How can one help when thousands of homeless people lack everything? Tobias Vorburg from Markt Schwaben was on Lesbos for two weeks and was given the task of getting a woman to breathe again. For a time between ashes, thirst and fear.
Stella Kunzendorf, prospective doctor, looks after refugees on Samos as best she can. In her notes she writes about excessive demands and doubts – and how much strength a quiet “inshallah” can give.
“All of Moria is on fire!” So my roommate rushed into our kitchen early that morning two weeks ago. Since then, the situation here has come to a head. Here, that means: two islands away from Lesbos, on Samos, in a small clinic run by an NGO. A few hundred meters away is the local camp, which currently houses 4,500 people. It is designed for 660.
The EU Commission wants to reform asylum and migration policy with ten new legislative proposals. Next, the EU Parliament and the Council of Member States will deal with the proposals, which, given the size of the project, should take some time. But it is already evident that some questions will cause heated discussions.
What will happen to the controversial Dublin Agreement?
The EU Commission wants to replace the Dublin Regulation, but in practice much of the new proposals would remain the same: As before, the EU countries at the external border should be responsible for the asylum procedures of all people who set foot on European soil there. The cases in which another state has to take over the procedure should be expanded significantly. For example, in cases in which the refugee’s siblings already live in another EU country. Then this state should be responsible.
The EU Commission is relying on faster deportations. Is this realistic?
Not yet. A new, accelerated border procedure is to be introduced at the EU’s external borders, i.e. a quick selection of refugees. Anyone who comes from a country with low recognition rates for asylum seekers should go through the procedure in three months – and, if rejected, be deported as soon as possible.
Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer (CSU) assumes that in this way two thirds of the current asylum seekers will no longer be able to travel to other EU countries. However, he cannot answer how the actual deportations should be accelerated. Because passports are often missing or countries of origin do not cooperate. According to the Commission, the EU states should help each other in the future to get such documents.
But even in Germany, where the laws have been tightened considerably and the authorities are considered to be comparatively well organized, the number of deportations cannot be increased, on the contrary. In the refugee year 2015, 20,888 people were deported from Germany. In 2016 there were 25,375. Since then, the number of repatriations has fallen continuously to 22,097 cases in 2019, with the number of refugees falling. In 2020, the deportation numbers collapsed, also because of Corona. By August, only 6,550 rejected asylum seekers had been flown out of Germany. Seehofer’s goal of faster deportations was missed by a long way. The same could happen at the EU’s external borders.
Why are there so few return agreements with countries of origin?
Countries of origin often have no interest in taking back citizens – unless the EU offers something in return. Ukraine and the Western Balkans are taking back rejected asylum seekers. The EU grants tourists from these countries visa-free travel. People from the Western Balkans are also allowed to immigrate as workers if they have a job offer.
Such agreements should be a model for agreements with countries like Tunisia or Morocco, demands the migration researcher Gerald Knaus: “Here the EU Commission remains very vague.” A fixed deadline is also important. No country in the world would retroactively take back all citizens living abroad. Knaus has drawn up a proposal for a return agreement to Gambia. The idea: 10,000 Gambians living mainly in Baden-Württemberg who have not committed criminal offenses can stay and work there. The Gambia is now taking back all newcomers.
Are migrants locked up in asylum centers at the EU’s external borders?
Probably already. The Commission says it will not impose anything like this on EU countries. You don’t want new Morias. She also points out that the mere fact that someone is seeking asylum is not enough to detain them. In practice, however, it should turn out like this: On the one hand, the EU countries should prevent the newcomers from entering their national territory during the new screening process that precedes their entry – this cannot be enforced any differently than through closed accommodation. But then the way is not far to rely on closed accommodation, at least also for the asylum procedures at the border – especially since the Commission wants to avoid “unwanted movements” through the EU, as the proposals say. This could be different for those people whose applications are processed in a classic procedure because they have a greater chance of asylum.
Can states be forced to accept asylum seekers?
Not directly – but indirectly: In principle, EU countries can always choose whether they show solidarity by accepting refugees or by helping with deportations. However, if a state does not really succeed in bringing people back, it is obliged after eight months – in the event of a crisis even after four – to bring the deportation candidates over and to try again from there. In this way it could happen that the new rules oblige a state to take in people at least temporarily.
How do the EU countries react?
Behavior to critical. Hungary and the Czech Republic are calling for further hotspots outside the EU to stop migration – while Greece, for example, is insisting on distributing people to all EU countries. As an initial reaction, however, not a single head of government refused to discuss the proposals. Hungary’s Prime Minister Orbán even praised the “tone” of the new proposals. Given the deadlock in the debate so far, that could almost be seen as a good sign.
New distribution mechanisms, new, faster border procedures and a much stronger focus on the goal of quickly deporting people with no prospect of staying: This is how the proposals for a new regulation of the EU asylum policy that the EU Commission presented in Brussels this afternoon can be summarized.
According to the ideas of the EU Commission, it will in future be decided at the external borders which migrants go through a classic asylum procedure and which a so-called border procedure that the Commission wants to re-establish. This decision is to be made as part of a new screening at the border prior to official entry. Those arriving should be registered, safety and health checks should be carried out and it should also be checked whether people are particularly in need of protection: families with small children or young people traveling alone should not be eligible for the border procedures.
When deciding on the type of procedure, the recognition rate for the respective home country should play a role. Even with the border procedure, however, the right of those arriving to an examination of their asylum application is preserved, says EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, responsible for home affairs: “Each application must be examined individually. The process is the same, whether in the normal or in the border procedure.” According to the Commission’s ideas, the screening process should not take longer than five days, the border procedures no longer than twelve weeks.
So that these deadlines can be met, member states should receive more support from the EU. On Lesbos, the Commission is planning a pilot project with the Greek government to show what an institution with more EU support could look like, even if such EU-owned institutions are to remain the exception.
Anyone who is deported should be deported quickly, says Johansson: It’s easier for those affected than if they had already become part of society where they were. Overall, the EU wants to significantly expand its cooperation with the countries of origin and transit.
The question of whether those arriving in this phase are accommodated in open or closed accommodation is always particularly sensitive in such border proceedings. “We are not proposing arrest,” said Commissioner Johansson. But it is not forbidden either, but is conceivable in certain cases, for example in the event of security risks or the risk that the migrants could evade the procedure – which in fact is likely to be quite often the case, especially if the people are otherwise looking to be deported.
If EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson has his way, the issue of the distribution of refugees should no longer play such a big role in the debate. “We have to deal with the actual situation, not what many people imagine,” she says. In 2015, more than a million migrants reached the EU, last year it was only a good tenth of them, of whom only a third had a prospect of asylum. For this reason, very few people would even be considered for permanent distribution.
However, the question of distribution is still the most sensitive point for the Member States. Before the EU reform concept was presented on Wednesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s statement caused a stir that she wanted to replace the controversial Dublin regulation, which has so far regulated the distribution of migrants among EU countries. However, the new mechanism will not be completely different: in future, the country in which an asylum seeker first enters the European Union will be primarily responsible for processing asylum applications. Nonetheless, the Commission’s new proposals would “give the states concerned” the security that their requests for solidarity will be met and that they will not be left alone, as is the case today, “says the responsible Vice President of the EU Commission, the Christian Democrat Margaritis Schinas.
On the one hand, affected member states are to be given the opportunity to activate a solidarity mechanism. On the other hand, those cases in which responsibility for the asylum procedure is transferred to another member state are to be significantly expanded. In future, it should also be taken into account, for example, whether an asylum seeker has siblings who already live in a certain EU country.
The solidarity mechanism should distinguish between three different cases: acute crisis situations that endanger the entire asylum system; increased pressure for one or the danger of such; and finally sea rescue cases, which concern the whereabouts of people rescued from distress in the Mediterranean. If the mechanism is activated, the EU Commission will act as an intermediary so that the Member States concerned receive the help they need to deal with the situation.
