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Symposium 2015

Solution for Migrants Knocking on Europe's Doors: Towards a Coherent Response to Irregular Immigration

The Challenge

Tens of thousands of irregular migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, set out for Europe each year. If they reach Europe alive, most ultimately manage to stay here - irrespective of whether ...

Tens of thousands of irregular migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, set out for Europe each year. If they reach Europe alive, most ultimately manage to stay here - irrespective of whether they are granted political asylum or refugee status. However, many irregular immigrants first have to criss-cross Europe in search of somewhere safe to live. Later, many live off welfare for several years because they are not allowed to work. Furthermore, EU member states have been slow to support those afflicted by humanitarian crises in their neighborhood, such as the war in Syria. In addition, there are almost no legal employment opportunities for low or medium-skilled immigrants from outside the EU. This situation calls for a comprehensive policy response by the EU and its member states to address humanitarian crises, apply uniform standards for protecting refugees and for deciding on political asylum and refugee status, and provide more legal employment opportunities for non-EU immigrants.

We Need a Greater Europeanization of Refugee Protection

The current refugee crisis has revealed that the EU’s existing refugee policy instruments are not up to the task. If no common solutions will be presented, pressure on the freedom of movement guaranteed under the Schengen Agreement will intensify. Not only are immediate measures called for, but the structure of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) needs to be further developed for the medium term. A joint European response is the only way to handle the current refugee crisis. Greater Europeanization, however, can neither mean closing Europe’s doors—this would contradict its fundamental humanitarian values—nor can it mean completely opening the borders and allowing asylum seekers to freely choose which country they would like to apply for asylum. The latter is exactly what has happened over the last few weeks. This has led to chaotic situations. The temporary reintroduction of border controls is a response to this but also a response to the EU’s inability to take action thus far in the refugee crisis. Especially in times when the influx of refugees is extremely high, it is essential that all of Europe share this responsibility because otherwise individual countries reach the limits of their capacity. So far only a few countries have taken the burden of refugee migration. If this continues, European solidarity as a guiding principle of the Union will be undermined. The European integration process on the whole could then be affected negatively.

At the same time that refugee policies are currently being renationalized, humanitarian reception conditions have begun a downwards spiral, leading to inhumane conditions in the reception and accommodation of refugees in a number of EU countries. A sustainable concept for managing the refugee crisis must eliminate these extremes and find acceptable practical policies for restoring order in the asylum system. Europe must meet its humanitarian obligations towards refugees—together and in solidarity. But Europe also has to regain control of asylum migration, further develop the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and—most importantly—enforce it in all Member States. In view of the enormous challenges and dramatic events, a set of short-term emergency measures is needed as well as a reorganization of the CEAS. As a first step the EU Member States have agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers in need of protection from countries like Italy and Greece, which are unable to cope in terms of logistics and infrastructure. But much more needs to be done. So far the EU lags far behind the urgency of the situation. Member States have to agree on the following points in order to establish a more sustainable approach to the refugee crisis.

First, we need a permanent and mandatory distribution mechanism for refugees clearly in need of protection in which all Member States participate. Exceptions would only be allowed for justified reasons consistent with the values of the EU. The countries concerned, however, would then have to provide financial compensation.

Second, for cases of emergency, registration facilities (Hotspots) at the EU’s external borders have to be established rapidly. At these Hotspots European agencies (EASO, Frontex, Europol, Eurojust) will work together with the respective national authorities to register new arrivals and screen them to determine if they are in need of protection. Then, as the EU Commission proposes, a permanent and mandatory redistribution mechanism for refugees in clear need of protection should be applied taking into account the refugee’s interests to the extent possible. In every case, it must be ensured that the treatment of refugees upholds the commonly agreed standards for recognition, processing and accommodation.

Third, there needs to be European collective reception programs that ensure safe and calculable access to asylum. Experiences with the temporary acceptance program for Syrian refugees have been positive. These programs should be structurally optimized and continued in Germany and could serve as model for other EU countries. All EU countries should participate based on the principle of fair responsibility and financial burden-sharing. A mechanism of this kind that enables EU-wide acceptance of a large influx of refugees outside of the individual asylum process and outside of the Dublin system is already embedded in EU law in the Temporary Protection Directive. In addition, the Joint European Resettlement Program which gives people from third countries in need of protection access to and permanent residence in Europe should be expanded as quickly as possible. These kinds of programs prevent people who are seeking protection from embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe and entering the EU illegally.

Fourth, aid for countries that have taken in large numbers of refugees (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan) must be significantly and rapidly increased; resources must be provided to the UNHCR. In these countries, accommodation for refugees continues to be inadequate and inhumane which leads many to migrate to Europe.

Fifth, beyond emergency measures in view of the influx of hundreds of thousands refugees, the Common European Asylum System needs a structural reorganization in the midterm as a further element besides collective reception programs for times of crises. However, the structural reorganization that I will explain now is ridden with prerequisites: While retaining the responsibility of the first country of entry (Dublin principle), I propose to combine this principle with a free choice model after the asylum procedure has been successfully completed. The country of first entry is still responsible for reception, the asylum procedure and the return of refugees whose status is not recognized. It receives calculable financial and logistical aid for assuming this shared responsibility which eases the burden on all other Member States. The countries of first entry, for their part, would be required to strictly comply with the standards set forth in the CEAS for refugee housing and the asylum procedure. If this is successful, and the countries of first entry in Southern and Eastern Europe applied recognition criteria the same way as the other EU countries, the right to freedom of movement within the EU for recognized refugees could be introduced in a second step. For refugees, it would mean that after their asylum petition has been approved, they would be allowed to move to the EU country of their choice to pursue economic opportunities or join family members. This, however, can only work if the humanitarian standards that are defined are actually implemented in all EU Member States. In order to minimize pull effects towards those countries with the highest social benefits, it is discussed to establish common social standards for acknowledged refugees throughout Europe or to exclude acknowledged refugees from social transfers for a certain period of time. A common EU strategy would be a clear demonstration of European solidarity and burden-sharing in terms of accepting refugees.

Sixth, efforts to fight the root causes of flight need to be intensified. The diplomatic initiative planned by the EU Commission to end the conflicts in Syria and Libya is emphatically welcomed. Successfully ending the violence in the countries would be the most effective refugee policy.

Seventh, to maintain a high level of public acceptance for taking in refugees and be able to provide the resources in the asylum system for people in need of protection, it is important that humanitarian protection is only given to the people who actually need it. For those driven to Europe by economic hardship, asylum is not an appropriate option. This means that asylum-seekers whose applications are rejected also have to be returned. At the same time, legal migration options must be expanded for migrant workers and existing channels communicated more effectively in order to prevent those who leave their countries for economic reasons to apply for asylum. However, as a matter of principle refugee migration and legal immigration have to be kept separately. Asylum has to be granted to all those in need of protection because of war, terror and persecution, independently of their professional or lingual skills, whereas the regulation of legal immigration follows different rules which take into account the needs of the labor market of the immigration country.

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