A Matter of Survival
How to Humanely Solve Europe's Migration Crisis
Christian Werner / DER SPIEGEL
The Twahina Camp in northern Syria is an unofficial refugee camp with no showers, no electricity, infirmary or school. In the wake of the Syrian war, hundreds of families ended up here, even though it does not receive any assistance from the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
Christian Werner / DER SPIEGEL
The Ali family (pictured here) are among the refugees from Hama, Homs and Aleppo, along with other communities, who live in the camp. It has recently been the site of a cholera outbreak. Some experts see the camp as a symbol for what has gone wrong in European migration policy, which they argue should be more focused on helping refugees in areas adjacent to conflict zones.
Nicola Abé / DER SPIEGEL
Agadez, Niger, from above: The city has become a hub for migration from West Africa to Europe. Until 2015, "passeurs" legally transported migrants across the Sahara, but then human trafficking was outlawed, destroying one of the most important sectors of the country's economy.
Nicola Abé / DER SPIEGEL
Young migrants (from left to right: Abdullarahmed, Oussama, Drogma, Sow and Brigitte) on their way to Europe via Agadez. Niger has become a laboratory for migration management, a place where the EU is trying to combat the causes for flight among Africans. The country is set to receive 1 billion euros in development funds between 2017 and 2020.
Helpers on the Sea-Watch 3, in the Mediterranean. The ship and its crew of rescuers has been confined to port in Malta, after officials wanted to inspect its papers. Since January, at least 1,527 people have died or been reported missing in the Mediterranean. Some have argued that the civilian rescue operations like the Sea-Watch 3 encourage human trafficking, while others believe it is merely a humane solution to the immediate problem.
Milos Djuric / DER SPIEGEL
Mouhammadou Sambou, a construction worker from Senegal, has had his application for asylum denied in Germany, but he would like to stay. He plays soccer in a local club, has a German girlfriend and speaks German with a Bavarian accent. Experts argue that migrants like Sambou should be allowed to stay, since they fill a valuable role in the German economy.
Thursday, 9/6/2018 05:32 PM
The residents living near Gleisdreieck, a broad field in Hamburg's Bergedorf neighborhood, weren't too concerned about the war in Syria, the dictatorship in Eritrea or the poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. They were more interested in the fate of the moor frogs in their neighborhood. In Stuttgart, it was the sand lizards, and in the Bavarian town of Eichenau, locals were concerned about the whiskered bat. The latter is under strict environmental protection and, like the other animals, was cited as a reason not to build a refugee hostel in the community. Two trees were to be cut down, and opponents of the shelter were worried that it might disturb the animals' habitat -- or perhaps, first and foremost, their own?
Even back then, in the spring of 2015, a time when masses of Germans were stepping up to the task of helping refugees, not all were fans of what came to be known as the country's "welcoming culture" -- especially not if they were directly affected by the refugees. "We can do it," Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the time, referring to the masses of refugees entering the country. But in one poll in the fall of that year, over half the respondents said they were afraid of the sheer numbers of refugees coming. By the end of 2015, almost a million people had reached Germany.
These days, nobody talks about bats in Eichenau anymore. The refugee hostel has been open for almost three years, shaded by birches and pines on the edge of the municipality -- and German society remains divided between those who want to isolate themselves and those who see open borders as a humanitarian imperative.
In the meantime, the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), a populist and xenophobic party, has been elected into Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag. AfD isn't alone in agitating against immigrants, either. The Christian Social Union (CSU), the center-right Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) Bavarian sister party, has also disparaged people who assist refugees as the "anti-deportation industry" and has spoken of "asylum tourism." Even parts of the far-left Left Party are stoking prejudice against foreigners. Over the summer, Chancellor Merkel's government coalition even came close to collapsing over the refugee issue.
