Germany will send thousands of rejected asylum applicants back to the Balkans in the coming months, the interior minister said Wednesday, as Berlin toughens its stance on economic migrants in the face of a refugee crisis.
"I expect that in the next weeks, the number of repatriations, voluntary returns and deportations will rise significantly," Thomas 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.
The interior ministry also announced that it would extend border controls until November 13, and possibly for another three months after that.
In a dramatic move that amounted to a de-facto suspension of its membership of the Schengen borders-free zone, Germany on September 13 introduced border controls to try check the overwhelming number of refugees entering the country.
The controls, which 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 the continent -- were already previously extended until October 31.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere speaks during a press conferene on the migrant crisis on October 28, 2015 in Berlin.
Germany is expecting to welcome up to 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", meaning citizens of those countries would not normally be eligible for political asylum.
German authorities have so far expelled 11,000 people, while another 27,000 have voluntarily left the country with financial help, said de Maiziere.
The minister said he would travel in the coming days to Albania to find out how deportees are treated there.
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.