BERLIN, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- The number of foreigners receiving child benefit payments from the German government continued to grow in 2018, figures published on Thursday by the federal ministry of finance show.
"In June 2018, child benefit was paid out to 286,336 children who lived in other countries of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) than Germany," a spokesperson for the ministry told the German press agency DPA. The figure marked an annual increase of 10.4 percent and underlined a longer-standing trend towards increasing cross-border transfers made by the German welfare state.
Some municipal legislators reacted with alarm at the latest data which they said was indicative of an uptick in targeted immigration into the country's social system. "The federal government is asleep at the wheel on this issue, and it must finally react to the fact that there are people fleeing poverty in Europe," Duisburg's mayor Soeren Link (SPD) told dpa.
Link pointed out that citizens of poorer Eastern European EU member states in particular were being drawn to Germany by a promise of prosperity which was unobtainable back home. "We currently have around 19,000 individuals from Rumania and Bulgaria living in Duisburg, most of whom are members of the Roma and Sinti minority groups. Around six years ago, in 2012, we only had 6,000," he said.
The mayor criticized what he described as criminal trafficking organizations which specialized in providing illicit access to government welfare for migrants who often returned to their native countries shortly after becoming formal residents of Germany. While EU citizens had the right to live and work throughout the bloc, these migratory activities were not justified by the principle of the freedom of movement. Link lamented that it was often impossible for legislators to tell whether the children receiving child benefit even existed at all.
According to the SPD politician, it was understandable that a resulting impression of foreigners gaming the system "enraged local citizens." The newspaper Welt recently estimated that child benefit fraud committed by criminal gangs from Eastern Europe costs taxpayers more than 100 million euros each year in Germany.
Similarly, Fuerth mayor Thomas Jung (SPD) highlighted problems experienced with non-German EU citizens who made no efforts to integrate into local society beyond applying for welfare payments. Jung noted that cities with low rental prices in particular were currently attracted this specific type of immigration from Eastern Europe.
On the basis of the figures published on Thursday, DPA estimated that the government will forward over 600 million euros (695 million U.S. dollars) per year to parents of children from other EU countries in 2018. Back in 2017, the ministry of finance said that it sent child benefit payments worth 343 million euros to foreign bank accounts, although the figure also included around 31,000 German citizens working abroad.
Responding to growing calls to make the practice less susceptible to fraud, a spokesperson for finance minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) said that Berlin was already working closely with other EU partners to overhaul existing legal provisions for cross-border social transfers. The federal government was hereby pursuing a European solution which would "take the different costs of living across member states into account during payments" in order to disincentive so-called welfare tourism.
In spite of the growth in foreign recipients during past years, however, financial child benefits awarded to non-German EU citizens still pale compared with the sum of overall payments including native families. In 2017, Germany paid out 35.9 billion euros in child benefits for a total of 14.97 million children.