Efforts to keep unwanted foreigners out of Europe are working. After a record influx in 2015, Germany and Sweden saw dramatic drops in migrant arrivals last year.
Just 280,000 migrants arrived in Germany in 2016—a 69% reduction from the 890,000 arrivals in 2015. The number of asylum seekers in Sweden also dropped by 80% last year. The German interior minister attributed the decline to the cut-off of migrant routes from war torn areas in the Middle East and Africa, specifically the closure of the Balkan route, as well as an agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey to stem migration into Europe.
The controversial EU-Turkey deal allows Turkey to receive up to €6 billion ($6.8 billion) in aid, visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, and renewed EU membership talks in return for an agreement from Turkey to take back those who cross over to Greece. The deal, which has been slammed by human-rights groups, has resulted in the deportation of 801 migrants to Turkey in 2016.
After welcoming refugees in 2015, German chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to backpedal last year as the country of 80 million people became overwhelmed. In 2015, the country took in five times more migrants than the year before. More than half of the arrivals—about 484,000 migrants—came from Syria.
Germany was the first European country to free Syrian refugees from the Dublin Protocol—a bureaucratic trap that forces refugees to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach. The protocol imposed an undue burden on countries at the EU’s external borders, including Greece and Italy, which quickly became overwhelmed by migrant arrivals.
As criticism mounted, Merkel defended her open-door policy, saying “we can manage this.” She has since expressed regret for her go-to mantra, describing it as a “simple slogan, an empty formula” at a press conference last year. She also apologized for how her government handled the refugee crisis, though still affirmed that her open door policy was the right thing to do at the time.
Merkel has since confirmed she will seek reelection this year, which is set to be her most difficult election yet. A number of high-profile attacks by migrants—including the terror attack on a Berlin Christmas market—has kept the focus firmly on Merkel’s refugee policy.