Joint article by Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Andrea Nahles and Federal Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier. Published in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” newspaper on 20 June 2015.
Throughout the world sixty million people have been forced to flee their homes. That is more than the United Nations has ever before recorded. They are fleeing from war, violence and suffering, from serious conflicts which continue to escalate, particularly in the arc of crisis across the Middle East and Africa, from where many thousands embark on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. It is not only via the gruelling images in the evening news that the shock waves of crisis reach us as Europeans. Nowhere else are the contours of the catastrophe, with all its human consequences, so sharply defined as in the fates and faces of those who seek refuge with us here in Germany.
What can we Germans do, what should we do in the face of the refugee disaster? We need to take a comprehensive approach – with an internal and an external focus. First, we have to tackle the root cause of the problem. At the heart of most of these disasters are political conflicts which also need political solutions. After all, what the refugees most yearn for is to be able to return to their homeland and live there in security and with hope for the future. Germany is working to bring about political solutions in Libya, in Syria, in Yemen. Progress is indeed being made – but we have to be realistic: Political solutions take time. There are no simple solutions to complicated conflicts. On the contrary, ostensibly simple answers can even fan the flames of conflict – as the military intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 showed.
And that is why we have another direct responsibility: for the lives and the situations of the people who have had to flee their homes. This is our responsibility in Europe as well as that of the people in the crisis regions. We have to offer a perspective to the refugees who come to Germany. The main criterion is that any single link in the chain must be connected to the next one: that the communities manage to accommodate the refugees with dignity, to care for traumatised and sick people, to provide school and nursery places for the children. They also urgently need additional financial support from the government for this. We need to give the refugees quicker access to work, supported by German language courses and help with finding jobs. This, too, requires additional funds. We must give young people who embark on training here the right to stay in the country – even once they have completed their training – so that they can find a foothold on the career ladder. We need to tap the potential in these people’s abilities – for their future, but also for ours. For in Germany we face the huge challenge of ensuring an adequate supply of skilled workers. And for this reason we should also see the refugees as the skilled workers we more and more urgently need. Of course, family reunification is another link in the chain. We have already increased the resources for points of contact at the local embassies and consulates, and now, with regard to family reunification, we intend to provide support before the families’ arrival to facilitate their integration as rapidly as possible. Not all those who come are skilled workers, but they are usually highly motivated. And even though the effort required for integration into the labour market is greater for some than for others, it is a good investment nonetheless. For anyone who realises that, if they make an effort, they can build a new life here in Germany for themselves and their family, will truly be able to settle here. That is the best basis for our future co‑existence here in Germany.
Yet the responsibility for the living conditions of refugees does not stop at our borders. The greatest need is in the trouble spots themselves and the neighbouring regions directly on their borders, well before the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. Eleven million people have lost their homes as a result of the civil war in Syria alone. Germany has already made available one billion euros in aid for them. We are helping the small neighbouring states of Jordan and Lebanon to preserve their societal cohesion and social infrastructure under the burden of the massive wave of refugees. In Lebanon, 60% of all refugee children who attend school are able to do so as a result of German assistance. We are focusing on refugee routes from East Africa, through the Sahel to the Mediterranean, and plan to launch projects designed to integrate refugees into the communities in the region. In Mali and Niger we are working with our European partners to create more security and stability with civilian means.
The refugee disaster on Europe’s doorstep affects us all as Europeans. And we must all take joint responsibility. We need a refugee policy based on the principle of solidarity with both an internal and an external focus, a goal we have not yet achieved: in the distribution of refugees within Europe, in the opportunities for training and employment for people seeking refuge here with us, and in our efforts to establish better living conditions in the countries of origin and transit.