By Sanela Hodzic in Marseille
In 2015, when hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Iraq and elsewhere came streaming across and around the Mediterranean Sea, European governments were taken completely off guard. Faced with a humanitarian crisis that reached their doorstep, they rushed to introduce measures to deal with the newcomers.
Amid the precipitation, their rules left loopholes that some desperate or unscrupulous migrants were eager to exploit.
M.M, who did not wish to use his name when talking to Euronews, was one of these. He says that by faking his nationality and moving from region to region in Germany, he was able to benefit from the free accommodation and monthly financial support provided for asylum seekers, on as many as eight occasions.
“Food and shelter are provided, plus the monthly allowance of 280 to 340 €, which is enough for somebody that doesn’t smoke. Sometimes I even saved to get a gym subscription”, he adds.
But each time he stayed at the shelter only up to three months, disappearing before the risk of getting caught became substantial.
Pro Asyl, an organisation that campaigns for refugee rights in Germany, points out that there have been few cases uncovered where claimants appear to have abused the system.
Faced with limited capacity, the authorities in Germany put the need to provide protection to many ahead of preventing the crimes of a very few. During 2015, a year that brought a record of 890,000 asylum-seekers to Germany, the administration managed to document only around half of asylum applications. The storage of data from different regions was not centralised. Through 2016, the public mood changed and media scrutiny exposed the risk of fraud and more serious crimes. As the number of newcomers fell, the German authorities were able to act to improve the registration process.
During 2016 the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees introduced the central storage of data on asylum-seekers, finalised the registration of previous arrivals and as of mid-2016 assured regular biometric registration at the state level and for arrival centres and processing-lines near the border. Since the centralised system now enables a comparison of biometric data, the possibility of false applications is minimised. The data collected has been extended to include fingerprints, country of origin, contact data information on allocation and information on health checks.
He accepts that he could not act now as he did then, although he says he no longer needs to, since now he is relatively satisfied with his circumstances and maintains a steady amount of work and income. For more than a year and a half, he has been living illegally in Marseille, France, doing construction work on the black market.
The authorities are still faced with problems around verification of identities and citizenship, so the danger of abuse remains. Approximately 60 percent of migrants reaching Germany arrive without identification documents - because they were never issued or were destroyed or lost on the rough migrant routes. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees accepts this reality pointing out that often: ”the country of origin does not have a (fully) operational registration/administration (...) or (...) faces heavy corruption or criminality which can lead to an accumulation of forged documents”
But overall the new systems “work to identify multiple registrations and to correct or connect the data”, according to Pro Asyl. This means false applications such as those of M.M. are now far more difficult.