As the number of arrivals increased, so did the tensions, stoked by news about the events at the Cologne new year's eve celebrations in 2015, when migrants abused and attacked women sexually at a public celebration, or the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Wiesbaden, who was allegedly raped and killed by an Iraqi asylum-seeker. The fact that the number of refugees in Germany has decreased considerably since 2015 has done little to defuse the tensions. Last year, 222,683 migrants applied for asylum in Germany, 70 percent fewer applications than the previous year.
In the years since 2011, a lot of things have gone wrong in Germany's handling of refugees and migrants. After a phase of the "heartless head," as Oxford University economics professor Paul Collier puts it, came a brief period of the "headless heart." At first, the Europeans underestimated the crisis in Syria, and left the country's neighbors like Jordan in the lurch as they dealt with the spillover effects. The United Nations even had to partly decrease food aid. Then came the "welcoming culture," a well-meaning policy that had the side-effect of encouraging many more migrants to set off for Europe. But that phase ended after six months, with Germany and Europe shifting to policies of deterrence and of cutting the Continent off to migrants.
The consequences of the refugee crisis have been dramatic for the European Union, which now sees itself drifting apart. At first, Poland and Hungary refused to take in refugees. Now, other EU countries are following the same path. Currently, Italy, the country where the most migrants arrived, is behaving the most radically. Refugee policy in the country is determined by a right-wing populist interior minister.
Migrants are forced to wait on rescue ships at sea for days at a time because no European port is willing to allow them to come ashore. "Ethical pillars have been torn down," says Berlin-based social scientist Naika Foroutan. "Cracks are developing in our ideal image of a society that is cosmopolitan, liberal and humane. Europe is failing to meet its own standards, and that is creating enormous tension." Foroutan argues that is one of the reasons why the conflict over the refugees continues to escalate. Because what is happening in the Mediterranean and elsewhere is also reflects our own society and the decay of our own values.
A Policy Lacking in Plans and Morals
And Europe's refugee policy is indeed as lacking in plans as it is in morals. It puts the weakest at a disadvantage and gives preference to those who can afford the services of human-traffickers and are strong enough to make the dangerous crossing to Europe. Almost 70 percent of all the asylum-seekers who crossed via the Mediterranean Sea in 2017 were men. That's neither sensible nor fair. It's another reason why support for this policy is dwindling. With each week that passes, new ideas are developed and discarded. The applicable rules are being partly ignored and going it alone has become the order of the day for many EU countries. And as drastic as this may sound, refugees no longer have any legal certainty.
Refugees arriving via the Mediterranean
But it doesn't have to be that way. There are certainly solutions that would achieve better treatment of migrants and people in need of protection. The refugee crisis has doubtlessly become morally agonizing, David Miller, a philosopher at Oxford University told DER SPIEGEL in an interview published in July. "But it is not morally unsolvable." A policy that melds humanity and reason should be possible.
DER SPIEGEL spoke with migration policy experts, economists, political advisers, maritime rescue workers and refugees in Syria, Niger, Malta and Bavaria. In doing so, we were able to create a detailed overview of the most decisive issues. What emerged is a plea for better immigration and refugee policies.
In the Blind Spot: The Twahina Camp in Northern Syria
The tents are sewn together from shreds -- old blankets, sacks and tarps. Hundreds of them stretch as far as the eye can see. Children run between them. You can see the war in their faces. One little girl has clogged eyes and disheveled hair. She's spindle-thin and barefoot. "How old are you?" the reporter asks. She takes a pen and proudly writes 10 on a piece of paper.
Behind her, a reservoir is lined with palm trees. It's strangely beautiful, but deceptive. Cholera lurks in the water. Children have already been infected. There are no showers, no psychologists, and there is no electricity, no infirmary and no school here. Thousands of Syrian families who have fled from Aleppo, Homs and Hama live in the tent city, an unofficial camp that doesn't receive assistance from the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. Six Kurdish fighters stand guard at the entrance. It's an eerie place, like waking up on the first day after a global cataclysm.
