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Many migrants in Germany falsely claim to be Syrians

BERLIN — German officials said Friday that nearly a third of all asylum seekers arriving in the country appear to be falsely claiming to be Syrian, even as Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière called on European nations to take radical new steps to curb the region’s refugee crisis.

So far this year, Germany has received 527,000 asylum seekers — more than any other nation in Europe.

Tobias Plate, an interior ministry spokesman, acknowledged estimates Friday that 30 percent of the asylum seekers are those hailing from another country but claiming to be Syrian. Given the civil war raging in Syria, roughly 87 percent of Syrians are winning asylum in Germany.


Plate said that the number was an estimate based on the perceptions of authorities on the ground, including the German Federal Police, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, and Frontex, Europe’s border agency.

‘‘It is an indication,’’ he said in Berlin, of how hard it is to know the true nationalities of asylum seekers, many of whom arrive without passports.

In an interview on Friday, de Maizière, a longtime ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and one of the key figures dealing with the refugee crisis in Germany, said Europe needs to enact sweeping changes to its refugee system.

He added that German attempts to aid refugees had been misinterpreted by migrants in far-flung nations such as Afghanistan as a green light to come to Europe. That, he said, needs to change.

‘‘We cannot close Europe,’’ he said. But, he added, ‘‘we cannot open Europe totally for millions and millions of poor people in the world or even for all of those coming from conflict zones. Impossible.’’

Germany is moving to slash cash benefits for asylum seekers, instead offering in-kind assistance such as food. De Maizière also said it would take years before refugees in Germany would be able to bring close family members into the country.


‘‘The number is too big,’’ he said. ‘‘It has to be checked.’’

To date, its welcoming policies and lucrative benefits have made Germany by far the most popular destination for refugees coming to Europe, a situation some European leaders have said Berlin brought on itself by adopting such a generous stance.

To reduce the strain on Germany, de Maizière called for European Union countries to adopt minimum and maximum benefit standards so that no one country becomes an outsized draw.

Such a plan, however, is certain to face resistance in nations such as Hungary and Slovakia that have taken a hard line against refugees. ‘‘We have to find a common European solution,’’ he said. ‘‘In the end, we would need really nearly to have the same social benefits.’’

On Thursday, de Maizière made headlines by suggesting that the crisis had gotten out of control after Merkel’s decision this month to allow in tens of thousands of refugees who had been barred by Hungary from going deeper into Europe. Leading German media outlets, including Spiegel Online and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, interpreted the statement as de Maizière indirectly criticizing Merkel’s move.

On Friday, however, he insisted that Merkel had not made a mistake by opening Germany’s border .