migrants, berlin germany.jpg
Photograph: EPA/KAY NIETFELD

A volunteer whose account of a Syrian refugee dying after a long wait outside a Berlin refugee centre was found to have been fabricated could face legal consequences, a Berlin official said Thursday.

The capital's Senator of the Interior Frank Henkel said the volunteer - whose announcement via Facebook Wednesday prompted an intense search of Berlin hospitals in an attempt to verify the death - should be punished for his behaviour.

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

The volunteer, working on behalf of aid group Moabit Hilft, had claimed that a 24-year-old Syrian man forced to stand outside a registration centre in cold temperatures for several days had become severely ill, only to die in an ambulance en route to hospital.

The man's announcement prompted a feverish search of hospitals by Berlin authorities, who have repeatedly come under fire for what critics say is a chaotic and lumbering response to the refugee influx that sees several hundred people arriving 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, which had initially stood behind its volunteer's account of the death, said it was "stunned" by the revelations, adding that it had not been able to make contact with the man, who barricaded himself in his apartment late Wednesday before admitting to the fabrication during police questioning.

"We have experienced him as a reliable person full of integrity ... who was engaged in helping refugees in a variety of ways" over the course of several months, the organization said in a statement.

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