Abdallah Ali used to have 22 sheep. He sits on a mattress on the floor inside a patchwork tent. It's now the most valuable possession he has. Ali, 47, the father of four sons and five daughters, looks like an old man. They used to be a normal family. Years ago. Back then, they were still living in their home village of Ukairibat. "We just want to go home," says Ali. But that's impossible, because the Shabiha militias, the Iranians and the Russians are all there. One knows, he says, what they do to people.
"Angelina Merkel." He offers a fatigued smile. Yes, he's heard of this woman from Germany who takes care of the Syrians. But there wasn't enough money to flee. He says the people who went to Germany were the ones with fields they could sell. It's all well and good that the Germans left their borders open. "But why don't people care about us?" Ali asks. "Who is going to care if all the people in this camp die tomorrow?"
A State of Purgatory
The war wrought devastation on Ali's family. They lost loved ones to the Assad regime's bombs, and later to Islamic State (IS). Others died serving in Syrian President Bashar Assad's army. They fled the fighting multiple times. For a while, they lived in the Islamic State's "caliphate," filled with fear, with the women hiding at home. Then the Kurds came. Ali's family has been living in the tent city at the reservoir for a year now. They sit on their mattresses in a state of purgatory, a world suspended between life and death.
Statistics show that something has gone fundamentally wrong in the way refugees are being treated. Take Syria, for example: 12 million people have been displaced by the war, with more than half of them still in the country. But how much is the international community spending on those people? "Almost nothing," says migration expert Collier. Of the other 5.5 million displaced Syrians, around 85 percent have fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. "For every euro that goes to a refugee there, we spend 135 euros on a refugee who made it to Europe," he says.
Collier believes the system is deeply unfair. "The right of asylum, the Geneva Conventions on Refugees and the UNHCR refugee aid organization date back to the Cold War, a period when the aim was to protect individual political dissidents," he says. A context in which millions of people are fleeing wars and, increasingly, also climate disasters, requires totally different responses.
So, what are our duties to refugees?
When you ask Collier, he likes to share an anecdote about a child who has fallen into a lake and can't swim. Of course, it is your duty to save that child and to ensure that he or she is placed in safe hands, he says. But you don't have to adopt the child.
In the context of the refugees, that means Europe has a duty to help these people, to rescue them from distress at sea, but has no moral obligation to provide them with the right of residence.
So, how can we best fulfill our responsibilities? Collier believes it is by paying closer attention to the countries bordering crisis-torn regions. He says the top priority needs to be ensuring that they keep their borders open. Otherwise, the displaced people will be trapped in the death zones, as has been the case time and again in Syria.
To that end, Collier is calling for the West's financial support of refugees to flow first and foremost to the countries near the crisis-afflicted areas. "Most refugees actually want to be as close to home as possible, in countries with a similar culture, language and religion," he says. Relocation to Europe would only make sense in isolated cases -- ones, for example, in which a person already has family there or for people who face political persecution.
Collier finds it unacceptable that refugees are hidden away in camps in inhospitable areas, and given tents and food packages. He finds the desolate camps, which he calls "human silos," undignified.
The situation in Jordan is indicative of just how unsuitable the current UNHCR offer is for a large number of refugees. About 80 percent of all Syrian refugees avoid the camps, instead preferring to stay in the cities and work there, unregistered and under the table, if they have to. This has led to discontent among the Jordanian population, which feels threatened by the cheap competition in the labor market.
What refugees need above all else, says Collier, are jobs to restore their autonomy. Here, too, he sees Europe as having an obligation. Instead of the usual camps, he envisages something more along the lines of temporary cities. Companies could outsource part of their production there and, in turn, obtain government funding. "We have the ability to move the work to the people today. It's totally crazy to think we have to get the refugees to where the jobs are," says Collier.
"We thought someone would help us," says Ali, sitting on his mattress at the Twahina Camp. A mobile medical bus now visits once a week. The American NGO Blumont also distributes food packages. But everyone complains it's not enough.
