Recent publications in the German media revealed uncomfortable facts: a number of asylum-seekers have been registered under multiple IDs. Through this fraud they could scam the state refugee aid programs on a multi-million scale.
Anis Amri, the Tunisian asylum-seeker who plowed a truck into a crowd of people at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19th killing 12, was registered under at least 14 different IDs. It allowed him to abuse the state welfare system and not to be properly traced by the police. This information was communicated by Dieter Schürmann, Chief of Criminal Investigation Office of North Rhine-Westphalia last week. Amri’s case is not the only one though.
The German regional broadcaster NDR recently reported on over 300 cases of ID fraud currently under investigation by the police of Braunschweig in Lower Saxony. Asylum-seekers have used multiple IDs per person to receive cash payments and other social benefits. The fraud was committed predominantly by asylum-seekers from Sudan at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015-2016.
So how was it possible? Since Angela Merkel announced her open-door policy for refugees, people who came to Germany and applied for an asylum were only asked for their names, dates of birth and the country of origin. Many of them did not have any papers or IDs to confirm who they were. The authorities fully relied on the information conveyed by refugees themselves. Finger prints of hundreds of thousands asylum-seekers were simply not taken as the refugee registration centers only received first finger print scanners around May-June 2016.
It was enough to grow a beard, put on glasses or change cloths to be registered as an asylum-seeker under a different ID. There are cases in Braunschweig where the same refugees were registered by the same employees under several different IDs until the employees noticed that something was not quite right and informed the police. During the country-wide refugee chaos in 2015-2016, the refugee registration center in Braunschweig was overstrained with streams of new asylum-seekers arriving every day.
“In that phase we just wanted to prevent homelessness”, says Michael Lewin, Director of the refugee registration center in Braunschweig. Once registered in Braunschweig, asylum-seekers would be assigned to different communes in the federal state of Lower Saxony where they would be hosted and receive monthly cash payments along with other social benefits.
With over 300 known fraud cases in Braunschweig alone, the loss of the taxpayer money is estimated around 3 to 5 million Euro ($3.2 – $5.3 million). And this is just a tip of the iceberg.
In the most notorious case currently investigated by the police of Braunschweig, the same asylum-seeker used 12 different IDs to collect cash from different communes in Lower Saxony. This caused the tax payers a loss of at least 45,000 Euros, according to Jörn Memenga, Chief Investigator of Special Commission Braunschweig. In other cases refugees would use on average 3 to 4 different IDs to get 5,000 to 10,000 Euro per year in cash.
Although the fraud cases and the people committed them are known to the authorities, the criminals most likely will not face any legal consequences. Julia Meyer, Prosecutor of Braunschweig: ‘We are obliged to grant every defendant a court hearing and [if he is found guilty] deliver him a letter with a legal charge. And that is not possible if we do not know where we can reach him.’
The massive ID fraud in Braunschweig has been the first one publicly reported in Germany. “We estimate that there have been tens of thousands of similar cases in Germany”, says Gerd Müller, German Minister of Planning and Development.
In the coming months, we will likely see similar cases reported in other parts of the country. As a long-term solution, Müller will propose to the government his ‘Africa Marshall plan’ later this month focused on supporting education, creating jobs and developing economies on the African continent through German private investments.
Meanwhile, Germany needs quick measures to assess true identities of the asylum applicants already in the country. “People of Germany have the right to demand a standardized check of all refugees who came to Germany in the last two years”, says Müller.
While the multi-million Euro fraud in Lower Saxony is certainly just a tip of the iceberg, Angela Merkel’s adamance in pursuing the same refugee policy can inevitably be compared to the course of the Titanic. The tensions over her refugee policy has only been growing in the German society over the last couple of years, yet a sound political debate seems almost impossible. Anyone critical of the government’s policy will quickly be labeled as a populist, and sometimes even as a Nazi or a fascist.
The narrative of German officials conveys a message that the terror attacks and crimes committed by the asylum-seekers are all stand-alone cases and should not be seen as principal flaws in the government’s refugee policy. While reporting on facts, the mainstream media often plays along with the official narrative.
After the recent terror attack at the Christmas market in Berlin, none of the media outlets published any stories about the victims. They were kept anonymous and faceless probably in order to avoid an even deeper emotional impact and bigger anger of the public. Whether this course will bring Angela Merkel to her fourth term in the office will be clear in autumn this year when the German federal election takes place.