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Is Germany's support for migrants slowing down?

The head of Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees said in comments to be published Sunday that the country is preparing for 300,000 asylum seekers to arrive in 2016, a third less than the year before. 

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    Two refugee children wait for registration at the Hesse state Initial Reception Center in Giessen, Germany, Dec. 2015. The country expected a maximum of 300,000 refugees and migrants to arrive there this year, about three times less than in 2015.
    Boris Roessler/Deutsche Presse-Agentur via AP
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In January, 2016, Germany said that, in 2015, it had accepted more than 1 million refugees and migrants fleeing from war and poverty.

Eight months later, the head of Germany’s Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) said that this year he expects only a third of that number.

Frank-Juergen Weise told Bild am Sonntag newspaper that his agency is preparing for 250,000 to 300,000 refugees (which includes migrants who have not received refugee status), according to Reuters.

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“Should more people arrive, it would put us under pressure,” Mr. Weise told Bild am Sonntag. “Then we would go into so-called crisis mode. But even then we would not have conditions like last year.” 

Even if Germany accepts just 300,000 refugees in 2016, it would be far and away more than any other European nation accepted the year before. Nevertheless, as the popularity of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wanes, integration of asylum seekers into the labor forces proves more difficult than advertised, and anti-Muslim sentiments subsist throughout Europe, any slowdown in Germany lays bare the challenges the refugees face in even the European nation most sympathetic to their plights.

In 2015, Dr. Merkel introduced an open-door policy for asylum seekers. Under this policy, the German interior ministry said it accepted 1.1 million refugees. But, Weise told Bild am Sonntag the actual number of refugees and migrants was much less. He said some refugees were counted twice, and others moved on to settle in other destinations.

Weise also spoke about the employment of refugees. Many expected the hundreds of thousands of refugees that arrived in Germany to bolster the country’s economy. Weise said Sunday that 70 percent of the migrants are fit for employment, but most of them will depend on social services before they secure a job. Many also assumed these asylum seekers included people with education levels comparable to German degrees, according to NPR. Weise said 10 percent possessed university degrees, but another 40 percent lacked formal vocational training, even though they possessed practical experience. Weise's comments substantiate other reports about the barriers to refugees becoming employed.

One of the highest hurdles is language. Ninety-eight percent of asylum seekers aren’t familiar with German, Wido Geise of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, told NPR. The Institute for Economic Studies in Munich found that 86 percent of German managers called the language barrier “very huge.” 

Other barriers include bureaucracy. Many German companies want to know if asylum seekers will permanently remain in the country. Other refugees have accepted low-skilled, “one-euro jobs” under a government program.  

The language barrier, as well as a lack of affordable housing, has also made it difficult for families and children to settle in Germany, as Lucy Kafanov reported for The Christian Science Monitor in December.

As refugees have faced cultural, bureaucratic, and administrative challenges, Merkel has seen her popularity decline. Half of Germans are against Merkel serving a fourth term in 2017, according to an Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag Sunday. Only 42 of respondents said they wanted her to remain in office.

These results come in the wake of “Black July,” in which Germany experienced four attacks in a month. An Afghan refugee first attempted to attack passengers with an ax on a train in Bavaria. Then, a German-Iranian teenager killed nine people when he opened fire in a mall in Munich. A Syrian refugee killed a co-worker on the streets of Stuttgart. The same day, another Syrian refugee blew up himself in a suspected terrorism attempt outside a music festival in Ansbach, Bavaria.

But, as Sara Miller Llana and Rachel Stern wrote for the Monitor in late July, the only similarities between the four attackers are they were all young men.

Merkel’s administration has faced regional challenges from the far-right as well. In Merkel’s home state, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, for instance, her conservative bloc and its center-left partners in the federal government are just four or five points above of the 19 percent support for the far-right, according to The New York Times.

But, Merkel’s popularity doesn’t differ drastically from November, before “Black July” and sexual assaults in Cologne other cities during New Year’s Eve celebrations. In fact, it was at a 10-month high at 59 percent just before “Black July,” although the dip in the number of asylum seekers at the same time contributed to her approval rating.  

Merkel (and her refugee policy) might be able to ride out this storm because Germans might seek her steady hand.

“A lot of mainstream Germans are happy to have someone who’s calm, composed, not overly rash, and so on. And I think that’s what’s driving the halfway steady support of her,” Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, told the Monitor in late July.

The same could be true for employing tens of thousands of refugees in Germany. It may take years for them to land full-time employment. But the potential workforce is huge, according to NPR.

Weise was optimistic Sunday about these long-term prospects. “We can do it,” he said, echoing Merkel’s rallying cry during the migrant crisis.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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