"I've sent everyone to school, including the girls," says Ali. He slides prayer beads through his fingers. "They should be able to be what they want." Ibtesam Ali, his oldest daughter, sits with alert eyes at the back of the tent, wrapped in a black chador. She's 19 years old and was always the best in her class. Her favorite subject is mathematics. She wanted to be a doctor, but the war arrived when she was in the sixth grade and she hasn't seen a school since. Ibtesam Ali wishes she had never experienced all this: the bombs, the dead and all the suffering. "It hurt at first. Now, it has already become a part of us." And it just won't go away. "It's a nightmare, a horrible life," she says, "we're prisoners. We sit on the floor and watch the time go by."
You Only Die Once: Agadez, Niger
There are only five people left here. The smugglers packed all the others into white Toyota pickups without license plates in the morning and drove away with them into the desert, toward Libya. The five young people who had been left behind didn't have any money. That's why they're still sitting on mats on the ground in this barren, mud-walled house on the outskirts of Agadez. Their names are Oussama, Abdullarahmed, Brigitte, Drogba and Sow. They hail from Ivory Coast and Guinea and are all teenagers. The house serves as a transit station for about a hundred people each week. People in Niger call places like this "ghettos." The walls are filled with scribbled sentences like: "European hell is better than Africa's paradise."
The five are hoping for some kind of divine intervention that will help them raise the money they need for the trip to Libya. Oussama wants to become a football player, to bring coach Jogi Löw's national team in Germany back to the top, to become the German Mbappé. He's 15 and he ran away from home because there was nothing to do. Abdullarahmed, 17, dreams of becoming a hero, like the Malian immigrant nicknamed "Spiderman" who rescued a child from the railing of a balcony on the fourth floor of a Paris apartment building and was subsequently granted French citizenship by President Emmanuel Macron. Abdullarahmed saw the video on the internet. Brigitte, 17, wants to work as a cleaning lady in Paris and to one day be able to buy perfume. Drogba, 18, wants to escape the violence in Ivory Coast, where young people attack each other on the streets with knives. And Sow, 19, wants to learn something in Germany and build a company that will then bring jobs back to Guinea.
They are young, healthy and confident people. The fact that this is likely to change soon makes this story such a sad one. Don't they know what can happen to migrants in Libya? Or what could occur when they try to make their way across the Mediterranean? Or try to land their boats in Italy, where they are often kept from coming ashore? Drogba laughs. Of course, they've heard about the slave markets, he says. He's also aware of the new Italian government and the fact that it has more or less cut off the Mediterranean route to Italy. "But we can't allow ourselves to be discouraged," he says, "there's no other chance for us. Once you're in Europe, you've made it." And what if he doesn't make it? "You only die once."
In Europe, the saying goes that "you only live once," the guiding principle for those who want to experience everything fully. But, here, you only die once -- a sad reality for those who want to taste a little bit of the world they know only from television and hearsay.
Europe's Laboratory for Migration Management
For years now, the Nigerian city of Agadez has been a central hub for migration from West Africa. Around three-quarters of all African migrants who have reached Italy by boat in recent years have traveled through the country. In a sense, Niger is a kind of southern external border of the EU. Up until 2015, the "passeurs" legally transported migrants through the Sahara on old, informal routes. It was only then, under pressure from the EU, that the country passed Law 36, which made it a crime to traffic humans. The law destroyed one of the most important sectors of the country's economy and many people's livelihoods. "Why are we now suddenly criminals," asks one former trafficker. "We never killed anyone," he says, adding that many are angry with the EU. He argues that people who have abandoned smuggling should be provided with support so that they can find a new way of making a living. So far, though, little has happened on that front.
