The head of Germany's refugee office, criticised for its handling of record numbers of asylum seekers, today unexpectedly stepped down citing "personal grounds" as the country grapples with a massive influx of refugees mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
President of Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) Manfred Schmidt, Germany's top official responsible for the processing of applications by asylum-seekers, has requested interior minister Thomas de Maiziere to relieve him of his responsibilities, the ministry said in a statement.
Schmidt resigned on "personal grounds" and the minister accepted his request. De Maiziere expressed regret at his resignation, saying Schmidt had "done an excellent job" with "extraordinary commitment" in the post he had held since 2010.
Schmidt has been sharply criticised by various state governments and municipalities in recent weeks for the piling up of thousands of asylum applications in his office and for the long delay in processing them.
He was also criticised for underestimating the dimension of the current influx of refugees and for not making sufficient preparations to deal with the crisis.
BAMF said earlier that more than 2,70,000 unprocessed asylum applications were lying in the office at the end of August. More than 50 per cent of them were submitted six months ago while 25 per cent were lying for over a year.
The federal agency based in Nuerenberg is also held responsible by some German authorities for triggering the current influx of refugees with a Tweet at the end of August that asylum-seekers from Syria, who were registered in Hungary, can travel to Germany and they need not be sent back.
This was seen by many refugees as an assurance that they will not be deported once they reach Germany.
The number of refugees streaming into this country rose sharply since the Balkans route became a relatively safer alternative for the migrants to reach Europe compared to the dangerous journey through the Mediterranean, often in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats.
In July alone, more than 37,500 asylum applications were registered in this country, a 93 per cent increase over the level of July last year, according to the statistics of the interior ministry.
During the first half of this year, a total 2,18,220 people applied for asylum, 125 per cent more than during the corresponding period in 2014, the ministry said. It estimates their number may go up to a record 800,000 by the end of 2015.
In a recent TV interview, Schmidt admitted "mistakes" in his handling of the crisis and acknowledged the forebodings of a massive influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq were not taken seriously by his office. The situation would have been different if he and his office had reacted speedily, he said.
De Maiziere said the dramatic increase in the number of asylum-seekers in Germany posed a major challenge not only for the states and municipalities but also for BAMF and the agency could cope with the situation through Schmidt's engagement to provide additional staff and funds for the agency.