Joint article by Minister of State Aydan Özoğuz, the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, and Michael Roth, the Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, on the refugee disaster in the Mediterranean. Published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 18 May 2015.
Thousands of refugees have set out for Europe in search of a better life – and met a tragic death at sea. We owe it to them to finally take action. We in Europe have to come up with a joint response to the issue of how to deal humanely and in a spirit of solidarity with those who, out of desperation, seek refuge with us. One thing is clear – and we have to be frank about this with the general public – the number of those coming to Germany and Europe is likely to rise, not fall, in future. What concrete action can we take? We see four major tasks which we have to tackle together with resolve.
First of all, we have to ensure that no more people drown off our coasts. The reports of those seeking protection being driven back or the fact that the EU’s southern border has become a death zone are simply incompatible with our European values, not to mention international law. We welcome the fact that in its European Agenda for Migration of 13 May, the EU Commission gives top priority to saving the lives of those who have run into danger at sea while trying to reach Europe. Along with other countries, Germany is already involved in the sea rescue operations. Two German navy vessels have saved hundreds of lives in the last few days. All other EU member states should quickly provide resources for sea rescue operations with a minimum of red tape.
Secondly, sea rescue operations is only the first step. Due to the lack of alternatives, refugees often place their lives in the hands of unscrupulous human smugglers, who shamelessly exploit their plight for their own financial gain. We agree with the EU Commission that these criminal gangs have to be stopped.
Thirdly, at present only five out of 28 member states, including Germany, take in around 80 per cent of the asylum-seekers and refugees. That is not our idea of European solidarity. We have to finally admit that the Dublin System has failed. We have to radically rethink Europe’s refugee policy. The Commission’s proposals on sharing responsibility for taking in and providing for asylum-seekers on the basis of solidarity were long overdue. Asylum-seekers should also be taken in by EU countries which have received small numbers to date. The rigid and schematic Dublin System therefore has to be transformed into a dynamic European reception strategy which takes into account the actual capacities of individual member states to host refugees. This is not only about distributing those seeking refuge. We finally need humane reception conditions and fair procedures for recognising asylum-seekers in all EU countries. We know that some of our partners still view this new strategy with scepticism. We should reassure them by pointing out the many examples of successful integration. The EU is home to many different cultures, ethnic groups and religions. We and those who seek a new home with us have a duty to uphold our fundamental values. Individuals in special need of protection, such as the Syrian refugees, should be accepted in Lebanon or North Africa and brought to Europe by safe and legal means. They should no longer have to risk their lives to apply for asylum in our countries.
Fourthly, the current influx of refugees is the result of dramatic developments in our neighbourhood. However, we cannot resolve the crises in the refugees’ home countries – such as civil wars, failing states, terrorism or poverty – with fences at the EU’s external borders or with patrol boats in the Mediterranean. We have to combat the causes of flight, not the refugees! The Commission has proposed long-term programmes aimed at protecting refugees and, at the same time, offering opportunities for development to people in their countries of origin. However, a lot more needs to be done. All areas of policy have to be included – foreign and security policy, trade as well as humanitarian assistance and development cooperation. With our transformation partnerships, we have been intensively promoting the development of civil society in North Africa and in the Middle East since 2011 and we are participating alongside our partners in the Khartoum Process. However, we can and must do more.
The Commission has proposed important steps in the right direction. And more must follow. They require courage, resolve and honesty. We know that some member states have yet to support these strategies. However, we are willing to try and persuade them. Humanity and solidarity must never be called into question in the European Union.