September 14, 2015 / 2:16 PM / 4 years ago

Germany launches media drive to counter refugee rumors

BERLIN (Reuters) - When Markus Potzel, Germany’s ambassador to Afghanistan, met senior Afghan government officials and journalists, he had a clear message for them: Don’t believe what you hear about Germany - or at least not everything.

German armed forces Bundeswehr soldiers erect a tent for the migrants outside a sports hall in Hanau, Germany September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

While Afghan television channels have made much of the welcome Germany has given to the refugees that have been streaming across its borders, that does not mean everyone can move to Germany or the European Union, he said.

Germany has become a magnet for thousands fleeing war and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Many are escaping the civil war in Syria.

Berlin expects 800,000 new arrivals this year. At the weekend Germany brought in temporary border checks in an attempt to control the numbers.

At the same time, the Foreign Ministry has decided something must be done to stem the flow before the refugees get to Europe.

It has sent out information packs to German embassies telling them how to deal with rumors and disinformation by people-traffickers that it says are giving would-be asylum seekers false hope about their prospects.

In Kabul, ambassador Potzel said only around a third of Afghan asylum applications were being accepted at the moment.

In Beirut, the embassy warned people not to take what they see online at face value.

“Most of these reports are intentionally spread by traffickers to create false hopes among the refugees, exploiting the desperate situation of the refugees for their own economic benefits. Traffickers lie,” it said on Facebook.

ARABIC TRANSLATION

The embassy said - with an Arabic translation - that it was not true that Germany had agreed to take in 800,000 refugees.

The figure, it explained, was an estimate of the numbers expected to arrive in Germany this year and a significant proportion would not be recognized as refugees and would probably have to leave.

Lebanon is host to large numbers of refugee Syrians. But German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Sunday that some people seeking to get into Germany were pretending to be Syrian in the hope of being granted asylum.

“In the refugees’ countries of origin, and in transit countries, rumors and deliberate disinformation are running wild, especially on social media,” a source in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin told Reuters.

To help them counter the rumors, embassies are receiving guidance from Berlin. The plan is to spread the message via Facebook for Syrian refugees, by radio in Africa, and via television in Afghanistan - based on which media are used most frequently in the countries concerned.

In Beirut, a representative from the German embassy plans to talk to would-be migrants, delivering a message that the embassy has already posted online:

“It’s not true that Germany is sending ships to collect refugees.”

Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Giles Elgood and Anna Willard

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