Niger has essentially become an EU laboratory for migration management. European countries are trying to combat the causes of flight here, which in this case largely means cutting off the routes to Europe. France, Italy and Germany have all stationed soldiers here to train local security forces. The former main route through the desert has been closed off, numerous new checkpoints have been built and the soldiers have been equipped with off-road vehicles, motorcycles and satellite telephones.
Countries of origin of asylum-seekers in Germany
The EU has rapidly increased the development funds it provides to Niger in recent years. The country is set to receive around 1 billion euros between 2017 and 2020. The largest share of that money will go directly into the government's coffers. Niger ranks 112 out of 180 on Transparency International's Corruption Index. Off the record, EU officials speak of the "shopping lists" Niger's 44 government ministers demand in return for ongoing cooperation, lists that include cars, planes and helicopters. Meanwhile, the World Food Program, which cares for just under a tenth of Niger's malnourished population, has so far received only 35 percent of the funds it needs for 2018.
The EU is only selling Niger as a "success story" because the flow of migrants has officially declined by 80 percent. But the smugglers have just shifted to significantly more dangerous alternative routes through the Sahara. "The desert kills as many people as the sea," people in Agadez are now saying.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has established an EU-funded center for migrants in the city to help them voluntarily return to their home countries. Since many people cooperate, the required papers can typically be arranged within a matter of a few weeks. UNHCR has responsibility for people facing political persecution. Around 1,500 people are here currently.
Women live in a separate area. Almost all are victims of Libyan traffickers and have experienced mass rape. An African woman with a round belly and an empty gaze sits, crying, in the infirmary.
Youssouf Sow, 32, arrived two weeks ago by bus from Tripoli. He's the only son in a family of nine from Guinea. For five years, he tried in vain to get to Europe so that he could support his family back home. He's now returning, without having achieved anything. He lost time and ruined his health. You can see the sadness and despair in his face. He no longer understands the world. "But I can do something," he says. He says he's a carpenter, that he can build doors, windows and kitchen furniture. "You would probably have good use for me, wouldn't you?"
Sow was in Libya. Despite the shootings and fights, he worked there until he had made the money the smugglers demand for the trip to Europe. He spent several weeks roaming the Mediterranean Sea. Then the Libyan coast guard fished him out of the water and turned him over to smugglers. They took Sow to a camp. People were kept against their will, unless they could pay to get out. Sow says he was beaten at the camp, and that his left eye has been damaged ever since. He can barely see out of it. He spent three months in the camp before he managed to escape. He called his parents and made the decision to return home. He's ashamed. But he can't keep going.
Stories like that anger economics professor Collier. "It's a terrible tragedy," he says. "We attract these young people to Europe. And we do so with the best of intentions. But it's an irreversible trap." They often realize after a yearslong odyssey that they have no chance. By then, he says, it's too late. That's why he believes it is irresponsible to welcome migrants to Europe who have arrived there illegally. "We can't encourage these people to risk their lives. It's our ethical responsibility to do the opposite."
But is it justifiable to close the borders to illegal migration?
Collier says it would be best if the EU strictly controlled its external borders. "The moral authority to protect our borders goes hand in hand with the task of fulfilling our duties toward refugees and the world's poorest," says Collier. He adds that it is wrong to see development cooperation as a way to serve the purpose of preventing migration. Especially given that that approach doesn't even work. Experts note that emigration tends to increase when economic strength grows. After all, the journey can only begin once you've got a bit of money in your pocket. It's only at a much higher economic level that the willingness to migrate begins to abate again.
Collier would like to see a radical rethink. He says Europe must not encourage the ugly narrative that the only hope for Africans is for them to get out of Africa. Young Africans, he says, need to be viewed for their potential and not as a burden. He calls for serious efforts to be undertaken to create more jobs locally in Africa. These should include economic aid involving the private sector and the elimination of EU trade and subsidies policies that do harm to African countries and flood their markets with cheap products.
