If you were to tune into plenary sessions of the German Bundestag nowadays, you would be confronted with numerous controversial debates on how to handle the refugee crisis. The arguments of politicians from different parties range from advocating a humane approach in the asylum process and a welcoming attitude towards refugees, to politicians demanding the immediate deportation of all refugees and a closure of Germany’s borders. In international media, Germany is often presented as a shining example on how other countries should handle the refugee crisis, accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees. But lately, the tone in the asylum debate has been rapidly changing. Expressions like “mass deportation” and “a strict tightening of the asylum laws” are now commonplace in the negotiations of the German government.
At the end of August this year, Germany caught the world’s attention when Angela Merkel took an important step that no one had yet dared to take. She announced a suspension of the Dublin regulations for Syrian refugees, heralding a wave of relief. This new guideline made it so that Syrian refugees who claimed asylum in Germany wouldn’t be deported to other European countries. After months of inactivity and cluelessness from the German government, this step was considered an important move in the right direction, a first step on the road to a humane refugee policy.
At the same time, the voices of anti-asylum activists have started to get louder. After Merkel took the initiative for refugees and stated clearly that she was advocating humane policies regarding the refugee crisis, she was heavily criticized for her actions. Wide parts of the population as well as numerous politicians accused her of risking the societal balance of Germany and of encouraging even more refugees to make their way to Germany. Being confronted with all these arguments and criticism, she stated very clearly: “If we now have to begin to apologize for showing a humane and kind face to the world in emergency situations, then this is not my country anymore.”
As more and more politicians have started speaking up against Germany’s current refugee policies, the government has slowly been altering its course. In the last months, a lot of change has happened regarding the asylum policies and not for the better.
On 23 October, 2015 the German government adopted the “Asylverfahrensbeschleunigungsgesetz”, an asylum reform literally translated as “Asylum Procedures Acceleration Act”, which marked the first milestone in the directional change of the government’s approach regarding the asylum policies.
With this law, all of the Balkan countries including Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro are certified as safe countries of origin, meaning that the deportation of Asylum seekers from Eastern Europe will now be conducted much faster and the chances for a residence permit for these people are minimal. Furthermore, asylum seekers in future will be forced to stay in the reception centre for up to 6 months, forbidden to work and provided with mainly non-cash benefits instead of cash.
All in all, the government declared that with this asylum reform, they are aiming to avoid the emergence of incentives to seek refuge in Germany. But as the human rights organization “Pro Asyl” rightly declared, “The dignity of man is no incentive.”
According to a new draft law, the government is also aiming to prevent family reunions for two whole years for those asylum seekers who are only being granted subsidiary protection. “Subsidiary protection” is being applied to refugees who are (according to the government) not being targeted or persecuted as individuals, but are fleeing the civil war in their home countries. This kind of protection is only granted for one year at first.
Think about it, let it sink: two years. Families will be separated for even longer periods of time, in some cases never to reunite. This draft law can well be called a death warrant for thousands of people and a defamation of the values of humanity.
Currently, the German government seems to be trapped in a state of incapacity, incapable of moving either back or forth. Despite the numerous heated debates about the refugee crisis, effective communication seems to have become rare in the rows of the German government. Unsure what to do, politicians are reduced to knocking down others’ proposals, unable to work together towards a solution for the current situation. Burkhard Lischka, a political spokesman for the SPD, proclaimed this a “communicative disaster!”
The parties represented in the government seem to be taking a worryingly unilateral approach. For instance, the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, recently decided to play a lone hand by restoring the Dublin regulations for Syrian refugees. This was executed on October 21, yet none of the other government parties or even the chancellor Angela Merkel was informed.
Katja Kipping, the chairwoman of the leftist party DIE LINKE says: “We are not experiencing a refugee crisis, but a blatant failure of the German government – especially concerning the Interior minister.” She goes even further to say that although a resignation of de Maizière wouldn’t be a final solution, he’s still clearly not capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of his position.
Another enlightening personality in the current asylum debate is the German minister of finances, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) who instead of contributing to finding a solution for Germany’s ”refugee problem” decided to compare the refugees to a natural disaster.
What should change?
You may have already noticed – there is indeed no perfect solution for the current refugee crisis that Germany and many other countries in the world are facing. This issue is not easily solved, yet that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to handle. It’s the people: it is we who decide how we want our country and our world to be. That applies to politicians just as equally as to the population.
From the side of the politicians, a fundamental change of their way of acting has to happen. The government has to work as a united force to provide the German state with a humane and efficient approach in the refugee crisis, ending violence, war and poverty for millions of people and making a statement in the fight for human rights. Despite what many people say, Germany does have the required resources and capabilities to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees, and it’s our responsibility to stand up for the millions of refugees whose lives are being threatened. Most important of all, the government has to send out a signal of unity and cohesion, to avoid a separation of the population into left and right. How will the population stay united, when their government is falling apart?
At the same time, it’s also the government’s responsibility to initiate a fundamental change in their foreign policy. After all, according to a recent study of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Germany is still the 4th biggest arms-exporting country in the world. Germany is regularly exporting tanks to Saudi Arabia and it’s an “open secret” that Saudi Arabia is directly financing many Islamist rebel groups involved in the Syrian civil war. If we want the refugee crisis to end, we will have to stop being responsible for its causes. And yes, arms-exports into crisis-torn territories and countries do indeed contribute to making the situation in those countries even worse instead of improving it.
Closing our borders or building up walls and fences like Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia decided to do – none of these actions will ever lead us towards a solution for the current refugee situation. Shutting our doors would not automatically solve the problem. Germany, as a first world country and as one of the wealthiest nations in the world, carries the responsibility to advocate peace and humanity. What better way to present these values than to not only say “Refugees welcome!”, but also actively transfer this message through our way of acting and our policies?
Note: This is the second of three articles addressing the current refugee crisis in Germany. Click here to read the first article giving an insight into how the situation in the population looks like and trying to explain where the “fear of refugees” comes from.
The third and last article of this series will be written on what it is to be a refugee in Germany, featuring some unique perspectives and giving insights in what the life of a refugee is like. Stay tuned if you want to learn more!