Sunday 15 December 2019

130,000 asylum seekers 'lost', says Germany

Stranded refugees walking along a motorway yesterday towards the border between Greece and Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni
Stranded refugees walking along a motorway yesterday towards the border between Greece and Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni
Angela Merkel and and defence minister Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Justin Huggler in Berlin

More than 130,000 asylum seekers may have disappeared in Germany, according to newly released government figures, raising concerns over terrorism and organised crime.

In a parliamentary answer, Angela Merkel's government has admitted that it has lost track of around 13pc of the 1.1 million people registered as asylum seekers last year.

The missing people never arrived at official government refugee accommodation which had been assigned to them.

But there will be concerns that those unaccounted for could include Islamic extremists or organised criminals who entered the country posing as refugees.

The new figures emerged just two months after unconfirmed reports that German authorities were urgently searching for 12 asylum seekers who had simply vanished.

They were believed to have crossed the border using forged passports from the same source as those used by some of the Paris attackers.

The latest admission came in a written answer to a parliamentary question from the opposition Left Party.

The government said it believed that many of those who had disappeared had simply moved on to other countries, while others had "gone underground illegally".

Mrs Merkel has moved to tighten asylum rules in recent months and economic migrants with no genuine claim may choose to go underground to avoid deportation.

But the Interior Ministry on Friday tried to downplay the figures.

"This information is nothing new," Tobias Plate, a spokesman for the ministry, said.

"The ministry has long noted that in a significant number of cases an asylum seeker who has been registered in the system does not arrive at the reception centre he or she was assigned."

The figures had been inflated by double entries in Germany's EASY database, which was designed to help find accommodation for asylum seekers, rather than keep track of them, he said.

It emerged last year that the German authorities kept little information on the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers crossing into the country.

Migrants were not fingerprinted and their identities were not confirmed, making it easy for them to be entered into the system at more than one location.

The government has since introduced new measures to record the identities of asylum seekers on entry, Mr Plate said.

The controversy surfaced as a senior official in Berlin was arrested on charges of taking €51,000 in bribes to award government contracts for security at refugee shelters.

The 48-year-old official, who has not been named, ensured that contracts for security at several shelters went to one security firm in return for the bribes, according to prosecutors.

The official was fired from his post at LaGeSo, the Berlin health and social security office, which has been heavily criticised for backlogs that have seen asylum seekers forced to sleep in the open and queue for hours in sub-zero temperatures.

Meanwhile, in separate developments yesterday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said that Albania would not become the new route for migrants headed for western Europe.

"We have neither the conditions nor the strength nor the enthusiasm to save the world while others close their borders," he said.

Macedonia has all but closed its border with Greece, blocking the path for migrants who are continuing to arrive at the rate of thousands daily, leading some to wonder whether a route through Albania would be viable.

Speaking on a talk show late on Thursday, Mr Rama contradicted a statement made earlier by the integration minister in which she said Albania would not build a wall to prevent refugees and other migrants from entering.

Mr Rama said Albania could not hold "the entire burden. I have said that in case of a distribution of the burden we shall take our part."

He added that Albania had for six months been in negotiation with the Italian government about what to do if the migrants came to his country, "because normally they would not come to stay in Albania but would target Italy" across the Adriatic Sea.

Meanwhile, Greece's government has ordered authorities on islands facing the coast of Turkey to reduce the number of migrants allowed to travel by ferry to the mainland, so that more temporary shelters can be set up to cope with the crisis triggered by border restrictions in countries further north.


The Merchant Marine Ministry said ferry companies and regional authorities were given the instructions yesterday, as the number of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece continues to rise.

Thousands are currently sleeping rough in parks and along the country's highways as existing shelters are filled to capacity.

The ministry said chartered ferries would be used on Lesbos and other islands to provide temporary shelter through Sunday.

About 2,000 people are arriving daily from Turkey, using dinghies and small boats.

Meanwhile, in Calais yesterday, French state representatives were going tent-to-tent, trying to convince residents in a sprawling migrant camp to leave, a day after a court had ruled that a mass eviction could go ahead.

Groups of pro-migrant activists were also making the rounds of tents in the camp - called the "jungle" - yesterday, telling residents they could stay.

Thursday's complex ruling - which banned any immediate destruction of common spaces that have sprung up, such as houses of worship, a school and a women's centre - has created confusion.

Authorities wanted a ruling allowing them to raze the camp, where thousands of migrants from a variety of the world's trouble spots have gathered in the hope of sneaking across the English Channel to Britain via ferry or a Eurotunnel rail service. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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