German asylum scandal: What is the Interior Ministry hiding?
Germany's conservative interior minister, Horst Seehofer, is coming under increased pressure from both within and outside the government over his handling of what have been described as "massive irregularities" in asylum cases.
It's alleged that the Bremen branch of the Office for Migrants and Refugees (BAMF), which is subordinate to the Interior Ministry, simply admitted more than 1,200 refugees to Germany without properly reviewing their cases. Bremen prosecutors are currently investigating whether bribes changed hands, and questions have been asked whether BAMF head Jutta Cordt kept herself adequately informed, and if she did enough to investigate the possible irregularities.
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On Tuesday, Seehofer told a German newspaper that he would be taking "organizational and possibly personnel decisions" related to the scandal next week. Members of the grand-coalition government have called on Seehofer to be more forthcoming with information about the scandal, including when he first learned of it.
Seehofer has also confirmed that he will testify before a special meeting of the Bundestag internal affairs committee next Tuesday. The meeting is being convened at the request of the opposition Green Party. Two of Germany's other opposition parties — the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the center-right FDP — are calling for a full-blown parliamentary investigation.
Thus far, the Greens have resisted that idea. But they say that they could change their minds if Seehofer doesn't provide them with quality information.
Is Seehofer stonewalling?
The votes of one-quarter of the Bundestag's deputies are needed to convene a full parliamentary investigation, which could be an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government and Seehofer in particular. With the Greens' support, such a procedure could go ahead. For now, though, the Greens say they prefer other options.
"We're not categorically ruling it out, but a parliamentary investigation takes a long time," Green refugee policy spokeswoman Luise Amtsberg told DW. "It's not enough to achieve results in two years. We can't permit that. Ultimately the BAMF decides on asylum cases every day, and if there are shortcomings, they would be prolonged."
Amtsberg complained that despite her requests, Seehofer has yet to provide her party with access to internal BAMF documents pertaining to the case, even though some of their contents have been leaked to newspapers.
"That really takes the cake," Amtsberg said, adding that, if the Greens felt Seehofer was stonewalling, they would consider forcing information out of him with a parliamentary investigation.
Cordt hanging by a thread
Along with the claims that the Bremen BAMF office and possibly other local branches simply rubber-stamped asylum applications, there have been allegations that Cordt failed to investigate the irregularities after being made aware of them.
Cordt has ordered the review of 18,000 asylum decisions made in Bremen. And her office has denied media reports that she had known about the alleged abuses of power since February 2017. But Seehofer's remarks are being read as an indication of how tenuous her position may be.
The Greens are say they're less interested in seeing Cordt dismissed than in reforming Germany's asylum system as a whole, although they do agree that the current BAMF president should not be allowed to lead the investigation into the office's possible shortcomings.
"She definitely can't take charge of clearing up the internal deficits and structural problems," Antsberg said. "But if Mr. Seehofer removes Ms. Cordt, it will be difficult to hold anyone politically responsible. We want Ms. Cordt to give us clear information about what has been going on in the past years and months. It's not enough simply to remove Ms. Cordt."
The BAMF has come under intense criticism since the large-scale migration of people largely from the Middle East and Northern Africa in 2015. Critics accuse the office of, among other things, being unable to handle the number of people applying for asylum in Germany.
Not a one-directional scandal
The political fault lines in the case are clear. Both the AfD and the FDP want to see the BAMF keep more people out of Germany. Refugee advocacy groups, on the other hand, say that just as many, if not more, mistakes are made in rejecting would-be refugees. The group Pro Asyl, for instance, is calling for a moratorium on deportations.
The Greens say that all BAMF policies and practices need to be scrutinized.
"There is not just a scandal in one direction and not the other," Amtsberg explained. "It's typical that the minister says we should look at all the positive asylum decisions and Pro Asyl says that we should look at all the negative ones. We Greens say that we're for the rule of law, so we have to look at all of the cases."
Nonetheless, if the Greens aren't happy with the answers they get from the conservative interior minister next week, they could somewhat ironically find themselves joining the right-wing opposition parties in calling for a wider investigation.