According to the plans of the EU Commission, every member state without exception should be obliged to participate in this system – but not necessarily by taking over some of the people themselves in order to relieve states such as Greece, Malta or Italy. In the past, this point had always given rise to controversy. Instead, the member states can also show their solidarity, for example, by helping to organize deportations or by supporting the border states in other ways.
The EU Commission should only be able to insist on the distribution of migrants as a “corrective”, it is said, as a last resort. The fact that the authority does not insist on such mandatory distributions from the outset is “not a major problem as long as we have a solidarity mechanism that provides the support that the member states are asking for,” says Schinas.
The EU Commission also wants to put a stop to the controversial “pushbacks” in which people are illegally and often violently forced back across the EU’s external border so that they cannot even apply for asylum in the first place. Together with the European Fundamental Rights Agency, Commissioner Johansson wants to install a better system to monitor such cases. So far, the EU Commission has not had its own means of reviewing such cases. The new mechanism should give the authority “sharper weapons” on this issue, said Johansson.
The EU Commission proposed a total of ten new laws this Wednesday, and it also wants to resume work on five laws that the previous EU Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker had already proposed on this topic. So there is a lot of work to be done on the Council of Member States and the European Parliament, which will discuss these laws and then adopt them – it will therefore be a long time before the current asylum system changes significantly.
When EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson presents her proposals for a new European asylum system this Wednesday, nothing will change for the time being: First, the EU Parliament, but above all the Member States that have long been divided on this issue, will have to discuss the new proposals in detail . Even that would be seen as a success in Brussels given the years of stagnation in the debate, but Johansson would like more: “I want migration to be just as boring as other political issues.”
After taking office last December, the Swede traveled to all European capitals to find a compromise. However, Johansson knew beforehand how big the gap is to be overcome on this topic: she knows the balancing act between humanity and openness on the one hand and hardship towards those who cannot stay on the other Past.
In Sweden Johansson is seen as a left-wing social democrat; When she moved into parliament as the youngest member of parliament at the age of 24, she was a member of the Communist Left Party. Only later did she switch to the Social Democrats. In the migration debate, they are generally considered to be more open than the Christian Democrats, but the Swedish Social Democrats are an exception: In Stockholm, the party is also so successful because, after the refugee crisis in 2015, it relied on a significantly more restrictive migration policy. As Minister of Labor, Johansson was involved in tightening immigration laws.
Ylva Johansson herself grew up with the diversity that immigration brings with it: she grew up in Botkyrka in a multicultural neighborhood; when she was a child, her parents adopted a girl from Korea, as she recently said on the EU Scream podcast. This experience shaped Johansson. “People think your ethnicity or skin color is important to who you are,” says Johansson. This reduces people to characteristics that they cannot influence. “But I don’t think it’s so important where someone comes from. What matters is where you want to go.”
Johansson often says this last sentence when she talks about migration. Even in such conversations, the former math teacher always combines both aspects of the debate. She appears open and cordial, but also determined in the matter. For example when she points out that two thirds of all those who reach the EU are currently not entitled to asylum and will therefore have to leave Europe again; that it is also unacceptable that some countries simply did not want to have anything to do with the topic.
You can see from her what other political topic Johansson is concerned with: the feminist almost always wears a necklace with the Venus symbol, a symbol of the women’s movement. “If you are a woman of power, you have a duty to help other women,” she says. “I only have my current position because other women have paved the way for me.”
However, Johansson’s career almost ended early in favor of that of a man. In 1998, the then school minister fell in love with the then finance minister, who is now her husband. Both left their respective partners for each other, but only one of them could keep the job. Johansson was asked to resign. “Of course I would have preferred to continue,” she says today. However, the post of her husband was more difficult to fill than hers.
How things have changed Hardly anyone in the cabinet of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has a more important role than Ylva Johansson. But hardly anyone found a more difficult one.
