Germany hits new immigration record amid rising tensions

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An officer of the German Federal Police pats down a refugee at a registration point at the railway station in Rosenheim, southern Germany, on July 29, 2015

An officer of the German Federal Police pats down a refugee at a registration point at the railway station in Rosenheim, southern Germany, on July 29, 2015 (AFP Photo/Christof Stache)

Berlin (AFP) - Germany took in a record number of immigrants last year amid growing tensions over the changing face of the nation, official statistics released Monday showed.

The number of newcomers in 2014 climbed to 10.9 million, the federal statistics office reported, as Europe's top economy continues to outperform many of its neighbours.

Last year there were 16.4 million people of foreign origin living in Germany, or one in five residents. Most -- 56 percent -- have German citizenship.

Germany long resisted calling itself a country of immigration, and only began collecting statistics on its migrants in 2005.

In 2012, it became the second biggest magnet for foreigners worldwide after the United States, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The 2014 data showed the strongest growth in immigration came from other European Union (EU) states with around 620,000, marking an increase of 18.3 percent. Poland, Romania, Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary sent the largest numbers.

However the number of migrants from outside the EU continued to surge too, particularly from India, China and war-ravaged Syria.

The report comes amid a charged debate in Germany about new legislation to regulate the flow of immigrants and asylum seekers.

Germany's ageing population poses a threat to its long-term prosperity and it hopes to confront the problem by luring highly qualified immigrants.

At the same time, the country is taking in record numbers of refugees fleeing war, persecution and poverty, expected to number 500,000 this year.

The dramatic changes have given rise to far-right marches and more than 200 attacks on shelters for asylum seekers this year, as towns and cities struggle to house the newcomers.

"What is clear is that we cannot solve the problem of a lack of skilled labour via asylum law," Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, told Monday's Bild newspaper.

Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Social Democrats and a member of the ruling coalition, warned against opening the door to more migrants.

"An immigration law that would lead to more immigration to Germany is out of the question for the CSU,"he told public broadcaster ARD.