Refugee influx faced by Germany will be almost twice the official estimate, according to leaked government figures
With each migrant having an estimated four to eight family members that could be permitted to enter, the total number resettled could ultimately top seven million.
The figure is drastically higher than the official estimate, that Germany will host 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, and could lead to further pressure on Angela Merkel over her refugee policy.
Photo: Zoltan Balogh/EPA
It will also shock EU leaders, some of whom have criticised Germany’s willingness to accept large numbers of refugees who they say could eventually end up in other countries under freedom of movement rules.
But the EU is also meanwhile discussing a proposal to offer another half a million Syrians asylum in Europe by airlifting them direct from Turkey, in a bid to stem the flow of refugees risking their lives making the dangerous sea crossing to Greece and Italy.
That is thought to be among the ideas put forward as part of a package of measures to encourage President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who met EU leaders in Brussels yesterday, to tighten border controls.
The German government has not confirmed the new asylum estimate. Sigmar Gabriel, the vice-chancellor, has previously conceded that the official figure of 800,000 may be too low.
“For the fourth quarter, we now expect 7,000 to 10,000 illegal border crossings a day,” the classified government report, leaked to Bild newspaper, reads.
“This high number of asylum-seekers threatens to be an extreme burden on state and local governments.” The report warns of a possible “breakdown of supplies”.
Mrs Merkel has come under increasing pressure over her refugee policy in recent days, after an opinion poll showed her personal approval rating had dropped to its lowest level in four years.
Thousands of people took to the streets in eastern Germany to protest against the influx over the weekend, and a refugee shelter was set on fire in the latest in a series of arson attacks.
Some 2,500 people formed a “living border” in Sebnitz, on the border with the Czech Republic.
Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP
But Mrs Merkel remained defiant, insisting that Germany could cope. “I would make the same decision again, that’s what matters,” she told DLF radio when asked about her announcement on September 4 that Germany would take in tens of thousands of refugees who were stranded in Hungary at the time.
“It was clear to me they were having a very difficult stay on the way, and they’d faced great danger before that – we all saw the terrible picture of the dead boy in Turkey and we were all shocked by it.”
In the days immediately after Mrs Merkel’s announcement there were emotional scenes as crowds of Germans greeted refugees arriving at Munch station with cheering and songs.
But in the weeks that followed cities across the country complained they were overwhelmed and the government reimposed border controls.
Refugees are still allowed across, but the government has admitted police are struggling to distinguish genuine refugees from economic migrants.
The European Commission has blocked a proposal by Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, to set up airport-style transit zones on the border with Austria.
Mr de Maiziere called on Monday night for the German government to restrict the number of refugees coming to the country, adding pressure on Mrs Merkel.
“We have to limit the numbers and find the right balance,” said Mr de Maiziere. “Our capabilities are limited.”
EU officials meanwhile claim the Turkish authorities have stopped just 50,000 of the 350,000 refugees who may have tried to make the journey on to Greece since January.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council who met Mr Erdogan yesterday, said he expected Turkey to act. “Europe has to manage its border better. We expect Turkey to do the same,” he said.
EU sources said they were looking at offering to relocated a number “in the order of magnitude” of 500,000 Syrian refugees.
That could reignite a blistering row among member states, given the opposition from a vocal minority to the plan, now passed, to find places for 160,000 people already inside the EU. The EU has so far taken in just 22,000 people by direct relocation from countries neighbouring Syria.
In another overture to Mr Erdogan, Mr Tusk said he would consider proposals to use the military to create a “safe zone” within Syria to absorb refugees – something officials think far-fetched given likely opposition from Russia.
He also said that more financial assistance was on the table.
Turkish officials say they have spent $7.5 billion on hosting refugees but have been offered just $417 million in aid from UN, EU and other international donors. Many refugees are also travelling to find education for their children – of an estimated 650,000 Syrian refugees who are children, only around 220,000 are receiving any form of schooling, according to Turkish government figures.
In a boost to Mr Erdogan ahead of Turkish parliamentary elections next month, Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Council, said he was “strongly in favour” of speeding up a deal that will allow Turkey’s 75 million people to travel to Europe without visas.
Sources said the visas were “linked” to Turkey controlling its borders.