April 14, 2016 / 8:52 AM / 2 years ago

Swiss asylum requests fall again as Balkan states halt transit

ZURICH (Reuters) - The number of people seeking asylum in Switzerland fell for a fourth month in March, mirroring declines in neighboring Germany as Europe seeks to discourage people from making the journey from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

An assistant talks to a migrant in a Swiss Federal refugee center, set-up in a tank hall on the army base in Thun, Switzerland March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Switzerland registered 1,992 asylum requests, roughly 25 percent fewer than in February. Asylum requests have dropped since November 2015.

Germany, which saw the greatest impact from Europe’s migrant wave last year, said this month that migrants entering the country from Austria had dropped seven-fold.

Balkan countries shuttering their borders and the European Union’s pact with Turkey to return migrants have contributed to lower numbers of asylum seekers. Switzerland is not a member of the bloc but adheres to its migration policies.

“The reason for this development is the continuous decline of migration via the Balkan route,” the Swiss Migration Office said in a summary of the first quarter of 2016. “Since March, affected countries along the Balkan route have brought transit traffic to a virtual standstill.”

Despite the decline, Swiss officials said developments in conflict regions remain uncertain — United Nations peace talks resumed on Wednesday amid a fragile cessation of hostilities in Syria — leaving the migration situation “volatile and difficult to forecast”.

The EU said on Wednesday that “alarming” numbers of potential migrants were gathering in Libya to cross the Mediterranean, suggesting numbers in Europe may begin to increase once more.

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Alison Williams

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