More than 11,000 migrants have reached the German border this year after making it through the chaos at Poland’s frontier with Belarus.
They included hundreds of people who were picked up by German border police just this month after making the 700-kilometre trip across Poland.
Germany, Europe’s richest country, is regarded as the preferred destination for many of the migrants stranded in Belarus, many of whom come from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Allegedly enticed to Belarus by visa schemes established for political purposes in Minsk, they must first cross into Poland at a freezing border where guards on both sides have been accused of mistreating migrants.
Although Warsaw has touted itself as the guardian of Europe’s eastern frontier, the figures from Germany’s Federal Police show that some people have evaded the heavy security and made it into the EU.
For those who succeed in entering Poland, the westward route takes them to the visa-free border with Germany, part of the Schengen area where people are not routinely checked.
But despite this, German police have stopped 11,162 illegal migrants with links to Belarus, a haul credited to patrols on the road and co-operation with Polish border guards.
The numbers coming to Germany reached a peak in October, when 5,285 new arrivals were determined to have links to Belarus. It was not clear if others had got through without being stopped.
The headcount fell to 2,849 in November and 470 in December as the crisis partially eased, with the EU leaning on third countries such as Iraq to stop people leaving for Belarus.
“The trend is clearly downwards,” German police said, but the German-Polish border “remains the flashpoint”.
Once in Germany, people cannot be deported back across a Schengen border except under emergency circumstances. Their asylum claims are handled by German authorities.
Warsaw and Berlin have both sought to communicate to migrants that Germany’s door is not open and that the journey should not be attempted.
Berlin has resisted pressure from Minsk to open a legal migration route for some of the people stranded at the Polish border.
But there was outrage after German far-right extremists called on their followers to mount a vigilante guard at the border with Poland.
President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Minsk is suspected of trying to undermine the EU by luring migrants to the Polish border. Belarus is under a series of international sanctions linked to political repression at home.