26 October 2015

AFTER THE EU-BALKAN SUMMMIT (25 October)

Another refugee summit in Brussels, and another dishearteningly confused set of conclusions. Which most likely leave everything more or less as it is.

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE: ASPIRATION

“Refugees need to be treated in a humane manner along the length of the Western Balkans route to avoid a humanitarian tragedy in Europe.”

That was the promise made by Juncker before the conference. If this would be realised, it would obviously be a very good thing: “Increasing the capacity to provide temporary shelter, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need.” A worthy aspiration.

REALITY CHECKS

How realistic are these commitments, though? It is the end of October. Some conclusions suggest that additional resources may not be available soon:

“Working with International Financial Institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Development Bank of the Council of Europe which are ready to support financially efforts of the countries willing to make use of these resources”

Slovenia noted that 60,000 people arrived there in recent days. What does the summit do to help Slovenia, concretely, in the coming weeks? Or Croatia? Or Greece?

Is there a working group to determine where capacities for temporary shelter are most needed? In Slovenia? in Croatia? In Serbia? in Macedonia?

DREAMING AND REST

It would help to know where temporary shelters are needed, or exist now; or how many new ones have to be found. Perhaps this is known, but it is not stated in the conclusions:

“Greece to increase reception capacity to 30,000 places by the end of the year, and to support UNHCR to provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20,000 more – a pre-condition to make the emergency relocation scheme work; Financial support for Greece and UNHCR is expected”

Note; this does not say how many such places Greece has now. So it is not clear what “increasing” capacity to 30,000 means in terms of additional capacity. Which makes budgeting and raising funding for it tricky. Or assessing the meaning of this commitment.

Note also: this would be sufficient for the number of refugees who will arrive between today, Monday, and next Friday. By the end of the year, these refugees would unlikely still be in Greece.

Plus: these are still rest stations. Nobody will stay in any of these shelters one day longer than necessary. “Host families” for rest stations?

READMISSION DREAMING

From here on the conclusions become ever less realistic:

“Working with the European Commission and Frontex to step up practical cooperation on readmission with third countries and intensifying cooperation in particular with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan; Commission to work to implement existing readmission agreements fully and start work on new readmission agreements with relevant countries;”

Anybody who has examined the difficulties of readmitting even rejected Balkan asylum seekers from Germany to Western Balkans countries – which do not oppose taking back their citizens – knows that expecting to do this, on a large scale, with Pakistan or Afghanistan is not a plan, but closer to day dreaming.

BORDER DREAMING

This is the least serious part of the conclusions.

“- Finalising and implementing the EU-Turkey Action Plan;
– Making full use of the potential of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement and the visa liberalisation roadmap;”

Turkey was not even invited to this summit. The EU-Turkey Action Plan is empty of content. “Making full use of the visa liberalisation roadmap” means what concretely? We have to wait for another summit.

“- Upscaling the Poseidon Sea Joint Operation in Greece;
– Reinforcing Frontex support at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey;”
What is this supposed to achieve? How will it make any difference?
“- Strengthening border cooperation between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with increased UNHCR engagement;
– Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania will strengthen the management of the external land border, with Frontex to support registration in Greece;”

Is the aim to slow down people leaving Greece … and has Greece agreed to this? Where would those who are made to stay longer stay in Greece?

Or is the idea to register everyone in Greece … and people then move on? What difference would this make?

“- Working together with Frontex to monitor border crossings and support registration and fingerprinting at the Croatian-Serbian border crossing points;
– Deploying in Slovenia 400 police officers and essential equipment within a week, through bilateral support;
– Strengthening the Frontex Western Balkans Risk Analysis Network with intensified reporting from all participants;”

So there will be more Frontex and more reporting, everywhere! But Frontex is essentially just other European border guards, not magicians or super-heroes. And this seems to assume that the problem in Slovenia or Croatia is a lack of people.

