German conservatives address concerns about migrants as support wanes

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By Michelle Martin BERLIN (Reuters) - Senior German conservatives sought at the weekend to reassure Germans concerned about a record migrant influx, saying numbers must go down and criminal refugees could be deported as a poll showed support for the bloc slipping. Some 1.1 million migrants streamed into Germany last year, and regions and communities have complained that they are being overwhelmed. Concerns about crime and security have also mounted since men of north African and Arab appearance assaulted women in Cologne at New Year. Chancellor Angela Merkel said most refugees from Syria and Iraq would go home once the conflicts there had ended and urged other European countries to offer more help "because the numbers need to be reduced even further and must not start to rise again, especially in spring". The record influx and associated concerns are taking their toll politically, with support for Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party falling by 2 percentage points to 34 percent in an Emnid survey for Bild am Sonntag. That was its lowest level in that survey since July 2012, though another pollster has already shown them at 32.5 percent. In an interview with the same newspaper, Peter Altmaier, who Merkel has tasked with overseeing the government's handling of the refugee crisis, said the government was negotiating with some countries including Turkey about taking back criminal refugees who arrived via non-EU countries. "That can then mean that such refugees are not deported to their home countries - if civil war is raging there, for example - but rather to the country via which they came into the EU," said Altmaier, who is also Merkel's chief of staff. He said Germany was working closely with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to host most of the refugees until there was peace in Syria and Iraq. A spokesman for his office declined to comment on the state of negotiations. On Wednesday Merkel's coalition government backed a new law to make it easier to deport foreign nationals who commit crimes. 'LOSS OF CONTROL' Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere suggested in magazine Der Spiegel that Germany could not accept economic migrants. "It is impossible for Germany to take in all the refugees from the world's crisis regions. And this especially applies to those people not from Syria who are coming here for a better life," he said. Reiner Haseloff, the CDU state premier of Saxony-Anhalt, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Germany could no longer accept the "loss of control" at its borders and said ordinary Germans would only remain prepared to help if there was a "strict reduction" of numbers arriving. Concerns about migrants have boosted support for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), with the Emnid survey putting it on 12 percent, marking it as the third strongest political force in Germany after Merkel's bloc and their junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD). The AfD has struck a tough tone on immigration and leader Frauke Petry said in an interview published on Saturday that migrants entering illegally should, if necessary, be shot. Around 50,000 refugees have left Germany since the start of 2015, either voluntarily or by deportation, Altmaier said, adding that many turned back before applying for asylum once it became clear they would not be able to stay. "Nonetheless we need to improve this. Those who don't have the right to stay must leave Germany promptly," he said. (Reporting by Michelle Martin; editing by John Stonestreet)

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