By Jeevan Vasagar, Berlin 6:57PM BST 28 May 2013
Hundreds of African refugees from the civil war in Libya were paid 500 euros (£427) by the Italian authorities and told to “go to Germany”, according to a letter from Germany’s interior ministry.
The letter, sent to local immigration officials in Germany, stated that the refugees were told they would receive the money if they voluntarily left Italian reception centres that were due to be closed. Around 300 of these refugees are now sleeping rough in the St Pauli quarter of Hamburg.
“The money was slipped into their hands with the advice that they should travel to Germany,” the government letter states, according to a report in the German newspaper Die Welt.
The men were migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa who were forced out of Libya during the civil war because rebels associated them with the black Africans who served Colonel Gaddafi as mercenaries. The men were able to enter Germany because their Italian residence permits gave them freedom of movement within the Schengen area, however they are not allowed to settle or work in Germany without permits.
Detlef Scheele, Hamburg’s social affairs minister, told Die Welt: “They have no legal right to stay or claim benefits and it would be irresponsible to raise false hope. There is no alternative for them but to go back to where they can work and have a right to remain – that is either Italy or their original home countries.” Claudio Feliziani, who works with the German charity Karawane which is aiding the refugees, told the Daily Telegraph: “The men were in a network of reception centres in Italy. They were given around 500 euros – between 400 and 600 euros each – in order to leave Italy. They were told to go to northern Europe – go to Germany or France.”
A spokesman for Germany’s interior ministry said: “I can’t comment on communications between the federal government and local officials. The Italian authorities have agreed to take the refugees back when their stay in Germany has expired.”
The government spokesman said that, although the Italian government had agreed earlier this year to take back the refugees, it had yet to act on this agreement.
The men’s residency permits allow them to stay for up to three months, but in many cases they have stayed in Germany longer.