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Germany To Send Back Thousands Of Afghan, Balkans Migrants

Migrants wait on the bridge at the Austrian-German border between Braunau and Simbach at lake Inn near Passau on October 27.
Migrants wait on the bridge at the Austrian-German border between Braunau and Simbach at lake Inn near Passau on October 27.

Germany toughened its response to an accelerating influx of migrants on October 28, pledging to send rejected asylum seekers back to the Balkans and Afghanistan.

The sharper tone from Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere came as a new poll showed support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative government slumping to a three-year low over her handling of the refugee crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants that have streamed into Europe this year -- mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but also from the Balkans -- have trekked through the Balkan states but made Germany their ultimate destination because of its more plentiful jobs.

De Maiziere said at a news conference in Berlin that the influx had accelerated strongly in recent days due to a backlog of migrants traveling through the Balkans.

Germany is aiming under a streamlined asylum process to decide the cases of thousands of unresolved asylum seekers by Christmas, he said. And those who don't qualify for asylum will be sent back to the Balkans and their home countries.

"I expect that in the coming weeks, the number of deportations and voluntary departures will rise significantly," he said, adding that "tens of thousands of rejected asylum seekers from the Balkans would have to leave our country."

He also said a sharp rise in the number of migrants coming from Afghanistan is "unacceptable" and said Germany has held talks with Kabul with the goal of putting a halt to it.

De Maiziere said Germany and other Western nations have poured millions in developmental aid into Afghanistan, as well as sending troops and police to help train security forces there, and that Afghanistan's government agrees with Berlin that citizens should remain there and help rebuild the country.

Afghans should "stay in their country," he emphasized. "The people who come from Afghanistan cannot expect that they will be able to stay."

The Interior Ministry also announced that it would extend border controls until November 13, and possibly for another three months after that.

The controls, which were first imposed on September 13, amount to a de-facto suspension of Germany's membership in the European Union's Schengen borders-free zone.

The controls are concentrated on the border with Austria -- the main entry point for refugees and migrants who arrive by boat in southern Europe and then cross through the Balkans.

De Maziere sharply criticized Austria for ferrying migrants to the border with Germany at night. For its part, Austria outlined plans on October 28 to build barriers at a busy crossing on its southern border with Slovenia to slow the influx of migrants.

De Maiziere's cabinet colleague, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking at a separate event, said the stream of migrants could not be "limitless," emphasizing the government's new, tougher line.

Amid the growing anti-migrant sentiment, Merkel's coalition partner, the Social Democrats, signaled they might be ready to drop their opposition to so-called "transit zones" along the border, which would allow German authorities to register and deport migrants more quickly.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP