Syria and Iraq.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Gareth Jones)