Thomas Kufen, the mayor of this rust-belt town in western Germany, thinks his city has a bad case of refugee overload.

 

Since the beginning of the year, some 7,150 refugees have flocked to Essen from other towns, twice as many as the city was allocated for the whole year under Germany’s complex burden-sharing mechanism. This, Mr. Kufen says, is more than it can handle.

 

So when parliament passed a law this summer allowing overburdened cities to send jobless refugees back to the states where they were first assigned, Mr. Kufen thought he had found the solution to his problem.

 

“As a big city we already are doing integration work for the entire country. But there is a limit to our capacity that we don’t want to put to the test,” Mr. Kufen said.

 

The case of Essen and the new residency restrictions underlines how Berlin is scrambling to regain control of last year’s historic refugee inflows and to fend off a mounting popular backlash. It also shows that while Berlin has gradually tightened its liberal policies, the goal of integrating the newcomers remains fraught with pitfalls.

 

When the flow of refugees reached its peak a year ago, Germany initially dispatched the newcomers across the country, spreading the cost of looking after them. But once the migrants had obtained asylum, they were free to settle anywhere.

 

As a result, some regions, like the old industrial Ruhr area, with housing left empty after a coal-mining decline and already existing migrant communities, have become magnets for Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.

 

With many unable to support themselves because they can’t speak German or don’t have the right job qualifications, the influx is turning into a heavy financial burden.

 

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