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A matter of balancing interests

Bavarian state government spokesman for integration, Martin Neumeyer, believes Europe urgently needs a common policy on asylum seekers - one that shows immigration can be enriching for both sides.

Martin Neumeyer

Martin Neumeyer is Bavaria's commissioner for integration

Martin Neumeyer is the integration commissioner for the state government of Bavaria.

Deutsche Welle: More stringent surveillance of external borders, overcrowded detention centers, so-called third state regulations meaning asylum seekers are denied entry if they pass through a safe third country - in your opinion, is Europe on the right path with regards to dealing with refugees fleeing Africa and other parts of the world?

Martin Neumeyer: It's always going to be difficult when 27 countries - and even more than that if you include those covered by the Schengen Agreement - must agree on a common approach to a politically explosive question. At the European Union's external borders there are indeed major problems. Decent accommodation for refugees can often not be guaranteed. Here, there is still some considerable room for improvement. The strict surveillance of external borders is primarily for fighting organized crime, drugs, arms smuggling, human trafficking and terrorism. Given the widespread abolition of checks at internal frontiers within the EU, it is imperative, therefore, to secure the external borders as best we can. It should also be noted that not all illegal immigrants arrive voluntarily. Many are forced to come or lured under false pretences. The Third Country Regulation, in my opinion, has proven its worth, and in a common juridical and security area we may just have to rely on the opinions of our partners when it comes to evaluating the validity of asylum concerns.

How should Europe deal with the many undocumented immigrants already living in the EU?

As the spokesperson for integration I'm responsible only for those with legal status and who need to be integrated. The so-called "illegals" and recognized asylum seekers are not included in this group. Though as a politician and private citizen I believe that we must find a different way of dealing with those affected by this issue. In view of demographic trends and of the looming skills shortage, we will not be able to afford in future to have so many people deprived of access to the business cycle, having their talents wasted in day-to-day unskilled labor, earning wages far below their market worth. Furthermore, many people who fall prey to unscrupulous "entrepreneurs" and traffickers, such as modern-day slaves, are being exploited and deprived of their liberty. This is a community of values in the EU, which is built on common ideals, and this is not acceptable. Countries like Spain and France have legalized their so-called "illegals" over and over again. This issue is much more virulent there owing to the number of people affected being much greater than in this country.

Is Europe in some way responsible for the exodus of asylum seekers from places like Africa through, for example, its use of unfair economic policies?

This is a question that should actually be put to an economist or sociologist. Critics of globalization see it as you have described. In fact, many countries are suffering because of the European Union's agricultural policy, especially in Africa. On the other hand, the governments of Europe are also obliged to maintain an efficient and sustainable agricultural industry to guarantee food security in Europe and to provide our farmers with the means for economic survival. It's important to take those interests into consideration and find a fair solution.

In recent decades, poor countries have lost a significant portion of their academics through emigration to industrialized countries. Has migration to Europe destroyed the development potential of these countries?

A large proportion of highly skilled migrants from developing countries sooner or later return to their homelands. By then, these countries of origin benefit from the expertise and experience those people gained in Europe. In addition, many of these highly qualified people transfer a considerable portion of their income to family members back home and indirectly help keep those local economies running. Even in Europe there are countries which would not survive without these transfers, such as Moldova or Albania. Nevertheless, the "brain drain" is a problem that cannot be underestimated. For this reason, our efforts in development work must be directed towards promoting legal security in their homelands, as well as a greater potential for these people to make a living and have opportunities for advancement.

What would a forward-looking European migration policy look like?

We need to encourage skilled immigration, eliminate bureaucratic barriers and formulate mandatory standards for immigration. Migration should not be a gamble. Above all, we need to understand immigration as enriching process rather than a potential burden. In the end, we can profit in almost all cases. Therefore, it is important that we develop a truly welcoming culture - from a position of self interest. The more exchanges the better. We need open borders. However, there must be rules to ensure that the process does not get out of control, because this would lead to a loss of public support.

Interviewer: Amine Bendrif / dfm
Editor: Sam Edmonds