Germany received more than a million asylum applications in 2015, it was revealed on Wednesday, as it emerged that an official EU relocation scheme has faltered during its first months.
About 1.09 million people reached Germany and claimed asylum over the course of last year, which saw an unprecedented upsurge in migration to the EU and tensions within the 28-member union over how to deal with the crisis.
Sources in Angela Merkel’s coalition government confirmed the figures on Wednesday, at a time when the government’s approach to the European border crisis has caused domestic and foreign policy troubles for Germany.
Refugees are once again in the spotlight after some commentators linked the large numbers of new arrivals in Germany to a mass sexual assault that took place in the western city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve.
More than 90 women have submitted complaints about sexual assaults and thefts at the town’s main rail station last Thursday, with police saying the perpetrators were “of Arab or North African appearance”.
However, politicians have sought to separate the attacks from the country’s wider policy, with Cologne MP Volker Beck warning on Tuesday of attempts to “exploit these terrible crimes for racist purposes”.
Opposition to the government’s relatively open-door policy has caused friction among politicians in Germany’s federal states.
The interior minister of the southern state of Bavaria, Joachim Herrmann, called last week for the state to be able to enforce its own border controls, saying he wants to reduce the numbers of new arrivals from 4,000 per day to a maximum of 1,000.
The 1.1 million people who sought asylum in Germany in 2015 arrived by unofficial means, mostly by crossing European borders without documents after arriving in Greece or Italy by boat.
It emerged this week that an official EU scheme to relocate people arriving in Greece and Italy has so far resettled just 0.17 percent of those it pledged to help.
In September heads of the EU’s 28 member states agreed to resettle 160,000 people according to a quota system after an emergency summit convened in response to huge numbers of deaths by drowning during the Mediterranean crossing.
However, figures released by the European Commission on Tuesday show that just 272 Syrian and Eritrean nationals have so far been resettled under the four-month-old scheme.
The director of Amnesty International’s UK refugee and migrant rights programme, Steve Symonds, said the figures showed “a failure of all states to properly commit themselves to this from the start.
“It has never got off the ground.”