The daily Bild reported that the German government's Central Register of Foreign Nationals (AZR) claims that some 54,000 people were forced to leave the country at the end of 2016, but only 23,000 had been asking for state benefits, in line with a law applicable to asylum applicants.
"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," an Interior Ministry spokesman told Bild.
Another Interior Ministry spokesperson stated that the Bild report's calculations were based on inaccurate 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 wrote in an email.
"Apart from rejected asylum seekers, people with expired visas are also often obligated to leave. Neither all those obliged to leave, nor the group of rejected asylum seekers are entitled to asylum seeker benefits," the spokesman added, cited by Reuters.
Bernd Mesovic, director of legal policy at refugee rights organization Pro Asyl, agreed that the Bild's figures may not be statistically accurate.
"Just because they're not there doesn't mean they've 'gone underground.'" Mesovic said, adding, "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 said. "People can leave Germany whenever they want, and many don't register with the authorities when they do."
He also added that immigrants arrive in Germany and then voluntarily travel somewhere else.
"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 state their destination], and it's hard to check."