Berlin: Germany will return thousands of rejected asylum applicants to the Balkans in coming months, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Wednesday, as Berlin toughens its stance against economic migrants amid a record influx.
"I expect that in the next weeks, the number of repatriations, voluntary returns and deportations will rise significantly," de Maiziere said.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has been tasked with dealing with "many unresolved asylum applications" before Christmas, said the minister, adding "that means that tens of thousands of rejected asylum seekers from the Balkans would have to leave our country".
"This must be accomplished," he said.
De Maiziere said he would also travel in coming days to Albania to find out how deportees are treated there.
German authorities have so far expelled 11,000 people, while another 27,000 have voluntarily left the country with financial help, said de Maiziere.
Germany is expecting to welcome a million asylum seekers this year. Many of those who have arrived so far are from war-torn countries like Syria or Iraq, but a sizeable number has also come from conflict-free countries in the Balkans.
In a bid to free up resources to deal with those fleeing war and persecution, Berlin this month passed a law adding Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro to a list of "safe origin countries".
The description means that citizens of these countries would not normally be eligible for political asylum.
According to official data, Germany received 577,307 asylum seekers from January to September. Of these, 66,311 were Albanian and another 32,258 were Kosovan.