Germany’s deputy chancellor has written to bosses of the country’s leading companies demanding they hire more refugees, after a survey found they had taken on a grand total of just 54.

About 1m migrants arrived in Germany last year, about a third of them refugees from Syria. Angela Merkel’s government has made it a priority to integrate them into the German labour market as quickly as possible.

But despite the large number of vacancies in the German jobs market — 665,000 in June — it has proven harder than expected to recruit the refugees into the workforce.

A survey by the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper of the top 30 German companies found that they had together employed just 54 refugees. Fifty of them were hired by one company, Deutsche Post.

In his letter, Sigmar Gabriel, economics minister and leader of the centre-left Social Democrats, said the smaller enterprises that make up Germany’s Mittelstand had been building bridges to enable refugees to enter the labour market.

“But without the flagships of the German economy, without you, the bridge is not yet complete,” he wrote. “Show that the biggest companies in this country are not only the best at revenues and profits … but also when it comes to integrating [refugees].”

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