A Conservative View

Key Problems Plague the Refugee Debate

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • The author argues that the West has fostered refugees while failing to enforce existing migration laws or the Schengen rules.
  • Facts


    • Germany has accepted more refugees than the 27 other E.U. countries combined.
    • Under E.U. law, temporary border controls are allowed if there is a serious threat to internal security.
    • Many of the refugees currently in Germany are not allowed to work.
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Flüchtlinge erreichen Lesvos
Refugees arrive in Greece. Source: DPA

Our political parties have taken on more than they can handle in the refugee matter. They wanted to embrace the entire world, and for a brief moment they did, thanks to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence. But now many feel that it was too much.

Germany has accepted more refugees from the developing world than all of the 27 other European Union countries combined. More than twice as many people live on a square kilometer in Germany today as in France (230 in Germany, 103 in France). Of the 722,370 asylum seekers in 2016, more than half were not even protected by the Geneva Refugee Convention. And only 2,120 individuals, or 0.3 percent, were recognized as being “entitled to asylum.” So what next?

First, you can say what you will about U.S. President Donald Trump, but the fact that the newly elected American president describes the Iraq War as “one of the worst decisions in the history of our country” and NATO, the postwar alliance, as old-fashioned and in need of an overhaul, is truly encouraging. And so is the fact that the United States no longer seeks to “impose our way of life on anyone else.”

All of the West’s military interventions in the name of our “values” have only increased suffering in the countries in question, made possible the creation and expansion of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, inspired Islamic terrorism and provoked a refugee movement of historic dimensions. For the last 15 years, the NATO countries have used drones to kill people like flies in the Middle East, and yet they are offended by the accusation that they are trying to extinguish the conflagration there by adding fuel to the fire. This cannot continue. With the arrival of the reckless Mr. Trump, the taboo of pulling German armed forces out of this idiotic Western war has now been broken.

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Second, current efforts to amend laws relating to internal security are wrong. They are both dishonest and dissonant. Everyone has noticed that lawmakers are trying to draw our attention away from their responsibility for the lack of control at the border. Of course, individual measures, like video surveillance and electronic ankle bracelets, can enhance security when it comes to terrorist threats, as our interior and justice ministers recently suggested in their response to the December terrorist attack in Berlin.

But let’s not kid ourselves. In France, a potential terrorist wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet murdered a priest. With their “10 measures” for fighting terrorism, the two ministers did not answer the real question: Will the police and the courts observe the essentials of refugee law that have been pushed aside by our government?

Because if the existing laws had been applied then things never would have gone this far, and not just in the case of the Berlin terrorist attack. Green Party chairman Simone Peter is right when she says that the application of current law must take precedence over the constant creation of new rules. Whether Ms. Peter would truly consent to consistent enforcement of the rules mentioned above remains to be seen. But constant new proposals on domestic security, especially coming from people who have been in the government for years, makes people crazy.

Third, according to the Dublin III Directive (number 604/2013) of the European Union, it isn’t Germany, but the E.U. country in which a refugee illegally crossed the border (Art. 13) that would be responsible for asylum seekers who illegally entered Europe in 2015 and 2016 (which is almost all the refugees). The responsibility of these countries would only have ended 12 months (Art. 13 Para. 1) after the border was crossed. At the time, Germany voluntarily claimed responsibility, which was possible under the Schengen Agreement (Art. 17 Para. 1). But can this extreme exception continue to be made?

What about the border controls? E.U. law expressly permits temporary border controls if “internal security is seriously threatened” (Schengen Borders Code Art. 28), first for six months and then for no more than two years (Schengen Borders Code Art. 25, Para. 1-3). From a legal standpoint, one could say that if the external border is still not being effectively controlled after two years, Schengen has lost its validity. In Europe, we urgently need clarity about the future of our border regimen. This is more important than any sort of electronic ankle bracelet proposals by people who are now suddenly posing as hardliners.

Fourth, should the refugees already in the country be allowed (or able, or required) to work, or are they only permitted to stay here? The Federal Office of Migration and Refugees has determined that of the more than 1.3 million refugee requests, more than 800,000 individuals are not refugees under the Geneva Refugee Convention, let alone entitled to asylum under Germany’s Basic Law. Nevertheless, they are here. Of the newcomers, an estimated 200,000 are not to be allowed to work under any circumstances. This would amount to a camp of idle individuals as big as the city of Würzburg, which cannot bode well. The potential threats are multiplied if this giant army of generally young, physically hardened male migrants without any reasonable occupation spend their days wandering around the public streets and squares of our cities and communities.

In fact, as long as they are in the country, the refugees must be allowed to work immediately and without any red tape, if only in return for the costs of  things like their lodging, food, clothing and medical care. This would immediately make them more acceptable to the local population. In those cases in which individuals are unable to work, the government should organize a substitute service for refugees that places the individuals in group work contingents. The German code of social law expressly includes the requirement that welfare recipients perform public service activities.

We need a compulsory federal, state and local service for all refugees. It should be established in and organized by welfare organizations, the Red Cross, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, conservation groups and, if there are no other logistical options, the armed forces. Then we would find out pretty quickly which refugees truly want to participate in German society.

Now the center-left Social Democrats are fielding Martin Schulz as their “top candidate” to run against Chancellor Angela Merkel. (The term “top candidate” is a little misleading, since we don’t have a direct, democratic nomination of the top candidate by voters in elections and primaries, as they do in France and the United States). Everyone knows that the problems are enormous, but that the differences between the “top candidates” are minuscule. Nevertheless, there are enough reasonable people in all of the parties who know that Germany, when it comes to its domestic and foreign security, is worse off today than it was four years ago – and that something needs to be done about it.


To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.de

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