Germany's refugee count to reach 750,000 this year. Can the country handle it?

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it’s time other European nations stepped in to ease the burden. 

Jens Meyer/AP
People take part at a demonstration initiated by right-wing NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany) against the German asylum law and asylum seekers in Riesa, eastern Germany, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015.

Just two months after the German government predicted it would receive a total of 450,000 asylum seekers this year, officials say that number could reach as high as 750,000,  according to media reports. 

As the country continuously struggles to accommodate migrants from Syria and the Balkans, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres says it’s time other European nations stepped in to ease the burden, the BBC reports.

"It is unsustainable in the long run that only two EU countries, Germany and Sweden, take in the majority of refugees," Mr. Guterres told German daily Die Welt, with nearly 80,000 people expected to seek asylum in Sweden this year.

"All countries in Europe have the moral responsibility to welcome them and the clear legal obligation to protect them," Guterres added.

Yet one-third of the refugees who reached the EU last year sought asylum in Germany, according to Deutsche Welle. 

The country’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees will release this year’s figures on Wednesday, estimating a dramatic increase in asylum applications surpassing the initial forecast of 450,000.

If the migrant population reaches 750,000, it would be a record high since Germany first took in refugees fleeing the Balkans wars in 1992, reports AFP. 

But today Germany isn’t alone. The current refugee crisis has taken its toll on several host countries across the globe. As state authorities request more financial aid to cope with the influx, German Development Minister Gerd Müller called on the EU to spend 10 billion euros to help Syria’s neighboring host countries handle the surge in migrants. 

“If we don't solve the problems locally, the problems will come to us," Mr. Müller told Die Welt on Monday.

Yet some problems have already started to surface in Germany.

Most German cities had reached the limits of their capacities this week, reports Deutsche Welle. As communities run out of housing options for asylum seekers waiting for their applications to be processed, many have resorted to keeping them in tents and military barracks.

Nevertheless, some have seen the refugee surge as an opportunity to revive the country’s economy. The head of the federal jobs agency has called for more funding from the German government to speed up migrants’ integration into the nation’s workforce.

But that plan has also led to attacks against asylum seekers by “Germans troubled by the prospect of having to compete with refugees for state resources,” writes The Christian Science Monitor’s Chris Cottrell.

“Host towns across the country, from poorer eastern states to the more prosperous south, are seeing a flare-up of attacks against asylum seekers, their families, and the shelters that house them.”

On Monday, angry residents threw firecrackers at an asylum seekers’ hostel in the northeast of Germany, the BBC reports. And thousands in towns and cities nearby have been holding demonstrations to protest the housing of asylum seekers in their areas, a trend they have referred to as the "Islamization of the West." 

If other countries don’t offer their support, rising migrant numbers may become a tougher challenge for the EU than Greece’s debt crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Sunday. 

Last month, EU member states agreed to take in 32,000 asylum seekers arriving in Italy and Greece over the next two years. The move marked a step forward, yet fell short of the 40,000 target.

On Tuesday, Mueller echoed Ms. Merkel’s concerns and called for urgent action from the EU, claiming "the European Commission must switch immediately from vacation to emergency mode.”

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