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Could Germany close its borders?

Vera Kern / groFebruary 20, 2016

Austria has reversed its asylum policy: The nation has opted for a strict cap on refugees, barbed-wire fences and isolation instead of welcome culture. What would happen if Germany were to close its borders?

Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Klamar

Austria (pictured) is now demonstrating how refugee policy can be reversed: Soon only 80 people a day will be able to apply for asylum at the border and a maximum of 3,200 refugees a day will be allowed to transit to neighboring countries such as Germany. The changes will not make a difference in Germany; 3,200 people a day amount to a million per year, which is approximately the estimated number entering the country now. According to the European Commission, however, Austria's cap on asylum applications violates international law and does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

If Germany were to follow suit and seal off its borders, it would first have to visibly mark them. Time-consuming and costly steps would need to be taken to protect the newly closed borders: Fences would have to be erected and police hired. Such plans would need time to be implemented, and the borders would need to be protected by the military if there were to be any chance of keeping people out. "Border patrols can only be made possible if they are accompanied by border protection measures," said Jochen Oltmer, a migration researcher at Osnabrück University.

People who are fleeing always manage to find new routes - even if that means exposing themselves to greater risks.

Germany already has police standing guard on the border with AustriaImage: Getty Images/J. Simon

Worst-case scenario Greece

In addition to burdening people, borders also burden third parties. One of the worst-case scenarios the European Union has floated includes a huge reception center in Greece. "If we do not find solutions here in Germany, then economically destabilized Greece will be facing a humanitarian catastrophe," Osnabrück's Oltmer said. The strategy would not leave the European Union's economy unscathed either, as border patrols could cause serious damage to commerce. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker fears that the cumulative effect of trucks idling at borders across the EU could lead to an overall annual loss of 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) for the bloc.

Ultimately, closed borders would not have much of an effect. The routes taken by refugees through the Balkans last summer show that when borders are closed, people change their routes, but their movement does not subside. Non-Schengen borders between Greece and Germany could be reinforced, but then the problem would shift to Turkey, where 2 million refugees already live.

Furthermore, Oltmer said, "it would be safe to assume that massive border closures would greatly destabilize initial reception countries like Lebanon or Jordan." Increased instability in the Middle East would mean more people on the run. Europe has already been "turning a blind eye" to the movement of refugees in the Middle East, Oltmer said. If Germany were to follow Austria and seal its borders, the consequence, he added, would just be more refugees.