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Figures cast doubt over effectiveness of German-Spanish migrant deal

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German Interior ministry statistics suggest that a recent asylum policy agreement between Berlin and Madrid will have little impact on the number of migrants reaching Germany via Spain, the newspaper Handelsblatt reported on Friday.

Responding to a query by Handelsblatt, the ministry admitted that not a single individual would have been affected by the agreement which interior minister and Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer has described as an integral part of his "migration master plan". Under the bilateral deal secured by Seehofer this week, Madrid has offered to take back asylum seekers who were first registered in Spain within 48 hours.

However, the Spanish offer to help prevent so-called "secondary migration" of asylum seekers within the Schengen free-travel area only applies to individuals who are intercepted by authorities at the German-Austrian border. The interior ministry told Handelsblatt on Friday that although eight asylum seekers who were already registered in Spain had entered Germany during the past two months, none of them had crossed the border with Austria.

The data seemed to confirm the critics' suspicion of the deal who have accused Seehofer of trying to score points with anti-immigrant symbolism. Given the geographic location of Spain in the far west of Europe, it is unlikely that refugees and other irregular migrants take a detour Germany's South-Eastern neighbor Austria to reach the country.

German authorities have only been recording instances in which new asylum seekers have been previously registered in a different European Union (EU) country under the bloc's "Eurodac" system since mid-June. During this period, a total of 150 illegal border crossings were registered which fell into the category of secondary migration. Around half of the cases were technically the responsibility of Italy under the so-called "Dublin regime" governing European asylum policy.

In spite of a "low current number of cases", the federal government insists that the German-Spanish asylum seeker deal which will be formally enacted from Saturday is worthwhile. According to a spokesperson, the agreement constituted an "important step to ordering and controlling migration policy and strengthening the integrity of the joint European asylum system."

Seehofer has repeatedly argued that a normalization of German asylum policy is needed again after the massive influx of new arrivals from 2015 onwards led to a temporary suspension in the operation of Dublin regime. At the same time, critics of the system, including Italy and Greece, have drawn attention to what they view as its unfair institutional division of labor and called for reforms.

States located at the external borders of the Schengen area are currently legally responsible for the vast majority of arrivals. So far, EU interior ministers have been unable to agree on the shape of a "Dublin IV" regime to replace the third iteration thereof.

As of the first half of 2018, Spain has overtaken Greece and Italy as the biggest destination for asylum seekers and migrants coming to Europe from Africa. German chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is scheduled to travel to the country on Saturday where she will hold informal talks on European migration policy with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

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