Europe's Failure To Help: The Bezzina Shipyard, Malta
In early July, 22 men and women on the bridge and deck of the Sea-Watch 3 are waiting to set sail in the glistening morning sun. The 55-meter-long (180-foot-long) ship is still moored by its stern to the wharf, but the crew is ready to depart. The fuel tanks are full, water and rice are securely stored on pallets in the ship's belly, the infirmary shelves are filled with antibiotics, with bandages and ointments for treating burns. They often have to provide treatment to migrants who have been exposed to a mixture of gasoline, salt water, urine and vomit that can burn the skin right down to the flesh.
The captain requests permission to sail. It's standard procedure, but he is told he cannot leave the port. The rescue vessels Lifeline and Seefuchs had already been detained in the port of Valletta, Malta, and now the crew of the Sea-Watch 3 are also told that the vessel's Dutch registration must be verified, despite having complete and correct papers.
In the days that follow, there will be repeat deaths in the area Sea-Watch 3 wanted to sail to, including those of babies. Many shipwrecked people are brought back to North Africa by the Libyan coast guard, and often end up in the notorious camps along the coast. IOM data indicates that more than 700,000 migrants currently live in Libya. At least 7,000 are being held in camps where forced labor and ill-treatment are part of everyday life. With the Libyan coast guard stopping more and more refugee boats in recent months, that number has more than doubled since the beginning of the year. Mistreatment is a recurring issue. But the EU nevertheless continues to rely on Libyan security forces and only recently massively increased the funds it is providing them.
Sea-Watch 3 has now been stuck in the port of Valetta for more than 50 days, despite having the correct paperwork. The Seefuchs and Lifeline civilian rescue ships are also still being held in the port. Since January alone, at least 1,527 people have died or are considered missing in the Mediterranean.
Barbara H., a doctor from Hamburg, stuck it out and stayed on board in the harbor for three weeks. "This is a failure to provide assistance. We're being forced not to help. This is unprecedented. I never experienced anything like this during my entire professional career," says the 51-year-old, who used to work as an emergency physician and is now employed as a doctor on cruise ships.
At the end of July, the EU's Sophia mission to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean was also temporarily suspended. The mission's Italian commander ordered all the warships involved back to the ports.
A Ferocious Debate
After being celebrated as heroes at the beginning, Barbara H. says, the mood has now changed entirely. She says volunteers have been sent death and rape threats. "People are suddenly saying: 'You're aiding the traffickers,' or even: 'You are the traffickers.'"
Germany is ferociously debating whether private sea rescue efforts should be viewed as a humanitarian endeavor and whether the helpers are to blame for the fact that more and more people are daring to make the Mediterranean crossing in dangerous, ramshackle boats. A journalist with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit was personally targeted online in July after she raised the question in an opinion piece of whether private sea rescue initiatives play right into the hands of the human-traffickers. No other aspect of the debate surrounding the refugees has recently triggered as much societal division.
So, what might the appropriate solution look like?
First, Europeans clearly have an obligation to rescue people who are drowning. The EU rescue missions must continue. This is a task that cannot be left to the NGOs. But the clear aim of a common refugee policy must be to ensure that people are no longer getting into boats and making the trip to Europe.
But how can that be prevented? Experts on migration argue that refugees in need of protection should be identified out of the mass of arrivals and assisted as quickly as possible. They argue that all others should be quickly repatriated to their home countries. This could be handled at the facilities the EU is currently planning.
Eliminating the Incentive
Collier believes these transit centers could be set up both at the European external borders and in North Africa. But they must be under the auspices of the Europeans and not, as is currently the case in Libya, managed by criminals. He believes this would eliminate the incentive to take the dangerous boat trip because it would make no difference to a person's chances of staying in Europe. Although no North African country has so far agreed to allow such centers on their territory, it is probably just a question of money.
But it would likely be difficult to control those types of facilities in Africa. Although it might be feasible in Tunisia or Morocco, in Libya it might even require the stationing of international troops. This has prompted other experts to argue in favor of only building the centers at Europe's external borders.
