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Refugee logjam

Barbara Wesel / dc
November 9, 2015

The EU seems incapable of making decisions to curb the refugee crisis. Instead, it is pressuring member states to act quickly to at least comply with prior commitments.

Italien EU Flüchtlingsquoten Verteilung Alfano mit Avramopoulos und Asselborn
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Solaro

The Berlin dispute over the status of Syrian refugees and the question of whether their families should be allowed to join them here was briefly raised in front of the EU Council building in Brussels. But Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said he stands by his opinion, adding only that "the coalition partners need to talk." A German conference of state interior ministers is now tasked with preparing a response to the issue, which will then be discussed by the government. According to de Maiziere, the topic is still very much on the table.

Moving at a snail's pace

Other countries are finding different solutions to the problem; there is no EU-wide regulation on the protections offered to Syrian war refugees. "We have to keep the pressure on," said de Maiziere, meaning the pressure on his European colleagues who have yet to implement decisions that have already been made in the area of refugee policy. The interior minister is waiting to see if the promised hot spots - the planned registration centers in Greece - will be up and running by the end of the month.

The agreed redistribution of a first group of 160,000 refugees is also moving far too slowly. It almost appears to be a form of sabotage for an unpopular decision: Only 135 refugees have been moved from Italy and Greece to other EU countries. This initially voluntary redistribution is set to become a permanent mechanism. At least, that's what Germany, Sweden, and Austria want. Here, the piecemeal approach is meant to eventually secure a majority in the European Council because - given the opposition from Eastern European states - no one believes there'll be consensus on this issue.

Italien EU Flüchtlingsquoten Verteilung Alfano mit Avramopoulos und Asselborn
EU ministers pose with refugeesImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Solaro

In the meantime, the Swedish government has pulled the ripcord, and is now demanding to be involved in the ongoing redistribution. "We're at the edge of our capacity," confirmed Swedish Interior Minister Stefan Studt.

His country has taken on the most refugees per capita than any other country in Europe.

But that is coming to an end: The government in Stockholm is under pressure, and is now pushing for the mostly symbolic measure of resettling a few hundred migrants in other EU countries.

Too many Afghans

"Europe can only take in those who are most in need of protection," the German interior minister said at a meeting in Brussels, demanding that the EU Commission finally reach a decision on a deportation agreement with Afghanistan.

Several aid organizations say that the security situation in the country is becoming increasingly precarious, but de Maiziere wants "to send a signal to Afghans: We will send you straight back." None of his colleagues has yet to voice any opposition.

Existing deportation agreements are also no guarantee that migrants will be sent back home. That can be seen in the case of Pakistan. Only a few days ago, a German government security adviser told DW that the repatriation of Pakistani refugees would be significantly stepped up. But the next day, the Pakistani interior minister provisionally suspended the agreement.

The government in Kabul is, however, is prepared to commit to a repatriation agreement in principle and take its citizens back, according to Brussels insiders. Afghans currently make up the second largest group of refugees in the EU after Syrians.

Luxemburg Treffen der EU-Innen- und Außenminister
German Interior Minister de Maiziere (r.) with his counterpart from Luxembourg Jean AsselbornImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. Dunand

Time is of the essence

Austria's interior minister was very clear about her goals: "We have to slow the influx of migrants," she said.

Currently, between 7,000 and 8,000 refugees either arrive in or travel through Austria each day. "Not everyone has understood the problem. Some countries act like this has nothing to do with them," said Johanna Mikl-Leitner. She also thinks things are moving much too slowly. She said the promised money for the aid funds needs to be released so that Syrian refugees don't leave the camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

She is also in favor of strengthening the EU's external borders. "You can only have a Europe without internal borders if there is a secure external border," she said. "It is a myth that the sea border between Turkey and Greece can't be secured," she said.

Greece has a strong navy that could be deployed, and Athens could receive help if it is unable to patrol the maritime border on its own. But that's where many point the finger at the Greek government.

Germany, too, expects Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to finally act. "We want to maintain Schengen, but we're running out of time," said Minister de Maiziere.

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