The number of new asylum seekers in Germany fell sharply last year to 186,000, the government said Tuesday, easing pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel as debate rages on whether to impose a cap on migration.

The figures are a far cry from the record 890,000 arrivals registered in 2015 after Merkel opened the country's borders to those fleeing conflict at the height of Europe's migrant crisis -- a decision that polarised the country.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the number of newcomers filing asylum requests had "dropped significantly" in 2017 to 186,644, after already falling to some 280,000 the year before.

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