German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere wants to combat the causes of refugee flight. To do so, he told DW, the EU has to work with transit countries and the countries of origin.
At a meeting in Milan on Wednesday (09.07.2014), interior ministers from EU member countries gathered to discuss EU refugee policy and other security issues. Refugee numbers are increasing, as crowded boats cross the Mediterranean, packed primarily with Syrian refugees and Africans.
DW: Minister de Maiziere, you argue that the EU should focus its efforts on refugees' countries of origin, as well as transit countries. What does that mean in concrete terms?
Thomas de Maiziere: That's not just my plea, it's the result of our collective consultations. We, of course, have important tasks - saving lives, taking in refugees, distributing refugees - but what's paramount, and also prerequisite, is the work on site. We're doing that now, with great effort, with the Syrian conflict, in Jordan, Lebanon, in Turkey. In northern Africa, there's very good collaboration with Morocco and Algeria. With Tunisia, it'll be worked on. In Libya, it's very difficult - many refugees there come from Somalia and Eritrea.
We need to take a look together with these countries, even if there are few contact points, at how refugees can be treated on site. Can we find an orderly path to Europe? How can we - a very important point - fight back against smuggling? There are people who pay 10-20,000 dollars to get from Somalia to Germany. Much of that is criminally operated and must be stopped.
A prerequisite, therefore, which is painstaking. It's one that neither the interior ministers, nor the foreign ministers, nor the development ministers, can do alone. It has to be a coordinated European effort with every instrument we have at our disposal. It's definitely a new approach which, under the Italian chairmanship of a new EU Commission, is being addressed.
You speak of cooperation with Morocco. Yet human rights organizations have criticized the country's police force for dealing harshly with refugees there. Won't the problems just be relocated; in this case, to Morocco?
It's not about us merely erecting a border fence in northern Africa. It's rather that one addresses the problems and fights the causes of poverty. This also includes the question of how to deal with refugees in, say, Libya. There, the conditions are far worse than in the refugee camps in Lebanon and in Jordan. But, so far, we have not taken this into consideration. So what you can say about the refugee camps is: Which refugee truly has a future in Europe? [In which cases] is there more of a future in Africa, in their own county? There, you can speak with the countries of origin. Many women and girls are lured to Europe with promises that they'll have a great future there. In reality, it's about kidnappings and forced prostitution. To make that clear in countries that are a long way away from Europe is an important task. And this task is one we have to address.
With the "Mare nostrum" campaign, Italian authorities rescue shipwrecked refugees, saving many lives. Now, this might sound macabre, but doesn't that actually encourage more refugees, since the path is "safer," and the smugglers know how to get them to Europe?
That is what it's like. And additionally, it's clear to all European ministers that the justified and responsible campaign by the Italians has become a "pull factor," as we call it. Whoever can arrange a halfway decent inflatable raft and reach the Mediterranean has good chances of getting rescued. Smugglers charge the same price, and are "delivering" less, so to speak. Those are scandalous things that come at the expense of people's lives. Italy is asking, in that regard, for help. But who should provide it? "Frontex" [the European agency for external border security] doesn't have the appropriate means to do so. Those are also just cures for a symptom. The task is to better treat the causes of flight, and the paths of flight, on location.
Thomas de Maiziere (60) of Germany's Christian Democratic Party has been Germany's interior minister since December 2013. He previously served as interior minister from 2009-2011, followed by two years as minister of defense.