Spiralling German refugee costs overshadow coalition talks
More than 30,000 people refused asylum have reportedly vanished and are likely to be living illegally
Gazal (17) a refugee from Syria, sits down to lunch that her classmates prepared during their extra-curricular German-language programme at a Berlin school on Thursday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Critics of Germany’s refugee policy say Berlin’s cost-benefit calculation is sliding, politically and economically, into unsustainable territory.
Some two years after the refugee crisis peaked in early autumn 2015, the total costs continue to grow even as the number of asylum seekers has dropped. Meanwhile, more than 30,000 people refused asylum have reportedly vanished, with many likely to be living illegally in Germany to avoid deportation.
Official statistics show the total cost for asylum seekers in 2016 grew by 73 per cent on the previous year although the total number of asylum seekers dropped 25 per cent in the same time to 728,000.
In total German authorities – federal, state and municipal – spent €9.234 billion on housing, integration and other services for asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and many African nations.
The greatest cost factor, according to official statistics, is rising rental costs in German cities that were already feeling a housing squeeze before the refugee crisis.
At the peak of the crisis in 2015 Germany took in about 890,000 asylum seekers. Per head they cost the German taxpayer €12,680 annually – more than €1,000 a month. Germany’s asylum laws entitle each applicant for refugee status to an additional €354 monthly for clothes, food, and pocket money of €135 per person.
The monthly allowance for an asylum seeker is just €50 less than the welfare minimum in Germany, the standard payment for someone when their 12-month unemployment benefit entitlement expires.
Politicians in Berlin are aware that this is dynamite for social cohesion in the long term, meaning refugee policy and costs are among the most heated issues in ongoing coalition talks in Berlin.
Almost six weeks after Germany’s federal election the centre-left Green Party, hoping to join Chancellor Angela Merkel in office, is locked in battle with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) over refugees.
The FDP has called Green efforts to preserve the refugee status quo – in particular successive family immigration – as a “shot in the arm” for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
After already tightening up immigration and asylum laws in the last year, Dr Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will now have to strike a balance with its two would-be coalition partners.
That challenge has been complicated by an apparent admission that 30,820 people refused asylum in Germany have vanished without trace.
“It cannot be ruled out . . . that [they] have already left or gone underground, without the knowledge of the relevant authorities,” admitted the federal interior ministry to the Bild tabloid on Thursday.
Later the ministry criticised the newspaper’s figure as inaccurate, saying it contained people who were not asylum seekers such as people with expired visas.
However, some 1.6 million asylum seekers are living in Germany in total, more than double the figure two years ago, and now comprise 16 per cent of the non-German population.
The largest group of asylum seekers comes from Syria (455,000), followed by Afghanistan (191,000) and Iraq (156,000).
Almost a year ago, authorities failed to deport Tunisian Islamist Anis Amri after his asylum application was declined. He later drove a stolen articulated lorry into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 13.
The looming anniversary has prompted Dr Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, to demand tighter procedures after asylum applications are refused. Under discussion: closing the gap between asylum refusal and deportation date, including putting failed applicants in deportation prison to prevent them disappearing.
“Such people have to be detained and deported,” said Joachim Hermann, the Bavarian interior minister with an eye on the interior portfolio in Berlin.