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Opinion

Opinion: The asylum lie

War and terrorism, not just poverty, are the reasons people flee their countries or are being displaced. That's why aid can't replace diplomacy, and politicians should acknowledge that, says DW's Astrid Prange.

Once upon a time, there was a political fairy tale, set in oh so quaint little Bonn. Politicians told the tale every night on television. They said they wanted to help refugees, with lots of money.

They said they wanted to come and see the refugees in their home countries, build schools and hospitals and make sure they get clean drinking water. They said they wanted to bring peace and reconciliation.

Politicians have been telling this tale for over 20 years. Its title is "Fighting the reasons for refugees leaving their countries of origin." It led to a massive curtailing of the basic right to asylum, enshrined in Germany's Basic law.

Social Democrats also believe in this - they were in favor of the bill at the time.

Aid does not prevent wars

The tale did not end well. Amnesty International's most recent report on refugees exposes the political daydreaming for what it is - a lie. Despite rising budgets for international development cooperation, 50 million people around the world are displaced - the highest number since World War II.

Astrid Prange De Oliveira Kommentarbild App

DW editor Astrid Prange

It's obvious that money aimed at fighting the alleged reasons for people fleeing their countries in crisis areas cannot prevent global refugee crises. Neither the current war in Syria nor the Balkan conflict of the 1990s with its massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo could have been prevented by international aid projects or economic support.

Of course we can't really condemn ministers for banging the drum for their aid budgets by advocating peace, counter-terrorism measures and freedom. And, yes, we do need higher aid budgets to minimize poverty worldwide, improve education and infrastructure in developing and emerging countries.

But it is highly presumptious to assume that aid alone can guarantee peace and security. We know from experience that aid can support a peace process, but it can never create the political framework necessary for that process to succeed.

Weapons for dictators

Which is why it is irresponsible when politicians in Germany claim that giving more money can do just that. The fairy tale of development aid also often distracts from the really important measures, which hinders the necessary debate on asylum policies and leaves uncomfortable questions unanswered.

Why is it, for example, that a UN aid appeal for Lebanon only manages to gather 18 percent of the amount it needs - although Syria's smaller neighbor with its 6 million people has taken in an incredible 1.2 million refugees from Syria? Or, why does Germany deliver weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is known to be involved in the war in Syria?

Aid a sign of humanitarianism

It is dictators like Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Syria's Bashar al-Assad who profit from this lack of political coherence. Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, too, are playing this game of persecution on the one hand and deliberate ignorance on the other.

But story time is over now that the refugee crises in the Mediterranean and off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia force politicians to face the facts. Germany and Europe have to agree on a common, humanitarian refugee policy, not just to save lives, but also to distinguish themselves from inhumane regimes. Because our values have to be defended in the real world, not in fairy tales.

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