Bad Faith Berlin Must Reform or Abolish Its Refugee Policy

The refugee crisis is forcing Berlin's hand. It can reform its existing asylum law or abolish it altogether. Either way, it can no longer get away with the current system of organized hypocrisy.

Another 1,000 refugees are expected to reach Munich on Wednesday.

Another 1,000 refugees are expected to reach Munich on Wednesday.

A Commentary by

Here's a status report on European asylum policy: Bulgaria is keeping refugees out with barbed wire fencing along its border to Turkey. Hungary has declared a state of emergency and is shoehorning asylum-seekers into special trains to Austria. Germany has instated border controls. And in Brussels, EU countries are squabbling over mandatory refugee quotas.

Even before German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann delivered their stern call for European solidarity in Berlin on Tuesday, it was plain to see that the bloc's asylum policy is failing.

For years, the weaknesses of the system have been glaring.

Article 16a of the German constitution guarantees the right of asylum to persons persecuted on political grounds. But the government long ago added a few conditions.

It put in place a Darwinian system along Europe's external borders, with asylum law only applying to those who actually reach EU territory. But this is made virtually impossible by European border policy. EU states have erected fences along their edges and built walls designed to deter refugees. There are no safe, legal ways of reaching Europe for people fleeing countries such as Eritrea, Syria and Iraq. They are left with no choice but to pay human smugglers and make the journey in flimsy boats and overcrowded trucks to Europe before they can claim asylum.

Upending the System

If good fortune and hard cash gets them there, the Dublin Regulation then forces them to remain in the state where they first entered the EU. Not even asylum-seekers whose claim has been approved are at liberty to travel. The upshot is that refugees end up festering away in reception centers in Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy amid conditions that organizations such as Human Rights Watch deem deplorable.

For years, Germany was perfectly content with this system. It allowed Berlin to parade a generous asylum law without ever actually having to take in many refugees. In 2007, only 19,000 people applied for asylum in Germany.

But Berlin can't keep lying to itself. Wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as ongoing crises in Eritrea and Libya, have altered the system at a fundamental level. People have become so desperate that not even the most restrictive asylum policy is enough to stop them from migrating. Their sheer numbers have now toppled the cynical EU border regime.

Crunch Time

Berlin needs to make a decision. It could completely revise its asylum policy, which would entail ambitious resettlement programs, the option of applying for asylum through a country's embassy and the creation of sufficient legal paths for refugees to Europe. The Dublin Regulation would be replaced by a system whereby all European countries would take in a share of refugees. The EU would have to guarantee that member states not systematically circumvent the minimum standards for refugees by applying the threat of sanctions in the event they violate them.

Reforming the asylum system would incur higher costs for Germany and require greater efforts to be made to integrate new arrivals. But the resources are there. In the first half of 2015, the German state earned more than €21 billion ($24 billion) more than it spent. The difficulties in processing refugees experienced these days by authorities in places like Munich, Dortmund and elsewhere are not so much symptomatic of any bottom-line inability to help but more the result of the federal interior minister's mismanagement. This spring, Thomas de Maizière formulated Berlin's asylum policy on the basis of obviously inaccurate figures.

The alternative to reforming the asylum law is to do away with it. The German government could admit that it's nice in theory, but that Berlin is unable or unwilling to actually implement it under the current difficult circumstances. This would amount to a betrayal of all the values Germany claims to hold dear. But it would be more honest than the current system of organized hypocrisy.


