Head Of German Refugee Office Quits As Migrant Crisis Grows

REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

The head of Germany’s refugee office, which has been criticised for its handling of record numbers of asylum seekers, has resigned, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

Manfred Schmidt’s departure, which was for personal reasons, came as the number of refugees entering Germany doubled in 24 hours and controls were extended to cover the border with the Czech Republic.

Schmidt’s resignation is likely to increase scrutiny of his boss, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who has come under pressure because officials have been slow to process the flood of refugee arrivals.

But, asked on Thursday evening whether he had considering resigning himself, de Maiziere said: “No, I’m working.”

The opposition Greens suspect Schmidt’s resignation was a move intended to protect de Maiziere, with leader Simone Peter saying Schmidt was a “pawn sacrifice”.

De Maiziere said he respected Schmidt’s decision to leave and stressed that he had “done an excellent job”.

Earlier on Thursday the interior ministry released a statement saying the current political situation had put the spotlight on the Office for Migration and Refugees.

“The dramatically rising number of asylum seekers in Germany poses enormous challenges to the Office as well as to Germany’s states and municipalities,” it said.

The organisation’s decision in August to change its guidelines to allow refugees from Syria into Germany regardless of where they entered the EU has been widely seen as triggering an influx of tens of thousands of asylum seekers in the last few weeks alone.

Police said Germany had extended its border controls to the frontier with the Czech Republic to stop human traffickers and cope with growing numbers of asylum seekers.

The border controls went into force late on Wednesday on the motorway connecting the Czech Republic to the eastern German state of Saxony, spokesman Christian Meinhold said. Four traffickers had been arrested since then.

Although Germany’s southern borders are part of the open-travel Schengen area, it decided on Sunday to temporarily reintroduce border checks in response to the refugee crisis, with police focusing on the Austrian border first.

Police said the number of refugees arriving in Germany on Wednesday had more than doubled to 7,266 from 3,442 the previous day.

“Most of them were picked up when crossing the German-Austrian border,” federal police spokeswoman Judith Toelle said.

From midnight to 1530 CET (1330 GMT) 2,300 asylum seekers arrived in the region around the Bavarian town of Rosenheim, police spokesman Rainer Scharf said on Thursday.

Around 200 people coming from the Austrian city of Salzburg are waiting at the border to be let into Germany, an official in Salzburg said.

A German police spokesman said several hundred refugees had already been put on trains from the Rosenheim region to other parts of Germany on Thursday.

De Maiziere said Germany was “challenged but not overwhelmed”.

The German interior ministry has suggested not giving cash or non-cash benefits to refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Germany via another EU member state but rather “solely a travel grant” to return to the first EU country that they entered, according to a draft law seen by Reuters.

The German labour ministry does not, however, agree with that proposal.

From Reuters