For years the EU has been fighting for a common asylum policy. The main point of contention has always been the question of whether member states can be obliged to accept migrants. The new migration pact, which the EU Commission will present this Wednesday, therefore no longer contains an automatic distribution mechanism, but instead a graduated system in order to be able to react to different situations with appropriate instruments.
According to SZ information, this system should distinguish between three different cases: acute crisis situations that endanger the national asylum system; increased pressure or the risk of such; or sea rescue cases, which concern the whereabouts of people rescued from distress in the Mediterranean.
In all of these cases, affected Member States could activate a solidarity mechanism. In Brussels it is said that the aim is to determine whether the Member States concerned are getting the right help through mediation by the EU Commission to deal with the situation.
Countries such as Hungary or Poland, which in the past always refused to accept people, should also be included in this system. There will be alternative ways for them to contribute the requested solidarity.
The EU Commission should only be able to insist on the distribution of migrants as a “corrective”, so it is said, as a “last resort”. A corresponding decision should be made as a legal act by the Commission, which can be reviewed by the EU Parliament and the Council of Member States.
According to the Commission’s proposal, a new screening procedure should be established as a preliminary stage at the EU’s external borders, which is intended to determine the likelihood that someone will actually be entitled to asylum; The recognition rate for people from different countries of origin should also play a role here.
In contrast to the 2015 refugee crisis, the EU Commission estimates that two thirds of those arriving have to expect a negative asylum decision. According to the proposal, these border procedures should not necessarily take place directly at the border; instead, the EU states should be able to carry out such tests at other locations on their territory.
In addition, an orderly return system is expected to play a much bigger role in the Commission’s new proposals than it has been up to now. Member States should help each other by means of so-called “sponsorships” to organize returns to third countries – that too could be seen as an act of solidarity.
The Commission hopes that the proposals will finally enable the Member States to take action on asylum. “We cannot afford to fail twice for the same reasons,” it said.
In any case, he is not lacking in satisfaction with his own actions these days. But the fact that nobody likes to praise him does not want to get into the head of the federal interior minister. “Now it was a humane decision again. And I’m proud,” says Horst Seehofer. He wants to say something else, but the President of the Bundestag cuts him off without further ado. “Thank you very much,” says Wolfgang Schäuble. “But we have a lot of questions. Please stop at the red light.”
Wednesday afternoon in the plenary session of the Bundestag in Berlin, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer came to Question Time. MEPs ask, ministers have to answer, and fast, that’s how this format works. If a red lamp flashes in the plenary, there is enough talk. Not every top politician loves this parliamentary spectacle, in which the actors of great politics have to get along without a machine and the usual prompts. Seehofer, however, does not seem to shy away from the skirmish on Wednesday.
It has been a week since the Moria refugee camp burned down on the Greek island of Lesbos. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been sitting on the streets, with little more than a lack of prospects. A new warehouse is now to be built, the European Union wants to get involved, at some point. The federal government has announced that it will take in refugees, if necessary single-handedly. First there was talk of 150 unaccompanied minors. Ridiculous, found Social Democrats, Greens, Leftists, Mayors, church and citizens, and possibly the Chancellor. A further 1,553 refugees from five Greek islands are now to be allowed to enter, all families who have already gone through an asylum procedure in Greece and have been granted protection.
During Question Time in the Bundestag, Horst Seehofer rose leisurely from his seat on the government bench. He puts his left hand in his pocket. And even if he hardly moves for the next hour: He now sometimes looks like Wong Fei Hung, the legendary master of kung fu, who has to fend off attackers from all sides in the fight for the right cause. Only what is right has to be clarified.
The first attacker comes from the right. It is the AfD member Gottfried Curio, a friend who tries hard to answer questions. “The extortion of the arson is the ticket to Germany,” warns the MP, who sees more refugee camps burning on Greek islands if Germany now opens its doors to migrants. “We are not forgetting what the Greeks have achieved these days,” replied Seehofer. When Turkey recently tried to push thousands of refugees across the border into the EU, Greece countered. An important contribution to European integration, says Seehofer, “we shouldn’t forget that”.
