Slowing Migration and Bavarian Election Point to Weakening of Germany’s Migrant Crisis

By James Carstensen | October 17, 2018 | 8:55pm EDT
Christian Social Union chairman Horst Seehofer speaks to the media at CSU party headquarters in Munich on October 15, 2018. Sunday’s election result means the CSU, long Bavaria's strongest party, will now face the arduous task of forming a state government coalition. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – Migration to Germany from war-torn Syria has sharply declined, in-line with earlier forecasts predicting a return to the numbers before the 2015 crisis.

The German Statistics Office has arrivals from Syria dropped from 146,000 in 2016 to 60,000 in 2017. Also striking were the figures for Afghanistan – a drop from 56,000 in 2016 to just 4,000 in 2017 – and for Iraq – a decrease from 48,000 to 16,000.

Although asylum-seekers are included in these numbers, they are not identified. The office said there was no legal basis to provide separate figures for them.

Asylum claims have also dropped, according to the government’s Migration office, although not as sharply (many applicants arrive earlier than their application date).

From January to September 2018, a total of 142,167 people applied for asylum in Germany, a 15.5 percent drop from the 168,306 who applied during the same period last year, the office said.

The news follows a dramatic election result Sunday in the state of Bavaria, where the Christian Social Union (CSU) – sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing Christian Democrats (CDU) – was unable to hold onto its historical majority despite adopting increasingly conservative policies.

More than 1.4 million migrants have flocked to Germany since 2015, when Merkel announced an “open door” policy. They include asylum-seekers accounting for almost half of the total applications across the entire E.U.

(In 2015, Germany accounted for 35.2 percent of all first-time asylum-seekers in the E.U. The proportion climbed to 60 percent in 2016 and dropped to 30.5 percent in 2017.)

Debates over immigration split public opinion, propelling the anti-migration, anti-Islam Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party into federal government last year, and with representation in 14 of the 16 German states – now 15 with Bavaria.

In a bid to counter this trend the CSU, which has enjoyed an absolute majority in Bavaria in almost every election since 1966, moved further to the right, with moves such as obliging public institutions to display crucifixes on their walls in April.

In June, CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who holds the post of interior minister in Merkel’s cabinet, challenged her leadership by threatening to unilaterally impose border controls.

Despite – or perhaps because of – such steps, the CSU vote count fell 10 percent from the last Bavarian election, to 37.2 percent of the overall vote (translating into a drop from 56.1 percent of the seats in parliament to 41.5 percent), obliging the party to seek a coalition in the state government.

The populist AfD made notable headway, winning 10.2 percent of the vote and entering the Bavarian parliament in its first election in state. The biggest gains, however, were made by the pro-E.U. and pro-migrant Greens party, which took 17.5 percent of the vote, a gain of 8.9 percent.

Bavarian Refugee Council spokesman Alexander Thal said the CSU had tried to prevent the entry of the AfD into the Bavarian parliament by adopting its positions, setting stricter standards on asylum policy and adopting “right-wing verbal radicalism” – but the move backfired.

Instead, said Thal in a statement, voters shifted toward parties with more “humane” asylum policies, punishing the CSU in the process.

“Bavaria shows us that taking on the positions and rhetoric of the AfD was obviously not worth it,” the pro-immigration advocacy organization Pro Asyl tweeted. “Hopefully many top politicians have registered this.”

The causes for lower migrant flows and asylum applications are complex, but likely include the federal government’s progressively tougher policies.

The government reintroduced border controls (which were recently extended), began to issue only temporary protection for some, limited family reunification for those with subsidiary status, declared the Maghreb states of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco to be “safe countries of origin” to facilitate deportations of their nationals, and in general eased and sped up of the deportation process.

Merkel also spearheaded a controversial deal between the E.U. and Turkey to stem migration flows, providing Turkey with a large amount of aid in exchange for holding and returning of refugees.

The number of people seeking asylum in Germany quickly plummeted, dropping from around 722,000 in 2016 to 198,000 in 2017. The latest numbers show the trend has continued, and so far supports an early forecast of continued falls in 2018, with a return to “pre-crisis” levels of 2013-14.

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