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FILE PHOTO - German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands after the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in front of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke


BERLIN (Reuters) - The number of people seeking refuge in Germany has more than doubled in the last two years to 1.6 million, with most fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, the Federal Statistics Office said on Thursday.

Asylum figures are a hot issue in Germany due to a migrant crisis which peaked in 2015. Voters punished Chancellor Angela Merkel for her open-door policy in a September election, with her conservatives suffering heavy losses to the far-right.

Agreeing on migrant policy is one of the biggest hurdles facing conservative Merkel in her attempt to form an awkward three-way coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens.

The Statistics Office said on Thursday the 1.6 million people seeking protection by the end of last year was a 113 percent increase from the end of 2014 and was equivalent to 16 percent of the foreign population in Germany.

Included in the figures are people from abroad staying in Germany for humanitarian reasons, people still going through the asylum process, those granted refugee status or subsidiary protection status and failed asylum seekers who stay.

More than half of the 1.6 million people had by the end of 2016 been granted permission to stay in Germany while some 158,000 were rejected asylum seekers, said the Office.

Highlighting the sensitivity of the figures, top-selling Bild daily reported that 30,000 rejected asylum seekers had disappeared, with authorities having no idea of their whereabouts. This phenomenon has led to worries about security.

Syria was the top country of origin, with 455,000 people seeking protection in Germany by the end of 2016, followed by 191,000 people from Afghanistan and 156,000 from Iraq, said the Office.

While the biggest increases in numbers were in eastern Germany, excluding Berlin, in absolute terms, the largest number of people seeking refuge were in western Germany. Some 27 percent were in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Some 64 percent of those seeking refuge were men, compared to the population overall of which 49 percent are male, and the average age was 29.4 years old.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Editing by William Maclean)

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