Germany's anti-immigrant AfD party pushed Monday to make the massive influx of migrants into the country an election issue as it battles with flagging support, despite waning concern among Germans over the matter.
More than 1 million migrants entered Germany in 2015-2016. Alternative for Germany leaders Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel told reporters in Berlin they think the wave of newcomers has led to increased crime, an overwhelmed educational system and an "Islamization of society."
"The big number of migrants cannot be integrated in the long run," Weidel said, calling for tougher asylum laws. She also advocated shutting down the Mediterranean Sea route from Libya to Europe that many migrants use and accused the Germany navy of participating in human trafficking by assisting migrant boats in distress.
The AfD's support has dropped ahead of the Sept. 24 election to 7 percent in the most recent polls, half of what the party had at the height of the immigration crisis.
Support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc dropped during the influx and its aftermath, but has rebounded to about 39 percent. Merkel's campaign speeches have focused more on the country's growing economy and record low unemployment.
Like Merkel's Christian Democrats, most other parties have not made migration a major issue of their election campaigns.
Germany, like several other European countries, has suffered a number of extremist attacks, some of which were committed by asylum-seekers who came to the country in the 2015 wave.
In an interview published Monday by Bild newspaper, Merkel was asked to comment on migrants in Germany who have committed crimes or violent attacks.
"Unfortunately, there are a few refugees, who have done such things," Merkel answered, adding: "There are also many, many others who need protection."
The chancellor said the government is doing all it can to prevent "such attacks, such murders, to prevent Islamist terror." She also said Germany has learned from past attacks and "we've become quite a bit better."