German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under pressure at home over a growing scandal gripping the country’s migration agency, which is charged with having granted asylum to more than 1,000 refugees in exchange for bribes at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe.
The branch of Germany’s migration agency (BAMF) in the city of Bremen is accused of having granted asylum to 1,200 refugees in return for money or gifts.
The office was stopped by the Interior Ministry last month from deciding on asylum applications. Investigators also launched a probe in April into allegations of “organized abuse of the asylum procedure” as well as “corruption or bribery.”
Now, the BAMF’s former head, Frank-Juergen Weise, has claimed that he had warned both the Interior Ministry and the Chancellor’s Office early in 2017 about the excessive workload and millions of asylum demands being placed on the agency.
“The failure lies in the inaction (of the government) when the challenges that Germany would face with the arrival of the refugees became clear,” Weise told German news weekly Der Spiegel.
“The crisis could have been prevented,” he said, adding that he personally informed Merkel on two occasions of irregularities in 2017, but that no concrete action was taken.
In response to the allegations, a government spokesman only said that “the chancellor remained in contact with Mr. Weise from the time he became head of the BAMF until the end of his tenure.”
Weise, who led the BAMF from late 2015 until the end of 2016, published a final report about his term at the agency late last year. He wrote that he “has never seen such a poor state [of affairs] in any governmental structure in [his] professional life.”
He also pointed the finger at the Interior Ministry for the mishandling of the crisis within the agency, saying he had sent his findings to officials at the ministry.
A ministry spokesperson confirmed the existence of Weise’s report, saying many of his suggestions had “found their way into current works aimed at improving the situation.”
Merkel has not yet reacted to the allegations against her government.
The chancellor’s open-door policy led Germany to accept more than a million refugees back in 2015, when the European Union was experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees from the conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa.
In the wake of the huge influx, the government put intense pressure on BAMF and forced it to more than double its staff to 7,300 from 3,000.
Merkel’s junior partner in her “grand coalition” government, the Social Democrats (SPD), demanded “explanations” about the scandal on Sunday, blaming her for the crisis.
“This is quite simply the chancellor’s failure,” said Ralf Stegner. “You can’t say ‘we can do it’ and then sit with your arms crossed when the agency responsible loses control due to a lack of resources.”
Stegner was referring to a famous slogan that was repeated time and again by Merkel, while she was under fire for leaving the border open for refugees.
The chancellor, however, admitted later that she would no longer use the slogan.
“I sometimes think this phrase was a little overstated, that too much store was set by it — to the extent that I’d prefer not to repeat it,” Merkel said last year. “It’s become a simple slogan, an almost meaningless formula.”