“14. Reconfirming the principle of refusing entry to third country nationals who do not confirm a wish to apply for international protection (in line with international and EU refugee law and subject to prior non-refoulement and proportionality checks);”

How many of those who reach the EU’s borders do NOT wish to apply for international protection? ANYBODY?

Finally, there is this:

“Under the current circumstances, we will discourage the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country of the region. A policy of waving through refugees without informing a neighbouring country is not acceptable. This should apply to all countries along the route.”

This either means a dramatic change which will likely cause the humanitarian tragedy Juncker wanted to avoid or it means that waving through refugees should happen “while informing a neighbouring country” a little better. Most likely – and fortunately – it is the second.

CONCLUSION

If this is what the countries most concerned by this crisis come up with as their operational conclusions we know that there is no plan. It was another summit without a serious discussion. Another missed opportunity.

Filed under: Balkans,Border revolution,Europe,Greece,Migration,Refugees — Gerald @ 2:07 pm
17 October 2015

gerald Phoenix

 

INTERVIEW IN DIE ZEIT

»Erdoğan needs Germany«

October 15, 2015

The political scientist Gerald Knaus on working together with Turkey, border controls and Germany’s role in receiving refugees.

DIE ZEIT: Mr Knaus, while Germany finds itself confronted with one million refugees, you are calling for taking in another 500,000.

Gerald Knaus: This is not as absurd as it looks at first sight. After helpless politicians proposed many faulty solutions in the past few weeks, chancellor Merkel needs to present something credible and tangible.

ZEIT: The plan that Angela Merkel will bring to Ankara comes close to a proposal you made already weeks ago – and now it became EU foreign policy. What exactly did you propose?

Knaus: Greece declares Turkey a safe third country. Turkey commits to readmitting all refugees that reach Greek islands through the Aegean, from a point in time to be specified. In return, Germany commits to granting asylum to 500,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey in the next twelve months. In addition, the EU visa requirement for Turkish nationals will be waived next year.

ZEIT: Why should this reduce the number of refugees who want to come to Europe?

Knaus: This offer is only for refugees who are already registered in Turkey. Thus no new incentives for refugees to travel to Turkey would be created by this plan. Then refugee families – half of the Syrians in Turkey are children – would no longer need to make the dangerous trip across the sea and the Balkans. This would quickly reduce the number of boats heading towards the Greek coast. The result would be what Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer both demand:  control of the external borders and an orderly process – and German emergency relief for refugees in a real crisis situation.

ZEIT: But Turkey is currently reeling from a terrorist attack of which nobody knows who was behind it. Kurds and members of the opposition are brutally persecuted. How is one supposed to declare such a country a safe third country?

Knaus: You have to differentiate between a safe third country and a safe country of origin. For refugees Turkey is a safe third country – even if it is not necessarily a country of safe origin for its own citizens. Currently, these two things are often confused. Under the new Turkish asylum law, refugees can apply for asylum, are not persecuted in Turkey, and are also not deported to Syria. And that’s decisive for this proposal. Whether the EU should declare Turkey a safe country of origin as the EU Commission suggested, raises doubts indeed.

ZEIT: But is it wise to demonstrate to an autocrat like Erdoğan in the run up to the elections how much one is dependent on him?

Knaus: Even Erdoğan needs Germany. Turkey finds itself in the biggest security crisis since the end of the Cold War. Russia is waging war north of Turkey, in Ukraine. The Russian air force is bombing Turkish allies in Syria in an alliance with Assad and Iran, both adversaries of Turkey. And Turkey itself is at war with the »Islamic State« and the PKK. The economy is no longer growing as it was in the last decade, and taking care of two million Syrian refugees is not easy. The refugee issue plays hardly any role in the electoral campaign.

ZEIT: Part of your proposal is visa free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU – what effects would this have in practice?

Knaus: I do not believe in a mass exodus of Turks. In the past few years the trend went the other way; especially from Germany more Turks immigrated to Turkey than did immigrate to Germany. For the young generation in Turkey, Europe only has a real meaning if they can actually travel there. The only danger that I see is if the situation in Southeast Turkey would descend into a full blown war like in the 90s.

