‘Crisis was avoidable’: Ex-German migration agency head slams interior ministry’s failure to act

‘Crisis was avoidable’: Ex-German migration agency head slams interior ministry’s failure to act
A lack of coordination by the Interior Ministry led to a "de-facto bankruptcy" of the German migration service during the refugee crisis, its former head said, claiming that it could have been avoided had Berlin acted prudently.

The former head of the German Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Frank-Juergen Weise, has lashed out at the German Interior Ministry over its management of the agency's work, in two reports that he compiled in 2017. The documents were obtained by the German daily Bild’s weekend edition.

Serving as the head of the German migration service at the height of the refugee crisis, between October 2015 and December 2016, Weise said in his reports that he "has never seen such a poor state [of affairs] in any governmental structure in [his] professional life." In particular, he drew attention to a severe staff shortage, outdated software and ineffective workflow within the BAMF.

"It is beyond comprehension under the given circumstances, why anyone would assume that the BAMF would be capable of coping with the considerable increase in the refugee inflow, even if only partially," Weise wrote in one of his reports, directing sharp criticism against the ministry that technically controls the agency and includes departments tasked with the supervision of the migration service.

Organizational failures became a manifestation of a "virtual bankruptcy" of the migration service, another Weise report, cited by Der Spiegel, outlines. Amid months-long delays in asylum applications processing, "minor or grave failures" were made in as many as 30 percent of the asylum cases processed by BAMF.

Just three BAMF officers were tasked with validating the authenticity of all passports of people, who came to Germany claiming that they are Syrian refugees, der Spiegel reports. The IT software was also "not designed" for such a large number of simultaneous applications, putting the agency on a brink of a "total system failure."

The impact of the refugee crisis could have been mitigated if the Interior Ministry had properly addressed the deficiencies within the BAMF in time, Weise told Der Spiegel. "The crisis was avoidable," he said, adding that, if the controlling authority had worked "properly" and had given an early warning back in 2014, prompt action could have allowed the agency to recruit "hundreds or even thousands" of new employees and to restructure their operations.

"It was a failure not to act when [the German authorities] became aware of the challenge that the refugee inflow brought to Germany," he added, lambasting the former Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, for his handling of the issue.

According to German media, Weise presented his reports both to the Interior Ministry and the German Chancellor's Office early in 2017 – and on two occasions also reportedly even met Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the issue.

Following the German media breaking the story, the German Interior Ministry confirmed that it had, indeed, received Weise's report. Many proposals made by the former BAMF head "found a use in further efforts [aimed] at improving the situation," a ministry's spokeswoman told the media.

The problems within the migration service "were no secret," the former head of the Chancellor's Office, Peter Altmeier, commented: "The work of the BAMF was discussed both at the federal and the regional levels."

Merkel has not yet made any personal comments on the matter. Meanwhile, some German politicians have already started questioning the chancellor's role in the issues surrounding the troubled agency. "Angela Merkel should not keep the public in the dark about when and what she knew about the problems within the BAMF. She must take a stand" on the issue, the Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party, Lars Klingbeil told Bild. "The newly revealed documents eventually pose questions about the role of the Chancellor's Office [in the BAMF matter]," the politician added, without going into further detail.

The German migration agency has indeed been plagued recently by a number of high-profile scandals. In April, it was reported that the former Bremen migration office head had decided to grant asylum to people in thousands of cases, without having sufficient grounds to do so. In late May, it turned out that the issue might not be limited to just one BAMF territorial office as the German authorities widened their probe to include 10 additional field offices in the investigation.

The troubled service was also previously implicated in several scandals. In June 2017, it admitted that it failed to photograph and fingerprint as many as 5,000 asylum seekers while, months earlier, it was revealed that some refugees had scammed the German welfare system by using multiple IDs to claim benefits. The fraud, partially resulting from deficiencies in the work of the migration service, cost German taxpayers between €3 to €5 million ($3.2-5.3 million).

The German media have also repeatedly reported that dozens of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Islamic State (IS, former ISIS)-affiliated extremists from Syria and Afghanistan managed to enter Germany posing as refugees.

More than a million migrants from predominantly Muslim countries have entered Germany since the refugee crisis erupted in 2015 – fueling strong anti-migrant sentiments and protests against Merkel's open-door policy. Germany then faced a number of terrorist attacks involving refugees, as well the notorious sexual harassment incidents during the 2015 New Year's Eve celebrations in Cologne and other cities.

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