German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is reintroducing the Dublin Regulation for Syrians. It may be difficult to enforce, but it is the right thing to do, writes DW's Christoph Hasselbach.
Things are happening quickly. For the second time in a week, the interior minister has rushed ahead to signal that Germany's days of boundless welcoming are over, now, even for Syrians. From here on, Dublin Regulations, which establish which countries are responsible for refugees, are to be in effect for all countries of origin. That means that Syrians that flee to Europe must also apply for asylum wherever they first set foot in the European Union. Should an applicant nonetheless continue on to Germany, officials here could then deport that refugee back to the EU country of first entry.
In late August, for humanitarian reasons, but also in an attempt to relieve the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) of the tedious process of screening each individual refugee arriving in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel exempted Syrians from the procedures dictated by the Dublin Regulation.
Meanwhile, however, hundreds of thousands have arrived here; among them, some who merely claim to be Syrians, knowing full well that their chances of being acknowledged as refugees would then be almost certain.
EU transit nations, like Greece, Hungary, Croatia and Austria - countries legally responsible for these new arrivals - simply waved them through. Why not? The refugees wanted to go to Germany - and Germany was taking them in.
Those days are now supposedly over. The German government has been under increasing pressure to put the brakes on the influx.
Predictably, criticism is now raining down upon Minister de Maiziere. His actions have been called inhumane and impractical, and criticized as not having first been agreed to by others. Much of that has to do with party politics, much with the widespread reflex that any attempt to stem the influx of refugees is unethical.
But, perhaps the most serious objection to his plan is that the reinstatement of Dublin will have little effect. For instance, in cases like the temporary stoppage of deportations to Greece, one of the EU's most important entry countries, because of the poor state of its detention centers and asylum system.
Beyond that, Germany also needs to know in which EU country an asylum seeker originally arrived. Refugees will keep that information to themselves, and countries along the way have an incentive to simply let refugees pass. For if they were to register them, they would be obliged to take them in should Germany send them back. That could quickly add up to tens of thousands of refugees, and put a great strain on member states, especially smaller ones, like Slovenia. Berlin is therefore dependent upon cooperation with its European partners if Dublin is to work. Despite the fact that the chancellor called the regulatory system "obsolete in practice," when speaking before the European Parliament in October.
Another very valid point of criticism is the fact that the BAMF, already hopelessly over-burdened, will now be awash with waves of new screening checks. That will lengthen the processing backlog, as well as the waiting periods to be endured by asylum seekers before they receive clear decisions on their status. Originally, the German government had wanted to speed up the asylum process; now, they are doing the opposite.
Trying to get the genie back into the bottle
Despite everything, this U-turn is the right thing to do, and comes none too soon. Above all, it is about sending a message - to the German citizens, to asylum seekers and to EU partners. Germany cannot afford to take in endless numbers of refugees. Merkel's gesture was wrong from the start. Now others are attempting to get the genie back into the bottle, apparently with Merkel's blessing, otherwise de Maiziere would have already been fired.
Opinion polls show a clear loss of confidence in the chancellor regarding the refugee crisis, falling approval ratings for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and accordingly, rising approval numbers for the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD). If moderate parties fail to drastically restrict the influx of refugees, at some point radical powers could get the upper hand.
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