German migration authorities have widened their probe into asylum application fraud and are now investigating 10 additional field offices on suspicion of granting refugees permissions to stay in the country without proper grounds.
On Friday, the German Federal Office for Migration and Asylum (BAMF) announced that it would review some 18,000 refugee cases in the city of Bremen going back as far as 2000, after the regional office discovered the approval of up to 2,000 asylum stays between 2013 and 2016, which did not match the government’s sanctuary criteria.
On Sunday, the scandal deepened with 10 more asylum decision offices added to the investigation list. BAMF announced that it will examine those branches where the average quotas of asylum applications accepted or rejected in comparison with other offices deviated by 10 percentage points or more, a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of the Interior said, following a request from the DPA news agency. A total of an additional 8,500 cases from 2017 would be reviewed, she added.
In addition, BAMF will review a complaint from a Rhineland-Palatinate Bingenan office employee, who on February 6 asked the Nuremberg headquarters to evaluate “divergent assessments of asylum procedure” at the office.
The new development follows a scandal in April, when it was revealed that a former BAMF official at the Bremen office was under investigation on suspicion of taking bribes from at least 1,200 asylum seekers between 2013 and 2016. Five other officials at the workplace are now also being probed for possibly taking part in the scheme. They include an interpreter and three lawyers. Amid the corruption scandal, the Supreme Audit Institution was tasked by Interior Minister Horst Seehofe on Thursday to probe the BAMF and the Interior Ministry.
In the meantime, BAMF denied claims that the government had been aware of the asylum fraud as early as February 2017. Suddeutsche Zeitung and the NDR reported on Sunday that, back then, authorities received emails asking the migration authorities to look at the Bremen branch, including a refugee lawyer who worked for the Lower Saxony office.
More than 1.6 million refugees, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have arrived in Germany since 2014, due to the so-called ‘open door’ policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The influx of migrants has divided the country and significantly boosted support for the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), which secured third place in September’s elections and entered parliament for the first time. The rise of the far-right in Germany came after a number of terrorist attacks involving refugees, as well as sexual harassment incidents across the country.
In October of last year, Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party eventually agreed to cap Germany’s intake of asylum seekers at 200,000 a year. Over the next two years, Germany plans to spend €78 billion on migration-related issues, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Saturday, citing the Finance Ministry’s document.