UPDATED: Germany records 964,000 new asylum seekers since Jan

AFP , Monday 7 Dec 2015

File Photo: Asylum seekers stand outside the central receiving facility for refugees in Berlin March 3, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Germany registered 964,574 new asylum seekers in the first 11 months of the year, putting Europe's top economy on track for a million arrivals in 2015, official figures showed Monday.

Some 206,101 migrants arrived in November alone, a new monthly record, up from a previous high of 181,166 in October, according to the interior ministry.

The number of arrivals was four times the total for all of 2014.

Nevertheless, the ministry said the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees had managed to shorten the time it takes to process the newcomers from an average of around seven months in 2014 to five months this year.

This has been achieved by prioritising and speeding up the decision-making process for asylum seekers "from safe countries of origin (especially west Balkan states) as well as for those from particularly unsafe countries of origins (especially Syria)," the ministry said.

The data released Monday did not specify the nationalities of the new arrivals.

But in previous months Syrians have topped the figures, with around one in three applications coming from citizens of the war-torn country, for whom Germany has adopted an open-door policy.

The processing time for Syrians is therefore particularly short -- at around three months.

But Albanians and Kosovans have also counted among the top five groups of arrivals for the year, a trend that has alarmed the German government.

Berlin has recently listed these states as "safe countries of origin", meaning their citizens are not normally be eligible for political asylum, a move that has brought numbers from the Balkan countries down sharply.

The move has helped accelerate the processing time to three months for west Balkans nationals.

The new data comes as the interior ministry comes in for criticism over its handling of the asylum process.

In an interview published by Die Welt newspaper on Monday, EU parliament chief Martin Schulz, a member of Germany's Social Democrats, accused the government of running a backlog of more than 300,000 unprocessed asylum applications.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe fell by more than a third in November, due to poor weather and a Turkish crackdown on people smugglers.

In November, some 140,000 migrants and refugees made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, marking a 36.5-percent drop from October, when a record 220,535 landed on Europe's shores, UNHCR said.

It remains unclear how the trend will feed into arrival figures in Germany, the top European destination country for asylum seekers.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to welcome Syrian refugees has won her plaudits but also sparked a backlash, with some senior ministers openly questioning the approach and her usually stellar poll ratings slipping several points.

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