The number of people seeking asylum in Germany in 2020 fell by 30 percent compared with the previous year, official data showed Sunday, as closed borders and coronavirus lockdowns slowed arrivals.
Germany’s interior ministry recorded just over 76,000 first-time asylum applications last year, 31.5 percent fewer than in 2019.
Most of the requests came from nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey, it said in a statement.
A further 26,520 asylum applications were made for children under the age of one who were born in Germany to non-nationals, bringing the total number of applications to 102,581.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the drop in asylum seekers could partly be attributed to the pandemic, which disrupted international travel and saw some countries resort to border closures, especially during the first wave of cases in the spring.
But Seehofer, a hardline conservative, also pointed out that the number of asylum seekers in Germany has been falling steadily over the past four years, which he said “showed that our measures to steer migration are working.”
Just over 37,800 people were newly recognized as refugees in Germany last year.
Germany saw a huge influx of migrants five years ago after Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the country’s doors to those fleeing conflict at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis.
In 2015, Germany saw more than 400,000 first-time asylum applications, followed by over 700,000 requests the following year.
The new arrivals deeply polarized the country and fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which rails against immigration and Islam.
The German government has responded by toughening its migration policies and stepping up deportations of rejected asylum seekers or refugees convicted of violent crimes.
A decision to lift a general ban on deportations to war-ravaged Syria from 2021 has been heavily criticized by rights groups however, even if the government says it will only be applied to those deemed a security risk.
The refugee rights group Pro Asyl told DPA news agency on Sunday that Germany’s low asylum seeker figures were a result of “Europe’s rigorous border closures.”
Many migrants were currently “stuck in misery” in winter temperatures in Bosnia after their camp burnt down, it added, “even tough the current asylum figures show: Germany has room.”