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distrak 09/17/2015
For God's sake, Europe! Waiting to discuss this matter at yet another summit next week is idiocy. You have got to get the situation under control NOW, then debate all the minor points. Close off this pipeline now. Do this: Make it absolutely clear (in as many languages as possible) that Germany will only consider Syrian refugees for asylum. Tell these people that if they come from the Balkans--forget it. Don't waste your time. Don't waste our time. Sort these people out NOW and deport the ones who cannot be offered asylum. You will hear a lot of lies, but for God's sake, make a decision and get these people out of Europe. You need to send a message NOW. I would submit that the EU should accept only Christian refugees from Iraq and Syrian--they are being slaughtered there--but no one has the guts to do this. Also tell these migrants that they their application for asylum will be automatically rejected if they are using a false passport or have attempted to erase their fingerprints. Iranians, Iraqs and Afghans will have to wait. How much blood and treasure has the west (Europe and the US) thrown away on these last two failed states? And then we are expected to take care of the refugees also. No more. Have a backbone, Europe! Stand for something. Everyone take one position and stick to it. Thank you Orban and Hungary for showing some guts and showing these economic migrants that they have to respect international law AND a sovereign county's borders. I hope Germany will take note of this and stop playing "nice guy" to these people. Half of these people are NOT refugees and are just gaming the system, using the caos to get into the country illegally. And soaking up tax money and will bring nothing but
johncronk 09/17/2015
Migrant Crisis Plan We should be fair about our analysis of the migrants. But one need not be a terrorist to be unhelpful, expensive, disruptive, destabilizing and detrimental to European culture - the most common Mideastern/North African/Islamic values, mindset and lifestyle can be quite enough. Europeans are well within their rights to decide which, if any, foreign citizens without proper documentation they want to allow entry into their countries. Although analysis of the situation is right and necessary, the top priority right now should be for the EU and UN to implement a system for immediate transport of all people who show up uninvited on Europe's doorstep to a faraway place, fingerprinting, photographing and identifying them, quickly transporting economic migrants back home, and humanely detaining and caring for refugees. The processing and sanctuary center should have a temperate climate, be far enough away from Europe and migrants' places of origin so that leakage in and out is prevented, and a place with enough space and stability that control can be maintained without political problems and where compensatory agreements can be attractive to the host. Large South American countries come to mind as possibilities. The refugees would not be allowed to melt into the country's native population and infrastructure: the intention is to provide sanctuary for those who need it, not to provide 'a better life' or to victimize the host country economically or culturally.. Implementation of this system would be cost-shared among all signatory countries and would eliminate the infighting and giant mess we currently see. Economies of scale would keep the cost down, and once the system was understood, migrant numbers would decrease dramatically - to the benefit of Europe (and in some ways the migrants themselves) and the detriment of smugglers. Perhaps one of the most important benefits, although intangible and difficult to measure, would be the restoration of confidence in Europe's citizens that their government is performing its function, has not abrogated its responsibility to them, and that their laws have meaning. With this ethically sound, effective and feasible system implemented, all other good and helpful actions in regard to any of these people that may be decided by any country's citizens would still be possible. Leaders - why wait? The costs of delay are enormous.
konzwoll 09/17/2015
Great article! There's a slight problem with the EU-wide resettlement plan though: the levels of welfare payments vastly differ between member states. In Eastern Europe, you get around 200-300 €/month, while in the west it's multiple times that. -If you provide the local niveau to the refugees, it will cause resentment among those who get sent to the East. -If you provide all refugees with western standard aid, it will cause resentment among the local population. Also, the threat of sanctions is an empty one. Western companies currently have barrier-free market access. The structural funds are the flipside to that. If you cut them, eastern states can just tax capital movements, and take in a comparable amount.
karai puku 09/17/2015
4. more honest than the current system of organized hypocrisy.
I sincerely doubt that German society is ready to accept the truth. Germans are strong, organized, working, law abiding but also organizedly profoundly hypocritical. In reality they are not really ready to confront their demons. In makes them unhappy, but an unhappy elephant in the glass house is not promising a bright future. Germany needs to accept failure, defeat. Just like Israel's greatest achievement, piece with Egypt, was a result of defeat, so it goes for Germany. Germany should go for one man one vote Europe, and be ready to lose some elections. (I am sure that Mrs Merkel could win a few). That would offer hope to EUrope. But it will take long time, and maybe, we'll never get there. All is in the hands of Germany. In the hands of German politicians, citizens, but first and foremost the German media. One man one vote Europe.
Michael 09/18/2015
5. Responsibility
The German government's responsibility is to us - the German and EU citizens first and foremost. Allowing millions of Muslim migrants (or "refugees" as you like to call them) is a betrayal of it's own citizens. These people are coming via Turkey - they have not been persecuted there and not in danger of their lives. Some of them have been there for 2,3 and more years - they are not asylum seekers. They are migrants looking for free benefits and trying to explore the weakness of the Western governments. It is unbelievable to see the sight of the EU borders and principles being protected by the poor East European newcomers while a few nations (primarily Sweden and Germany) try and impose their distorted will on the rest of the continent.
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