Aid group apologizes for spreading fake Berlin refugee death account

A Berlin aid group at the centre of a fabricated account of a refugee dying while waiting in line outside a registration centre apologized for the incident Thursday, but said conditions on the ground meant such a scenario was "not improbable."

"It was a mistake," Diana Henniges, spokeswoman for the Moabit Hilft organization, said a day after one of her group's volunteers spread and then recanted the story.

According to the now-disparaged story, a Syrian refugee became severely ill and died after several days of waiting in winter weather outside the registration centre.

However, the story was "not improbable," Henniges said, pointing to the chaotic conditions outside the Lageso centre, where migrants entering Berlin must queue in order to submit their asylum requests.

"This is something that every volunteer, every politician and every reporter here can easily imagine."

The man claimed online that he had taken a severely ill 24-year-old refugee home with him and decided to call an ambulance when the man's health deteriorated further. He claimed the man died en route to hospital and even gave a blow-by-blow account of the events in a series of Facebook messages to a fellow volunteer.

Moabit Hilft also confirmed details of the account to the press on Wednesday.

The claim prompted an intense search of Berlin hospitals by authorities attempting to verify the death. Berlin Senator of the Interior Frank Henkel said the volunteer should be punished for his behaviour.

"This is one of the lousiest and most perfidious acts I have ever encountered," Henkel said. "Berlin authorities were forced to mount a hours-long effort to search for the [man]."

But police said later that the fabrication did not constitute a crime.

Berlin authorities, who confirmed the falsehood after the volunteer confessed during questioning, have repeatedly come under fire for what critics say is a chaotic and lumbering response to the refugee influx that sees several hundred new arrivals in the city each day.

The registration centre in question is managed by Lageso, the capital's State Office for Health and Social Affairs, which has made headlines in recent months for its inability to register and adequately house arriving migrants.

Moabit Hilft said that it had "experienced [the volunteer] as a reliable person full of integrity ... who was engaged in helping refugees in a variety of ways" during the course of several months.

Last update: Thu, 28/01/2016 - 17:27
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