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The German government has admitted that it does not always know the whereabouts of rejected asylum seekers, but argues that the number doesn't tell the whole truth. The government's asylum agency faces a file backlog.
Around 30,000 rejected asylum seekers have simply disappeared from Germany's records, a German newspaper has claimed, though the government and refugee organizations call the statistical analysis inaccurate and "ridiculous."
According to a report in Thursday's mass-circulation daily Bild, the government's Central Register of Foreign Nationals (AZR) counted around 54,000 people at the end of 2016 who were obligated to leave the country, but only around 23,000 were claiming state benefits in accordance with the law governing asylum applicants, according to numbers from the Federal Statistical Office.
An Interior Ministry spokesman told Bild, "It can't be ruled out that individuals obligated to leave the country documented in the foreign nationals register have already left the country or have disappeared without the relevant foreign nationals authority having been made aware of it, or reporting the fact to the AZR."
But in response to the Bild report, another Interior Ministry spokesman told DW that the paper's calculations were based on various false assumptions. "The article fundamentally misunderstands the basic premise that only around 49 percent of all foreign nationals registered in the AZR as obliged to leave are people whose asylum applications have been refused," the spokesman said in an email. "Apart from rejected asylum seekers, people with expired visas are also often obligated to leave."
The ministry also said Bild was comparing numbers that had no statistical connection: "Neither all those obliged to leave, nor the group of rejected asylum seekers are entitled to asylum seeker benefits," the spokesman added.
Bernd Mesovic, director of legal policy at refugees' rights organization Pro Asyl, said it was ridiculous of Bild to claim that these figures were new or in any way surprising. "This is an ancient story," he said. "The fact is that one can assume that a lot of people in the AZR have long since left. Just because they're not there doesn't mean they've 'gone underground.' In our experience many people move on at the beginning of the procedure."
"There are no checks on who has left, unless they're considered dangerous," Mesovic added. "People can leave Germany whenever they want, and many don't register with the authorities when they do." He also pointed out that many immigrants arrive in Germany and simply tell authorities that they have relatives elsewhere in Europe and then travel there of their own accord.
"I know cases of people who say, 'I'm sick of waiting in Germany; I'm going back to my country of origin,'" Mesovic said. "There are people who even voluntarily go back to Syria or Afghanistan. They're not obliged (to tell authorities they're going anywhere), and it's hard to check."
Long processing times
This same week, regional newspaper Nürnberger Nachrichten reported that Germany's central immigration authority, BAMF, is once again struggling to process asylum applications.
Citing an internal BAMF document from mid-October, the newspaper said that while BAMF had been processing around 50,000 cases a month at the beginning of the year, its rate had recently slowed to 15,000-18,000 a month. New cases were now taking up to two months to process, while in January decisions were being made in around 10 days.
The document said BAMF was currently aiming to process another 15,000 asylum applications a month by the end of the year. But the authority is facing a backlog of applications. At the end of 2016 some 430,000 applications had remained untouched. Today, 52,000 old applications are still being processed, some from as far back as 2015. The current target to deal with new applications is three months.
Despite the ongoing media interest in asylum seekers and immigration procedures, the German government is reducing the number of BAMF personnel: while the agency was employing some 10,000 officials at one point earlier this year, this dipped to 7,800 by September, around half of them on temporary contracts, the regional paper reported.
Similarly, BAMF is currently failing to meet its integration course targets. By September, it had only managed to bring 28,000 asylum seekers onto integration language courses, well below its target of 56,000. While 3,000 people finished the course successfully in September, some 3,000 did not, and a further 9,000 were categorized as "inactive," having not attended class for nine months.
At the same time, the BAMF document showed it is taking longer for accepted asylum seekers to be given access to a course. On average, it now takes successful asylum seekers 15.2 weeks to be admitted to an integration course after they have received a registration notification, while in January that figure was just 11.7 weeks.