And where are the promised return agreements, without which rejected asylum seekers often cannot be deported to their countries of origin, the AfD MP wants to know. “Up to now I am the only interior minister in Europe who has put forward a proposal for the humane solution. I think we should be proud of that,” replied Seehofer. The number of asylum seekers has fallen drastically and is significantly lower than in 2015. “Implementing humanity and order, we’re doing very well.”
Seehofer has hardly turned away from his interrogator when Christoph Hoffmann from the FDP asks why development aid minister Gerd Müller from the CSU actually “jumped into the cross with his party friend Seehofer”. When Seehofer had just confirmed entry to Germany for 150 unaccompanied minors, Müller demanded that 2,000 people be taken over. “It is part of my political path in life that party friends sometimes treat you with special affection,” replied the Federal Minister of the Interior, happily. Not everyone in the plenary is happy too.
“Mr. Seehofer, we’ve been listening to this for five years now,” says the Green politician Luise Amtsberg. She has long since lost patience with German and European migration policy. New reform promises would be made, faster asylum procedures announced and modern reception centers on the outer edges of the EU. The result in the camps on the Greek islands: “Overcrowding and the associated inhumane conditions.” Nobody knows what actually happens if one of the planned reception camps is full at some point. Would the Federal Minister of the Interior agree that no European solution to the refugee question would be possible “without a permanent system of distribution” for refugees?
“The approval is partial,” says Seehofer, who now sidesteps and explains that he has been fighting “for years” for a permanent distribution mechanism for migrants in Europe. Only a lot of EU states didn’t take part. But all those who absolutely did not want to take in refugees should pay in future, including for increased development aid. This is the only way to prevent young people from moving to Europe. The Green politician Amtsberg waves it off, “hot air”. Seehofer then goes on to attack. “I have zero point zero support from governments where Greens are involved,” he scoffs. What is meant is Austria, whose government does not want to accept a refugee from Lesvos.
The SPD wants to know where all the money gone that the EU transferred to the Greeks for refugees. The left accuses Seehofer of a blockade. “Please pay attention to the red light,” shouts the President of the Bundestag. When it’s over, Horst Seehofer sinks into his seat. He looks a bit exhausted now.
It is said to have been six inmates of the camp. The alleged arsonists have now been arrested, said the Greek Minister for Civil Protection, Michalis Chrysoidis, on Tuesday.
Citing police circles, the Greek media reported that the alleged perpetrators were Afghans whose asylum applications had been rejected. Two of them are unaccompanied minors. The suspects were determined on the basis of surveillance camera recordings and witness statements.
The Moria refugee camp on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos was almost completely destroyed last week after several major fires. The more than 12,500 inmates had taken refuge on an adjacent street and in the surrounding hills.
The situation remained extremely tense on Tuesday. Only a few hundred people had been taken into the new tent camp that the Greek authorities are currently setting up on a former military training area. Many of those who are still on the street are reluctant to be taken to the new camp. Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said on Tuesday that it was “the duty of the state to get everyone in”.
In the evening, a fire was reported from the island of Samos near the refugee camp there. “There is a fire on the edge of the registration center,” said the mayor of Vathy. “No tents are burning yet, but I’m concerned.”
According to Greek media, the fire broke out 200 to 300 meters above the camp.
In the past few days there had been repeated serious clashes between protesting migrants, local islanders and the police. After a conversation with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, EU Council President Charles Michel urged reform of the European asylum system. “We have to develop a fair and strong response to fight smugglers and a new asylum system,” said Michel in Athens, who then visited Moria. The “challenge” of migration must be solved by the entire EU and not just by those states at the external borders. Mitsotakis again called for solidarity.
After being elected President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen announced a “new start” in asylum policy a year ago. The authority had actually wanted to present a package of suggestions around Easter, but the presentation was repeatedly postponed due to the corona pandemic.
On Monday evening, von der Leyen surprisingly announced that the “migration pact would be brought forward to next week, 23 September”. The main features of the pact drawn up by Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson have been circulating in Brussels for a long time: the external borders are to be better protected and the repatriations of rejected asylum seekers and people with no prospect of remaining to their home countries are to be significantly accelerated. More economic aid for those countries from which many people leave for Europe is also considered likely.
