BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s interior minister banned a local branch of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees from making asylum decisions Wednesday amid a widening scandal over the allegedly improper granting of more than a thousand requests for asylum.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer suspended the processing of applications at the migration office in the city of Bremen after an internal review of 4,568 asylum cases concluded that branch officials intentionally violated regulations.
“Trust in the quality of the asylum procedures and the integrity of the welcome center in Bremen has been massively damaged,” Seehofer said.
Another 10 branch offices with higher than average approval rates are also under review, the German news agency dpa reported.
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Two law firms also are suspected of having participated in the scheme, the Interior Ministry said without providing details or naming the firms.
Federal Office for Migration and Refugees director Jutta Cordt was coming under pressure as part of the fallout from the alleged wrongdoing in Bremen.
Prosecutors in the Nueremberg-Fuerth region have opened a preliminary investigation into whether Cordt’s office helped migrants who didn’t meet the requirements for asylum to remain in Germany, according to dpa.
Germany took in more than one million refugees and migrants between 2015 and 2016, mostly from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Authorities at the time were overwhelmed with a flood of asylum applications, and some cases were processed quickly, without the usual care or interviews that are normally part of the procedure.
The nationalist Alternative for Germany party has used the issue of how authorities dealt with the masses of new arrivals to attack the government. The party was for the first time elected to the national parliament in September.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Annegret Korff said that until an investigation is completed, Bremen’s asylum applications cases would be handled by officials elsewhere. She wasn’t immediately able to say how many cases were affected.
In April, prosecutors said at least 1,200 asylum requests, mostly by members of Syria’s Yazidi minority, may have been wrongly approved between 2013 and 2016. They are investigating corruption charges against the former head of the Bremen branch as well as other employees.
Seehofer said he had ordered a review of all asylum requests approved in Bremen starting in the year 2000 and in which employees suspected of corruption were involved.
Frank Jordans contributed reporting.