ZEIT: But in the current political climate it is completely unthinkable that the chancellor would speak about a number of 500,000 she actively wants to bring to Germany.

Knaus: I know that in the first moment this sounds counterproductive. But you can make it clear to people that without an agreement more refugees are to be expected. Even now there is talk of one million. And in talk shows superficial solutions like fighting root causes, solving the situation in Syria and Libya, or sharing the burden in the EU are being floated.

ZEIT: What about the magic formula “transit zones”?

Knaus: What the German federal minister of the interior proposes would indeed reduce the number of applicants from Balkan countries who are being rejected anyway – but this is not about them. Above all, it is about civil war refugees. Often people will say that the EU needs to better secure its borders, introduce stricter border controls and better equip refugee camps in the region. But none of these proposals will solve our most acute problem: How to reduce the number of refugees reaching the external borders of the EU. No Frontex mission, no European quota, no perfectly equipped refugee camp will stop the desperate from trying to flee to Europe. But if there’s an impression in the public debate that there’s no limit at all for the number of refugees, then soon the readiness to help will turn into fear. That’s why I believe that we need to move fast. Angela Merkel and her political allies in Europe need to show that they – and not the extreme right – have a real solution to offer.

ZEIT: Why should European solidarity suddenly work now if there was already a lack of it in past months?

Knaus: If hundreds of thousands of Syrian children grow up without schooling and without perspective, if we lose an entire generation, this will not be without consequence for European security. There’s a helplessness among the political elite in the entire EU, from Greece to Sweden, nobody has an idea what to do. And extreme right parties profit from this, while having no real solutions to offer either. In this situation Germany is the only country that has the political credibility and economic clout to take the initiative. If Germany can’t deal with the problem, nobody else will manage to do so. But if Germany takes the lead, countries like Austria, Italy, France and Sweden will follow.

ZEIT: Viktor Orban accuses Angela Merkel of moral imperialism. This argument also goes down well with many Germans.

Knaus: Orban is right if he calls the hitherto existing international refugee policy hypocritical. On paper there’s a generous right to asylum. But at the same time everything has been done to prevent refugees from claiming this asylum. In recent years, UNHCR resettled only 100,000 refugees worldwide per year to wealthy countries. That’s of course a ridiculously low figure. But Orban’s response to this is to by de facto get rid of the right to asylum altogether. He regards refugees as criminals, as enemies, and refers to Hungarian experiences with the Ottomans, as if they were an invading army. He also says that the refugee crisis is a good opportunity to overcome the “liberal age of human rights.” Le Pen in France, Strache in Austria and others join in into that chorus. In the general helplessness such slogans are becoming more and more appealing.

ZEIT: The right and the left claim that 60 million people are fleeing and that we are only talking about a fraction.

Knaus: That figure is totally misleading. The biggest part of all refugees worldwide stay within their home countries. Syria is the biggest disaster. One fourth of all refugees outside of their home country are Syrians. Most of them now live in Turkey, in Jordan, and in Lebanon. Only a few years ago the number of migrants who tried to enter the EU illegally was 72,000. So this is not about a massive migration of the planet’s poor to the rich North that has been going on for a long time and will never end. This is a specific emergency situation.

ZEIT: Why should erecting borders not work?

Knaus: Angela Merkel said that she has lived behind a fence long enough and she knows that fences won’t help. At first sight that’s a strange argument: The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall worked very well and repelled refugees for decades. But for that you need a death strip and a firing order. And even that could not deter many desperate people to try nevertheless. Merkel made it clear that she will not build this kind of fence. You could militarise your borders and regard refugees as enemies. But then you would need to give up European asylum law as we know it.

Gerald Knaus is chairman of the European Stability Initiative, a think tank advocating unconventional solutions to European crises.

 Interview by MARIAM LAU and MICHAEL THUMANN

 

 

Filed under: Europe,Germany,Greece,Hungary,Migration,Refugees,Turkey — Gerald @ 12:54 am
Rumeli Observer