German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, representing the Christian Social Union, the conservative wing of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, has expressed regrets on behalf of the federal government for the unfolding misconduct scandal around the German Migration and Refugee Agency (BAMF). During five-hour hearings of the dedicated parliamentary committee behind closed doors, he also pushed his reform of the asylum organization in Germany, Deutsche Welle reports.
Known for his tough stance on illegal migration, Seehofer proposed to create “anchor-centers” for new asylum seekers, where they would be housed while their applications are processed, soon after he took the post of the interior minister this March. Back then, the idea was criticized by some NGOs, politicians from the CDU’s coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the federal police, who would be in charge of such centers, while a representative of the Police Union (GdP), Jörg Radek, called the plan illegal.
After revelations concerning alleged bribes and asylum grants given en masse without proper evaluation in the Bremen regional branch of the BAMF emerged, Seehofer brought the reform plan of the migration system back.
“The Bremen case confirms to me that we need to change the whole asylum organization in Germany," Seehofer told the German broadcaster ZDF.
The Interior Ministry also announced it would look into 18,000 asylum cases, approved at Bremen’s BAMF office, assigning 70 its people to this probe. Apart from the Bremen office, 13 more BAMF branches have been subjected to probes, according to the German tabloid Bild, as the proportion of accepted applications there differed noticeably from other offices.
The reassignment would result in a rise from 50,000 to 80,000 pending asylum pleas, as BAMF’s chief, Jutta Cordt, said. Since the beginning of the scandal in April, she’s been in hot water, as it’s been reported by the media that she knew about the abuses since February 2017, but failed to probe them. Her office has denied the allegations.
Shadow Over Agency Executives
Meanwhile, a recent statement by the BAMF General Council of Staff has fueled debates, as chairman Rudolf Scheinost and deputy chairman Paul Müller blamed BAMF’s executives for mismanagement in an open letter to Cordt.
The letter, cited by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, criticized the practices pushed by the agency’s leadership. According to the council, the employers had been under pressure, emphasizing speed over quality when reviewing refugee applications amid an overload of cases, especially in 2015, when Germany faced the peak of the migration crisis.
Following the announcement of the “open borders policy,” Germany has accepted more than 1 million migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa, which is more than any other country on the continent. Since then, the agency has been criticized for failing to effectively handle the migrant influx.
BAMF found itself amid more controversy after it was revealed that its office in Bremen allegedly granted asylum to more than 1,200 seekers mostly from the Iraqi Kurd community, who had failed to meet the necessary criteria, in exchange for bribes between 2013 and 2017. In April the local prosecution service stated that six people, including the former director of the center, were being investigated for corruption.