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Germany has made a sharp change in its migration policy compared to the ‘welcoming measures’ associated with the ‘Merkel era’. Euronews reporter Monica Pinna went to Berlin to find out what has changed and why.

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For many people, Germany is a land of immigration. More than three million refugees and asylum seekers live there, more than in any other European country.

Some migrants are attracted by the high demand for skilled workers and Germany’s generous benefits. But asylum applications increased by more than 50 percent last year. The migrant reception system went into a state of crisis. Amid growing consensus, the far-right accused the government of failing to control the surge in arrivals.

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As a result, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took a historic turn and tightened immigration measures.

Tegel-Berlin, once the capital’s primary international airport, was permanently closed in 2020. Authorities turned it into a refugee center in 2022, when thousands of Ukrainians began arriving every day, fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Tegel has become Germany’s largest refugee camp. About 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently live there. It was expanded several times to meet growing demands and can now host up to 7,000 people. However, the facility has reached capacity and officials say they will not consider any further expansion.

Nearly 300,000 people applied for asylum in Germany in 2023, the highest number since 2015, when Germany welcomed more than one million refugees. Most of the people were from Syria as well as Turkey and Afghanistan.

The steady stream of arrivals has prompted the government to find other means of accommodation such as hotels, but Euronews was not allowed to film at these sites.

With reception centers in crisis, integration is becoming a challenge, fueling anti-immigration rhetoric across the country. Last year, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party made a historic lead in local elections.

Border checks are already in place with Poland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Benefits for asylum seekers are expected to be cut while discouraging new arrivals is the new policy line.

“With these really big numbers and this whole feeling that there are many people in the electorate, that they are losing control, the discussion has become very heated,” said David Kipp, a migration expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. ” SWP.

Despite growing opposition to immigration, more than a million people took to the streets of Germany in January to protest against the far right.

The demonstrations followed the revelations of an alleged plot between AfD members and neo-Nazis to deport millions of immigrants, including some with German citizenship. The demonstrations overshadowed January’s local elections and the AfD suffered a narrow defeat to the opposition conservative party.

However, the parties of Scholz’s traffic-light coalition are still trailing far behind the AfD in the polls.

Click on the video in the media player above to learn more about Monica’s report.

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