The opposite of a good policy idea is not always a bad policy idea. It can also be a good policy idea badly implemented. This is the big threat facing plans now pushed by Germany of a resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey.
Today senior representatives of some European governments meet in Brussels to follow up on the meeting last Sunday of a coalition of willing states, initiated by German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Their agenda is to set up a voluntary resettlement scheme for hundreds of thousands of Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey. They will discuss how, under the condition that irregular migration is stopped, such a scheme could partly replace irregular migration by legal and controlled migration. The aim is a scheme where (some in) the EU and Turkey share the responsibility for the biggest refugee crisis in the world today.
But here is the problem: the approach taken to this needs to be adequate.
There are some ideas floating around which will ensure that a good idea might sink like a stone in the pond of administrative failure:
- involve UNHCR, IOM or any other organisation in a prominent role. i.e. a scheme whereby Turkish authorities share registration data with UNHCR.
There is no need to involve UNHCR in this, except as a source of advice.
- run such a resettlement scheme through EU institutions, with prominent roles for the European Commission and EU delegations
European institutions should obviously be involved in the debates on this, but they also need not have an administrative role.
In preparing for today’s meeting the European Commission asked how such a resettlement scheme could be “effectively designed”. And suggested that the aim should be:
“expedited resettlement scheme or humanitarian admission that does not take longer than 3-6 months from the submission of the resettlement proposal from UNHCR to the Member state authorities to the physical transfer of the person concerned.”
Note: it would take “no longer” than 6 months, after a request from UNHCR to a member state, for a person to actually leave Turkey.
This dooms the effort.
The challenge is to find a quick way to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey to EU MS.
Direct cooperation with DGMM
The quickest way is to leave out all unnecessary intermediaries. It is the Turkish Directorate-General for Migration Management (DGMM) that has registered the Syrian refugees (as well as all asylum seekers) in Turkey and which has information on them. It would make more sense to work with the DGMM directly.
Of course, MS could dispatch liaison officers to smooth cooperation, but they do not need UNHCR as an intermediary, which would request the data from DGMM and then pass it on to the MS.
MS will need a local partner, or send their own staff on the ground, who will be in touch with the refugees – collect applications and documentation from those willing to resettle, contact them if additional information is needed, let them know when the security check will take place etc. Whether this should be UNHCR or another organisation is a different question. (UNHCR also worked with local implementing partners. E.g. the organisation ASAM – Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants – used to register asylum seekers and I think still serves as a first contact point; they then send them to the DGMM.
EU MS should decide on their own profiles, the EC should establish a light framework
The EU should establish a framework together with the EU MS willing to resettle refugees, settling questions such as which nationalities to take – we suggest only Syrians -, how to avoid a pull factor, that a certain percentage should be vulnerable cases etc. However, it should leave it to the EU MS to decide on the specific selection criteria.
When Germany resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees from countries neighbouring Syria as well as Egypt between 2013 and this year under its Humanitarian Resettlement Programme for Syrian refugees (HAP – Humanitäres Aufnahmeprogramm), it chose for the first contingent of 5,000 refugees the following criteria: “Firstly particularly vulnerable refugees, secondly refugees with a link to Germany, and thirdly refugees with special qualifications that could be useful for Syria’s reconstruction.” For the second and third contingents of 5,000 and 10,000 refugees, respectively, it put a stronger emphasis on the presence of family members in Germany. These family members could submit a request that their relatives be resettled to Germany.
For further details, see:
- First resettlement decision by the Federal Interior Ministry of 30 May 2013, for 5,000 refugees;
- Second resettlement decision by the Federal Interior Ministry of 23 December 2013, for 5,000 refugees;
- Third resettlement decision by the Federal Interior Ministry of 18 July 2014, for 10,000 refugees.
MS should decide on technicalities in line with existing legislation
Under the Humanitarian Resettlement Programme for Syrian refugees, Germany did not grant the resettled refugees asylum (refugee status) or subsidiary protection. It offered them temporary protection in line with the EU’s Directive on Temporary Protection and Germany’s Residence Act (Art. 24 on temporary protection and Art. 23 on Admission in case of special political interests).
HAP – Humanitarian Resettlement Programme for Syrian refugees
The procedure was as follows:
- UNHCR and Caritas Lebanon made a selection based on applications from refugees. In addition, German embassies made suggestions (humanitarian cases they already knew of), and when the criterion “family members in Germany” was emphasised, refugees were also selected based on the requests filed by the family members in Germany, collected by the German federal states.
- All these bodies sent information concerning the selected refugees to the German asylum authority (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – BAMF), which examined it and then issued admission agreements (Aufnahmezusagen).
- With this paper, the refugees could receive a visa at the German embassies/consulates. There they underwent the usual security check, which includes giving fingerprints. Those that did not have passports could receive temporary travel documents based on other identity documents.
- Then the majority were flown to Germany. Those that had family members had to travel on their own. The federal states that had to accommodate the refugees without family were informed in time so they could prepare for their reception.
The challenge to resettle 500,000 is of course different. However, the HAP offers some important lessons:
- It is not necessary to conduct an asylum procedure. Germany can offer the refugees temporary protection, like it did for the 20,000 HAP refugees. Even if it wants to channel them through an asylum procedure, BAMF can decide cases based on the documentation, like it has done for Syrians since November 2014. So, in practice this means that DGMM sends the required documentation to the BAMF, with German liaison officers smoothing cooperation. Of course, this will mean a lot of additional work for DGMM, so Germany will have to compensate it for it, or send human resources to reinforce it (who could, e.g., contact the refugees if the necessary documentation is not complete).
- Germany will definitely need an intermediary on the ground, or provide for it by itself, because there will be issues like having to request from the refugees additional information, informing them about when and where the security check will take place, when they will be flown out etc.
- The system will also mean a lot of additional work for BAMF, which will have to examine the documentation and issue admission agreements. The BAMF is already overburdened and in dire need to additional resources. This means that it needs to be beefed up for this specific task too.
- As regards security checks, registration, fingerprinting etc., Germany and the other countries should find a system best suited to their needs. The German embassy and consulates in Turkey will not be in a position to process 500,000 people in a year. So Germany & others could send to Turkey, personnel to carry out this task. Doing it bilaterally strengthens the ownership aspect and increases efficiency. Of course, of one of the willing MS is willing to take only a small contingent, it could try to pool resources with another MS, but this should be left to the MS to decide. In the end, it would be German officers checking those going to Germany, Swedish officers checking those going to Sweden etc.)
- The participating MS should meet regularly to exchange information and harmonise their approach.
- The document states that only refugees who have stayed in Turkey already for between 3 months and 1 year should be eligible for resettlement, in order to avoid a pull factor drawing more refugees to Turkey. This is not enough – refugees will be willing to wait even for 1 year if there is a chance to qualify for resettlement then, so they will be drawn to Turkey. The resettlement should be open to refugees that have been registered in Turkey by the DGMM before a date before the scheme is announced, e.g. 30 December 2015.