Opinion: German refugee agency scandal – Keep calm and investigate | Opinion | DW | 23.05.2018
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Opinion: German refugee agency scandal – Keep calm and investigate

Nothing rattles Germans quite as much these days as immigration and asylum issues. So as Jens Thurau comments, the failures by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees come at an unfortunate time.

Jutta Cordt, head of Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees (picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrcenka)

Jutta Cordt, head of Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees, has gotten into hot water over a number of the office's perceived failures

Looking at the latest figures, the situation actually seems gradually to be settling down. Two years ago around 62 percent of all asylum applications in Germany were approved, whereas in the first months of 2017 it was only 32 percent. Two years ago the authorities were completely overwhelmed by the high numbers of refugees. Now they have more staff, with clearer and more efficient procedures as a result.

A gift to right-wing populists

Yet now, of all times, Germany has been hit by reports of inexcusable failures by some branches of the immigration authority; above all in Bremen, where they were evidently the result of criminal determination. Put simply, many more asylum applications were approved there than elsewhere. The head of one of the department's offices was cheating and scheming, taking charge of cases that were not under her jurisdiction, and as a consequence almost every asylum application was approved. When the influx of refugees was at its highest, the Bremen branch of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees was obviously just waving many asylum seekers through, in part because its workload was simply too great. Later, attempts were made to cover up the extent of it. It's a gift to every right-wing populist and xenophobe in the country.

DW's Jens Thurau

DW's Jens Thurau

Mistakes can, of course, happen in any government department with several thousand employees in around one hundred branches all over the country, especially if there is a sudden and massive increase in the demands made on it, as in the autumn of 2015. However, particular care has to be taken with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Asylum procedure – the question of who is allowed to stay and who has to go – is already perceived by the majority of German citizens as highly complex and not very transparent. If they also get a sense that there's something fishy going on in the relevant departmental offices, it's time for alarm bells to ring. The Bremen office has now been banned from deciding any asylum applications until all the investigations have been concluded. This sends the right signals.

The proposal made by the FDP and the AfD is not so good. They want the events in Bremen and at the department's head office in Nuremberg to be scrutinized by a parliamentary committee of enquiry. For the right-wing populists of the AfD in particular, this would simply serve as an instrument with which to attack Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy. The AfD has no interest in making sure the offices function better; what it wants is to discredit all forms of immigration, with or without an asylum application.

Read more: One in two rejected asylum seekers win appeal in German courts

Seehofer as advocate for refugees

The new German minister of the interior, Horst Seehofer of the CSU, must now demonstrate whether he is able to clear up the affair without the situation getting overheated. In his former position as head of his party and premier of the state of Bavaria he was, for much of the past three years, one of the fiercest critics of Chancellor Merkel's immigration policy. Now he is also lord and master of the federal migration agency – and of the many honest and hardworking employees there who fear for their office's reputation. Furthermore, Seehofer is also in fact the advocate for the many refugees who rightfully enjoy protection in Germany and who may find themselves discredited, through no fault of their own, by the serious events in Bremen. Right now it is essential that an investigation be carried out without hysteria or attacks on asylum seekers. Let us hope that this is indeed what happens.

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