BERLIN (Reuters) - The number of asylum-seekers and refugees to Germany will quadruple to a record 800,000 this year compared with last, more than twice as many as the 300,000 new arrivals forecast in January, the government said on Wednesday.
Germany, which has become a magnet for refugees fleeing war, violence and poverty in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, has criticized European Union partners for not doing more as 218,221 people arrived seeking asylum in the first six months alone.
“We’ve got to reckon there will be 800,000 people coming to Germany as refugees or seeking asylum,” said Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere who only three months ago raised the original 300,000 forecast to 450,000.
“It will be the largest influx in the country’s post-war history,” de Maiziere told a news conference in Berlin, adding that Germany should expect high numbers for years to come.
“It’s a challenge for all of us at the state, federal and local levels,” he said. “We can master this challenge. I don’t think this will overwhelm Germany. We can handle this.”
Migrant numbers across the EU have shot up in recent months. Many undertake dangerous sea voyages to reach southern Europe, then make their way across the continent to countries where they hope to make a life for themselves.
Germany has a long tradition of welcoming refugees, in part a response to its Nazi past when 500,000 Jews and opponents of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich fled. Many found shelter in 80 countries, including former West German chancellor Willy Brandt.
After World War Two, Germany took in some 13 million displaced persons and refugees fleeing west from Eastern Europe when the region came under Soviet domination.
United Germany’s previous biggest annual intake was 438,191, in 1992, when it received large numbers of refugees fleeing conflicts resulting from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
A year later, the German parliament changed the constitution to impose stricter rules on asylum. Numbers sank to a low of 28,000 in 2008 before they started climbing again.
Along with a shortage of lodgings in cities including Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, Germany also struggles to process applications, which can take over a year. After Germany, Sweden takes in the most asylum-seekers in Europe.
There have been arson attacks and unruly protests in Germany against the rising numbers of migrants.
As well as refugees fleeing war in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere, there has been an influx of asylum-seekers from nations such as Albania and Serbia. Almost half of those who reached Germany in the first half of the year came from the Balkans — many of whom will be sent back.
Additional reporting by Thorsten Severin and Josie Le Blond; Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Robin Pomeroy