In view of the enormous resistance from numerous EU countries to accept the refugees who have arrived in Greece, Italy or Malta, a compulsory distribution of the refugees is excluded. Rather, the idea of ”compulsory solidarity” envisages that every member must participate without being able to “buy out”. “It is not allowed to steal from responsibility with a few blankets,” say southern Europeans.
When asked for details, the speakers routinely respond with the request “be patient” so as not to anger the government. The migration pact is also a long time coming because the EU Commission knows: There is only one attempt to bring all the contradicting interests of the 27 members together. Representatives of the particularly affected countries in southern Europe insist on a “fair burden sharing” and place great hopes in the German Council Presidency. Nobody expects a quick breakthrough.
Southern European EU diplomats hope that the debate will not get stuck too quickly because of the emotional nature of the issue. It is therefore important to negotiate on all aspects at the same time. Everyone in Brussels is familiar with the explosive political nature of the issue: an ambassador recently said that nobody should forget that every government risks re-election if it makes the wrong decisions on this issue. And in comparison to Germany and the debate in this country, hardship and continued ignoring of the problem are seen as promising in many places.
After all: in order to support the government in Athens in looking after the refugees on Lesbos, France, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia announced on Tuesday that they would deliver sleeping bags, blankets and toilets. In addition to the federal government, Poland, Denmark, Austria, Finland and Sweden had already promised aid.
Hungary’s government attacks the renowned Austrian researcher Gerald Knaus. He keeps putting his finger in the wound, for example when it comes to corruption and the rule of law.
The e-mail from the Hungarian government press office, which was sent out last Saturday, quickly got to the point: A decade has now been spent “exposing those people who carried out the international dirt campaign against Hungary and Prime Minister Orbán”. But there are still people out there who work undercover for George Soros and his Open Society Foundations – and thus against the Hungarian attitude to issues such as immigration and the preservation of Christian identity.
The government only continued at the highest level a campaign that had taken place days before in government-related newspapers and TV stations; The focus is on the Austrian Gerald Knaus, renowned migration expert, head of the think tank “European Stability Initiative” (ESI). Knaus is known to the wider public as one of the ideas behind the so-called Turkey deal between Brussels and Ankara; his institute publishes not only on migration issues, but also on corruption and the rule of law. Hungary plays a major role in both thematic areas; Last week, the EU anti-corruption agency Olaf found in its latest report that irregularities in the use of structural and agricultural funds were particularly frequent in Hungary. In addition, the link between EU funds and the rule of law is not off the table in the Brussels debates, something Budapest in particular sees itself threatened by.
Government-related media and government spokesmen are now accusing Knaus of having “allied” with members of the Hungarian opposition and, together with other “lobby groups disguised as non-governmental organizations,” following the agenda of the Hungarian-born American George Soros. Soros is the Orbán government’s favorite enemy; For years this has accused him in absurd campaigns of wanting to promote migration to Europe in order to undermine Christian culture.
In addition to numerous Hungarian government critics, ex-Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was also attacked in a similar way; Nevertheless, broad attacks on individuals outside Hungary and researchers like Knaus are a new quality in the EU-critical propaganda of EU member Hungary. Orbán’s head of cabinet Gergely Gulyás called Knaus a “threat to national security”.
The migration expert believes the current campaign began when his institute wrote a report in April on how generous EU transfers in Hungary were combined with anti-European rhetoric and attacks on critics. In an interview with the SZ, he attributes the attacks to the “growing nervousness” of the Hungarian government. His case is a “fantastic case study” of how politics works in Hungary. “The fact that in the eyes of the government every institution, no matter how small, should be part of the demonic Soros network shows how it thinks.” Appropriate attacks by the government against members of Hungarian civil society are more difficult than for him, but of course these coordinated attacks did not bypass him either. No longer arguments, but people would unfortunately become the target of the political debate.