The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Germany said it took in more than 1 million refugees last year. But it didn’t.

Migrants walk towards the Austrian border after resting in a makeshift camp in the village of Sentilj, Slovenia on Oct. 24, 2015. (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)

LONDON — 1.1 million. The number has been featured in countless headlines and discussed in German parliamentary sessions as the number of refugees and migrants the country said it had accepted last year.

In reality, Germany never accepted that many.

On Friday, the German Interior Ministry corrected one of 2015's most widely discussed numbers by 200,000. The current official tally is about 890,000 entered the nation as part of last year's massive exodus into Europe from war-ravaged places such as Iraq and Syria.

According to officials, previous estimates were based on preliminary registration numbers, which included double registrations. Moreover, some of those registered in Germany later moved to other countries such as Denmark or Sweden.

Still, Germany bore some of the heaviest burdens as many refugees and others sought to reach the country because of its welcoming policies, stable economy and generous social programs.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere also said Friday that the paperwork process was still incomplete. Fewer than 500,000 were able to apply for asylum by the end of December due to bureaucratic delays. About 70,000 people still remain undocumented.

Those new numbers show how Germany still struggles to cope with last year's influx. So far this year, 200,000 more migrants have arrived in the country  — putting further strains on an already overburdened asylum system designed to process far fewer newcomers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently acknowledged that she regretted not being adequately prepared. "If it was possible, I would go back in time many, many years in order to be able to better prepare myself, the government and those who are responsible for this situation which struck us relatively unexpected last summer," Merkel said earlier this month.

But Merkel has repeatedly emphasized that she stands by her government's decision to allow hundreds of thousands of Syrians to stay. Under E.U. treaties, Merkel could have deported those refugees to the countries where they entered the bloc, often Italy or Greece.

The impact of that decision will likely determine whether Merkel will be re-elected as chancellor in elections next year. Her approval rating recently sank to a five-year low.

Speaking to The Washington Post, several Syrian refugees living in Germany criticized authorities for long processing delays and what they called difficult conditions in accommodation centers.

Enana Asr, 21, said she "felt like the criminal," during an asylum interview with officials who questioned her about her homosexuality. Public opinion had also changed following multiple terror attacks this summer. Earlier this week, two bombs exploded in the eastern German city of Dresden in front of a mosque and a convention center, but did not cause injuries. Authorities assume that the attacks deliberately targeted foreigners.

The German association of psychotherapists said last year that at least half who flee war zones may need psychological support. But experts say that such programs are still lacking in many refugee accommodation centers.

A 27-year-old Syrian, Sakher al-Mohammad, claimed that the German government had failed to properly monitor the accommodation centers. According to him, drug use was prevalent in the camps.

Most refugees,  however, have blamed local authorities rather than Merkel for their perceived problems.

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