Bild described the case as the “disappearance scandal”, claiming that German authorities - through sheer disorganization - had lost trace of roughly 30,000 migrants who had been told to leave the country.
The tabloid cited government figures from December 2016 which show that 54,437 people were believed to be in Germany at the time who had been asked to leave. At the same time, only 23,617 of these people were withdrawing welfare payments they were entitled to under German asylum law.
Bild subtracted the number of people registered for state financial support from the total number who had been told to leave to conclude that “authorities have no idea where the other 30,820 people are.”
The report was soon translated into English by Deutsche Welle and Breitbart, among other media outlets.
But research by the blog bildblog.de, which investigates the reliability of media reports, has established that the Bild report is completely inaccurate.
Bildblog.de points out that figures for people who have been told to leave the country don't just include failed asylum seekers. They could also be tourists whose visas have expired.
The blog therefore contacted the Interior Ministry to find out. The ministry duly responded that only 49 percent of those registered as obliged to leave in December 2016 had applied for asylum - meaning that of the 54,437 only 26,674 were rejected asylum seekers. This figure has subsequently been confirmed by other media outlets including Spiegel's youth website Bento.
Relying on the more accurate number provided by the Interior Ministry, figures therefore show that 3,057 rejected asylum seekers were not registered for the state benefits they were entitled to in December last year.
But even this does not prove that around 3,000 people have deliberately dropped off the radar in Germany. Some might be relying on their own income, while others might be staying with family members, the blog points out.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that local authorities don’t always keep track of the exact status of the migrants to whom they give money according to German asylum law. That means that somewhat more than 23,617 people with deportation orders might in fact be registered for welfare.
This is not the first time Bild has produced bogus reporting on refugees this year. In February the tabloid was forced to admit that a report on mass sexual assaults by migrants in Frankfurt over New Year had been completely made up.