refugee policy

Murderous and Dishonest

Rettung im Mittelmeer
Two refugee children await rescue off the Libyan coast. Source: DPA

The European Union’s most important heads of state met with politicians from Libya, Niger and Chad on Monday, to discuss ways of making a dishonest and murderous system even more dishonest and murderous. We’re talking about European refugee policy. In fact, we might as well say German refugee policy, because in practice, it’s just as hypocritical and deadly as that of other EU countries.

German policy seems extremely generous at first glance. According to the German constitution, “the politically persecuted are entitled to the right of asylum.” In many ways, those who can convince German authorities to recognize them as politically persecuted are given the same rights as German citizens – in healthcare, for example.

For billions of people, the dream of attaining this status is like winning the jackpot in the lottery of life. Even those who are not classified as politically persecuted, but “merely” enjoy protection from war or civil unrest, are entitled to extensive rights in Germany.

At the same time, Germany and other EU countries make it impossible for refugees to apply for asylum without first putting their lives in danger. Most refugees from countries with oppressive regimes or regions plagued by civil war could reach Germany safely by air, if they could get a visa for an EU state in their native country. But embassies and consulates routinely deny visa applications from people who intend to apply for asylum.

As a result, refugees are forced to set off for Europe along dangerous overland routes, including through the Balkans. Others put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers. Thousands of them die in the Mediterranean.

And then there’s the dishonesty. On the one hand, we like to tout the generosity of our asylum system, and yet we are making it more and more dangerous for refugees to take advantage of their rights. At the urging of the EU, Turkey and the other Balkan countries essentially no longer allow refugees into the EU.

Refugees are forced to choose the vastly more perilous route across North Africa and the Mediterranean. The aim of the refugee summit in Paris is to tighten the screw even further, by convincing three countries in the Sahara region — Chad, Niger and Libya — to prevent refugees headed for the Mediterranean from passing through their countries.

Children from crisis-ridden countries aren’t the ones who make it to our refugee shelters, but rather young men from the middle class.

Presumably, this new approach will force refugees to seek even more dangerous routes through the desert, where dozens already die of thirst. From the cynical perspective of our media-driven democracy, this is progress. There are plenty of reproachful images of the bodies of refugee children washing up on Greek beaches, but TV cameras are not nearly as likely to document children dying of thirst in the Sahara.

Another consequence of Europe’s perverse refugee policy is that the most vulnerable refugees — children from crisis-ridden countries — aren’t the ones who make it to our refugee shelters, but rather young men from the middle class. They are sufficiently healthy to embark on the Darwinian race to reach Europe, and they have enough money to pay traffickers several times the price of an airline ticket to Europe.

The poor, those who truly need protection, usually remain behind in their native countries or transit countries like Libya.

It would almost be preferable for EU countries to eliminate the right of asylum in its current form altogether. Then, at least, we would no longer entice millions of young men from the world’s poor and troubled regions to abandon their families and sacrifice their entire savings for a spot in an overfilled inflatable boat.

The better alternative would be to transform the right of asylum, as the advocate general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Paolo Mengozzi, proposed in a case a few months ago. He argued that EU countries have an obligation to issue humanitarian visas to individuals threatened by torture or other inhumane treatment, so they can travel safely to the EU and apply for asylum there.

The Luxembourg judges normally concur with the vote of the advocate general, but in this case they voted against change, and for the status quo.

Mr. Mengozzi’s proposal for humanitarian visas would have a beneficial shock effect. EU embassies in crisis-ridden countries would be flooded with applicants. But this would force EU countries to determine which were truly worthy of protection before they leave their native countries — and to determine in which cases applicants could reasonably be expected to seek refuge elsewhere in their own or a neighboring country.

This new system would not necessarily be more generous than current policies. But it would offer protection to those who need it the most.

To contact the author: rickens@handelsblatt.com

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