One of the most detailed proposals for a workable solution comes from Gerald Knaus, the founder and director of the European Stability Initiative, a Berlin-based think tank. He designed the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey, which has been widely criticized for making the EU dependent on an autocrat like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the deal has also meant that far fewer people have drowned in the Aegean Sea.
To handle the Mediterranean routes, Knaus envisions European transit centers in Italy, Greece and Spain, where most migrants are currently arriving. If they want to remain in Europe, immigrants are required to apply for asylum in these countries. This is where the maritime rescue groups, or even better, EU officials, could take shipwrecked migrants. This would put an end to the disgraceful debate over which countries are even willing to allow these rescue ships to dock. The facilities would have to be well-equipped, clean and humane.
There must also be enough interpreters and European asylum decision-makers working on site for applications to quickly be evaluated. There must also be lawyers to help asylum-seekers challenge those evaluations, and judges to make the ultimate decisions.
Both the Dutch and the Swiss have adopted such a system in their own countries. Those who have no right to asylum, Knaus says, must immediately leave Europe and return to their country of origin. Those who have no identification papers with them must allow their mobile phones to be examined in the search for clues. "The message will spread by word of mouth that those who have no right to protection will be turned back at the European border," Knaus says.
To ensure origin countries like Senegal, Gambia and Nigeria take their citizens back, Knaus proposes that repatriation agreements be negotiated, similar to what Spain has been doing for the past 10 years as part of its "Plan Africa." That was another reason for Merkel's recent trip to Africa in August. According to Knaus, the allotment of work visas could be of particular interest to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. "African countries would profit just as much as Europe would," he says.
The Senegalese Bavarian: Buchloe, Germany
If Mouhammadou Sambou had had the opportunity to apply for such a visa, he likely would have decided against taking the dangerous route crossing Niger, Libya and the Mediterranean. He wouldn't have had to spend weeks starving in a Libyan prison. And he wouldn't have had the experience of seeing two men shot to death as they tried to escape with him. That was back in 2014. Sambou was able to make his way to the coast, before then spending almost two days on a boat until an Italian Navy helicopter spotted the vessel and brought him and the others to land.
Four years later, Sambou, now 21, is sitting on the steps of the building where he lives in western Bavaria. It is a mild summer evening in Buchloe; the hostel belonging to the construction company he works for is located right next to the train tracks. The grass is knee-high.
"It was brutal," he says in Bavarian-accented German and shakes his head, as though he still can't believe it himself. "Really brutal." He only briefly talks about his past and doesn't offer too many details. They are painful memories. His father was violent, he says. One day, his mother was lying dead in a pool of her own blood, having been shot by a friend of his father's. Why? "They were always arguing. My father had enough other women."
Because a German development worker told him how great it was in Bavaria, Sambou knew early on: "That is where I wanted to go."
The enthusiasm, though, isn't mutual -- even after four years. The federal migration authority BAMF hasn't approved Sambou's asylum application and is unlikely ever to do so. People from Senegal have almost no chance of being given asylum or recognized as refugees. Indeed, last year he received a letter demanding that he leave the country and saying that if he refused, he would be deported. By then, he had long since begun a vocational training program at a construction company called Rudolf Hörmann.
"It was a shock for all of us," says Thomas Novacek, who directs his training program. "We thought there might be problems after the traineeship, but right in the middle? It was a terrible situation for everyone involved." Like most such companies, Rudolf Hörmann is constantly on the lookout for candidates to fill open positions. Without immigration, the German economy wouldn't have a chance against the growing shortage of trained workers.
In recognition of that fact, the German government two years ago passed a new integration law, which contained the so-called 3+2 Regulation in the hopes that it would provide both refugees and the companies that employed them with more stability for future planning. The regulation ensures that refugees who are not in line for permanent residency permits will be allowed to stay for the duration of their training program and for two additional years if they can prove they have a job.
