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Fingerprinting refugees

February 8, 2017

Fingerprints are making headlines in Germany. At the height of the refugee crisis, newcomers entered without immigration controls. One result: benefit fraud. It must be stopped, says Joachim Stamp from the FDP.

Deutschland Bamf: Fingerabdrücke von allen Flüchtlingen nehmen
Image: picture alliance/dpa/P. Endig

DW: The new head of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Jutta Cordt, has demanded that municipal immigration offices collect fingerprints from all refugees. Most refugees entered the country without being subjected to immigration controls. Is it still possible to collect fingerprints retroactively?

Stamp: Two weeks ago, I personally met with Ms. Cordt at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, and we discussed the situation. It is important that all authorities have all fingerprints. The acceptance of refugees, who are actually entitled to protection, is still very high in the population. But there is no sympathy for benefit fraud and crimes. And many people will question the constitutional state if there are too many unregistered people in Germany.

So fingerprints have to be collected retroactively?

All fingerprints are collected at BAMF. However, we still have the problem that municipal authorities are partially unable to exchange data. This must be dealt with. The Ministerial Conference of the Federal States must discuss this and act because a secure database is needed to prevent benefit fraud.

In the past, money was unlawfully received several times by the same person with multiple, false identities. It was easy until now because the authorities' ability to check against other identities was limited. Is our federal system that easy to trick?

Deutschland | Joachim Stamp FDP MdL NRW
Joachim Stamp is deputy chairman of the Free Democrat parliamentary group in North Rhine-WestphaliaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Weihrauch

During the crisis, we noticed that our bureaucracy learns new things very slowly. In 2015, I traveled across the Balkan route to Presevo, in southern Serbia, to see the situation for myself. All fingerprints were collected there. The only problem was that Serbia is not linked to EURODAC, the European database used to identify asylum seekers. So the fingerprints were not accessible to us. If we had exchanged data with Serbia, we could have obtained enormous data sets for the refugees. We missed that opportunity. Unfortunately, we noticed in Germany that district governments and the federal states made very slow progress together – and the municipalities as well. This now has to be dealt with systematically with funding from the federal government.

Only ten percent of immigration authorities have the technology to check against other fingerprints in the centralized registry office for foreigners. Why are so few of them able to do so?

Nobody was prepared and there are obvious technical problems. But I have very little tolerance for the fact that it takes this long to make relevant technical improvements. The federal government and the states must act now.

The police complain that not every case of multiple identities has been passed on to prosecution authorities. Why not?

According to the consulting firm McKinsey, it may be possible that immigration offices are understaffed. But the right priorities must be set. We cannot forget that a very large number of refugees are justifiably here and that they are not committing benefit fraud. In order to stop and deport the black sheep that generate the negative media headlines, we need secure data.

The premiers of the German states are meeting on Thursday. Merkel wants to take the opportunity to make expedited deportation a topic of discussion. Has the federal mandate to deport rejected asylum applicants been undermined for political reasons?

I believe that there are many inhibitions, especially in the Green Party, to deport at all. On the left side of the political spectrum, many advocate open borders. In order to find acceptance within the population, however, it is important to focus on those who truly need to be protected. And as harsh as it may sound, a consistent deportation policy is part of this.

However, I have the impression that something is fundamentally going wrong. People who are now partly integrated because of the duration of the proceedings, and who enrich society, are now being deported. In the meantime, we cannot get rid of the criminals and tricksters. For this reason, we need to find better ways of allowing integrated families to stay, while reaching robust returnee agreements with other nations. Neither the chancellor nor the state premiers have implemented their intentions, especially with regard to the Maghreb states. This is a disaster.

Joachim Stamp is deputy chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia and the integration policy spokesman for his party.

This interview was conducted by Volker Wagener.


Head shot of a man (Volker Wagener) with gray hair and a beard
Volker Wagener Writer for DW's Programs for Europe department