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Most Migrants Hope To Settle In Germany After Long Journey To Europe


As we've heard, most of the asylum-seekers want to go to Germany, where they believe job prospects are good and government benefits are generous. In fact, Germany has agreed to take in a big share of the newcomers. Thousands stream in every day. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Berlin reporting on the German response to the crisis. And Soraya, how many asylum claims is the German government willing to accept?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, no one has really set a number to it. And in fact, the man who heads the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Manfred Schmidt - he told Spiegel magazine that there should be no limits on refugees who are fleeing persecution and war. And it's interesting also because so far, the numbers are pretty high. We're talking about 800,000 people who are expected to arrive this year. And now they're saying that the numbers are even going to be more than that - in the end, maybe quadrupling of the number who applied for asylum last year. But there are a lot of caveats also about whether these people are eligible to be refugees and stay here.

SIEGEL: Eight-hundred-thousand, we should note, is 1 percent of the population of Germany. That's not a small share. How are they coping so far?

NELSON: Well, that depends on if you're talking about the people or the politicians and/or the governments. And certainly the people, by and large, have been very welcoming and sympathetic, volunteering their time and sometimes even their homes to help these newcomers out. You have, in Munich, the police having to stop people from donating food because there was just too much of it. And at the moment, 60 percent of Germans say they can cope with the refugees.

There have been some issues, certainly, with attacks on refugee homes that have been very disturbing to many Germans - in fact, more incidents this year than before. And half of what's occurring is happening in Eastern Germany, which only has 20 percent of the population. And then if we quickly talk about the government's side, certainly, they are really lagging behind with being able to handle these large numbers. There's a dearth of housing, people living in tents. The asylum application backlog is a quarter million. But officials say they are planning to meet - this is at a local and federal level - later this month to see if they can address those inadequacies.

SIEGEL: Once again, Soraya, Germany seems to be leading the rest of Europe on this issue, almost the way it did during the Greek financial crisis. This time, German chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be projecting a much softer image toward the refugees than she did to the Greeks.

NELSON: Well, even her image toward the refugees is softer than it was a couple of months ago when she was criticized quite a bit for her response to a young Palestinian girl during a town hall meeting when she basically told her, you know, you may have to go home. And so she's become very cautious with what she says and she does. She also wants to make sure that the note stays positive, that people are - remain receptive. And certainly right, now she has the public support behind her for that.

But she is criticized for waiting too long as well to stand up to neo-Nazis, for example, like as was the case with Heidenau, this village where there was a attack on police officers that were guarding refugee homes. But one thing that you can expect from Chancellor Merkel is that she is going to start upping the pressure on other EU countries to take on their fair share of refugees. Because if not, she made it clear at a press conference earlier this week that the free border policy in much of Europe or the Schengen Treaty could become a thing of the past. So I think we can expect her to become a little bit more vocal and strong in her opinions about what should happen with refugees in the coming weeks.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.