German employers welcomed the regulation, but while the law looks clear-cut on paper, it hasn't always been so in reality. Immigration officials, after all, have broad leeway when it comes to applying the rule. It is possible, for example, to reject a migrant's 3+2 application if he or she is unable to credibly prove their country of origin or comes from a safe country of origin like Senegal or Ghana.
Given this, migration expert Knaus and many companies support giving migrants who want to work a work visa and residency permit, even if they don't qualify for asylum or refugee status. "Most of these people won't go back home anyway, so we should give them a chance to integrate, and do so as quickly as possible." Government officials could then focus their energies on deporting those who have committed crimes.
To counteract the impression that anyone can stay in Germany once they've managed to make it across the border, however, Knaus recommends implementing a cut-off date. The rule would apply to all those who arrived prior to that date.
Beyond that, though, Germany needs an immigration law that better and more consistently regulates access to the labor market. That won't help reduce illegal immigration, but it could reduce pressure on the asylum system -- at least if the also provides opportunities to people from African countries who tend to have fewer qualifications. One option would be to implement work visas limited to three years, enough time to allow capital and knowledge to flow back to Africa.
Migration Pressures Will Remain High
But The challenge remains. Never has the number of people fleeing from war and persecution been as high as it is today. At the end of 2017, some 68.5 million people had been forced from their homes, with 85 percent of them living in developing countries. Migration pressures on Western democracies will remain high for the foreseeable future. But Germany has also demonstrated in recent years that it is able to integrate people into its society.
Sensible asylum policies must strike a balance: They cannot ignore Europe's ethical foundations, but they also cannot ask too much of the European people. Cherished truths must be abandoned -- on all sides. Because the situation at Europe's borders is currently relatively calm, now would be an excellent time to approach difficult questions calmly and with the necessary sobriety, and to listen to both our heads and our hearts.
Good asylum policy means seeing not just individuals, but also masses. The first thing Europe must do is increase financial support for countries bordering on war zones. Instead of keeping refugees in camps and preventing them from taking part in real life, they should be given back their autonomy and publicly subsidized jobs should be introduced in the regions they have fled to.
That doesn't mean Europe should stop accepting refugees. Individual asylum-seekers could be chosen for resettlement with the help of the UNHCR and brought to Europe. But no European country, no European population, can be forced to accept refugees by way of a quota system.
Europe's external borders must be protected. Transit centers are not inhuman as long as asylum-seekers are well looked after and their applications are processed quickly. Europe cannot allow people to continue drowning in the Mediterranean, but it also has every right to reject economic migrants. Quickly sending migrants back to their home countries is the ethical thing to do: Africa needs its most talented people. These measures, though, go hand in hand with an obligation to recognize the hopelessness afflicting around 1 billion poverty-stricken people around the world. Ignoring them would be extremely unethical. A comprehensive focus on Africa's economic development is necessary -- and that will require sufficient funding.
It is important to identify a cutoff date for the migrants who arrived in Europe years ago. It makes no sense to deport people who have been here for an extended period and who have successfully integrated. Any immigration law must find a solution to this issue.
Sambou, the construction trainee from Senegal, never wants to go back to his West African homeland. With the help of his lawyer, he was able to delay his deportation, but only by one year. He is almost finished with his traineeship and his employer would like to keep him on. Sambou plays soccer in a local club, has a German girlfriend and a family who has taken care of him since his arrival as an underage refugee.
In the eyes of the CSU, Sambou is a problem. Andreas Scheuer, the former CSU general secretary and current federal transportation minister, once said: "The worst thing" that can happen to Germany "is a soccer-playing, admirable Senegalese who has been here for over three years. Such a person will never be deported."
Scheuer might be right on that last point, but seems to have otherwise succumbed to a logical fallacy. When it comes to integration, Sambou isn't the worst, but rather the best thing that can happen to Germany.