Germany Faces 'Upsurge' in Refugee Numbers This Winter

Migrants are escorted by German police to a registration center, after crossing the Austrian-German border in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany, November 1. Michael Dalder/Reuters

Germany could face an influx in the number of refugees arriving in the country by the end of 2015, surpassing the government's prediction in July of 800,000 arrivals.

The Sunday newspaper Welt am Sonntag cited German "intelligence services" saying the worsening situation in war-torn Syria could lead to an increase in the number of refugees travelling to Germany.

The report comes as many areas in the country face snowfall and icy conditions, including the state of Bavaria in southeast of Germany, which issued its first avalanche warning on Monday, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

When asked how many refugees German authorities expect this winter, however, a government spokesman told Newsweek that Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière is not ready to make a prediction.

When the ministry revealed in September how many refugees Germany expected to accept by the end of 2015, Germany was inundated with people who had made the journey across Europe. That same month, German President Joachim Gauck warned of a limit to how many refugees Germany could take.

The ministry could not confirm how many refugees out of the anticipated 800,000 have arrived so far this year. But it announced plans in September to return Syrian refugees to the first E.U. country they entered—backtracking on a previous decision to suspend the E.U.'s Dublin Regulation, which forces refugees to seek asylum immediately on arrival to a member country.

According to the spokesman, "many people perceived our last estimate of 800,000 for 2015 as a welcome into the country. Because we fear a new figure could get misused, as it did before, we will not be coming up with a new one until next year."

More than four million people have left Syria since the civil war against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began in 2011, with 7.6 million people internally displaced. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), people from the Syrian Arab Republic account for more than half of the refugees currently in Europe.

In recent years, the spokesman says, the cold weather has dissuaded refugees from making the journey to Germany and numbers have decreased. He refused to comment on whether the ministry is relying on the trend to continue this winter.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which operates in Germany, confirms to Newsweek that it expects numbers to surpass the government's prediction of 800,000 arrivals and will be much higher.

The UNHCR also expects more people to make the dangerous journey to Europe by the end of this year, but can't say how many more.

A spokesman for the UNHCR told Newsweek via email that the organization "does not expect any decrease" in the number of arrivals, "as most of the people arriving in Europe come from the world's conflict zones where no political solution is in sight."

According to a November study by Ernst & Young, German authorities do not have the capacity to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are expected to enter the country by the end of this year. Local authorities can only provide shelter for half a million people, the report says.

Germany's Interior Ministry could not comment on what it plans to do to with the 300,000 refugees who might end up with nowhere to live this winter.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday rejected increasing pressure from the government of Bavaria, a free state that claims to have taken the brunt of the influx, to limit the number of refugees allowed into the country. Instead, Merkel suggested that Germany should share the burden with its neighbors, reports Reuters.