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Pressure mounts on Merkel over migrant policy in future coalition

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has lost track of 30,000 rejected asylum seekers, Bild daily reported on Thursday, piling pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to agree a migrant policy with potential coalition partners that ensures no repeat of a migration crisis in 2015.

People walk in front of an office building of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) in Berlin, Germany, October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The paper said migrants were on a December 2016 list of people due to leave the country and quoted an interior ministry spokesman as saying they could not rule out that some “had already left or disappeared without the relevant authorities knowing”.

One commentator at Bild, which has run a campaign to speed up deportations of failed asylum seekers, wrote: “No wonder many people are worried and unsettled. They ask: ‘Can the state protect me?’ Politicians must take this insecurity seriously.”

The report, coinciding with official data showing the number of people seeking refuge in Germany more than doubled in the two years until the end of 2016 to 1.6 million, comes amid warnings that courts are overburdened by the sheer volume of applications.

Voters punished Merkel for her open-door policy in a September election, with her conservatives suffering heavy losses to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), and migration policy now tops the agenda in coalition talks.

Her conservative bloc has tried to paper over internal divisions on migrant policy but is still at odds with the Free Democrats (FDP) and especially the Greens with whom they want to rule. Plans to discuss the issue on Thursday were delayed.

Points of contention include to what extent family members should be allowed to join asylum seekers in Germany and putting limits on the number of people who arrive.

The Statistics Office said the 1.6 million people seeking refuge by the end of last year was a 113 percent jump from 2014 and equivalent to 16 percent of Germany’s foreign population.

Included in the figures are people from abroad staying in Germany for humanitarian reasons, people still going through the asylum process, those granted refugee status or subsidiary protection status and failed asylum seekers who stay.

More than half of the 1.6 million people had by the end of 2016 been granted permission to stay in Germany while some 158,000 were rejected asylum seekers, said the Office. Some 455,000 of the total were from Syria.

According to data requested by the Linke party and seen by Reuters, refugees made 321,837 aslyum applications in German courts in the year to June 30, five times the volume in the same period last year.

“The administrative courts are so heavily burdened that the current staff can not deal with the work in a timely manner,” Erich Mueller-Fritzsche, a member of the Federation of German Administrative Judges, told Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.

Although the number of new arrivals to Germany has fallen sharply in the last 18 months and the government has stepped up deportations of rejected asylum seekers, many Germans, worried about security, say better controls are needed.

“We need to know who is in our country and who has left,” said conservative Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, known for taking a tough line on migrants.

Last year, a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia killed 12 people when he drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas Market. On Tuesday, a 19-year old Syrian man was detained on suspicion of planning a bomb attack in Germany.

The AfD, continuing to put pressure on politicians on the migrant issue, criticized the southern state of Baden Wuerttemberg for accepting 34,000 Syrian refugees.

“Although the war in Syria is as good as over, the regional government does not mind the asylum authorities continuing to let Syrians stay here,” said the regional AfD in a statement.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and William Maclean