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Anchor centers are migration policy shipwrecks

Riegert Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Riegert
August 1, 2018

Their names sound nice: "Anchor centers" and "disembarkation platforms." But these camps for asylum-seekers that the EU wants to set up are supposed to deter migration — though they won't work, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

An inflatable dinghy floats in the water
Image: picture alliance/ROPI

Anchor, disembarkation, landing and controlled centers. The melodious names cloaking the European Union's dead-end asylum policies can do little more than mask the real problems at hand. There is certainly no lack of theoretical concepts regarding the internment, deterrence and deportation of those denied asylum or migrants with no chance of being granted residency. What is missing is the ability to implement such rigorous policies — in Bavaria, across all of Germany, and throughout the greater EU.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has taken to chumming around with right-wing nationalists like Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, recently christened seven "Ankerzentren" (holding and processing "anchor centers") to house asylum-seekers in Bavaria. By and large, new door signs were installed at existing facilities and new offices set up for representatives of asylum, youth, employment and city government agencies in order to speed up the asylum process.

The Bavarian theater of illusions   

Seehofer's centers are supposed to achieve that which has remained elusive in Germany for years, namely swift decisions regarding asylum applications, and an immediate deportation upon court-reviewed denial thereof. The core problem with the concept, however, is that such centers will not miraculously make deportation to a person's land of origin — or even a transit country — function overnight. The reasons why so few rejected asylum-seekers are actually deported remain the same: Countries of origin refuse to take them, the situation in countries of origin remains life-threatening, or other legal hurdles stand in the way. "Dropping anchor" will do nothing to change the situation.

To date, there have been no announcements of Interior Minister Seehofer having signed return agreements with any countries of origin, or having changed their status from dangerous to safe. Seehofer talks a lot, but pragmatic dealmaking is not his thing. He has yet to even sign agreements that would immediately send back asylum-seekers from Germany to their country of first arrival in the EU. That problem was supposed to be solved with the big "European solution" that almost brought down Germany's governing coalition in late June. Opening "anker" centers without a clear plan as to what will happen to asylum-seekers is simply a big hullabaloo for Bavaria's upcoming October election — in which Seehofer's Christian Social Union (CSU) fears for its political survival. No German states beyond Bavaria and Saxony are interested in his plan.

The EU theater of illusions

Things don't look much better in Brussels, either. The EU Commission recently sketched out a concept for "disembarkation platforms" for Libyans and other North Africans stranded at sea, but since no country in the real world wants to operate such centers, they will not come to fruition. They're also doubly doomed since countries of origin likely wouldn't accept migrants deported from such centers, and there are not enough EU states willing to take people with a real chance of being granted asylum when they are released. One can forget the plan from the start.

Incidentally, this concept has been talked-up and jettisoned, again and again, for the past 15 years. The fact that EU heads of state and government nevertheless agreed to the plan at their last summit only underscores the desperation with which they are seeking to find a minimum of consensus on migration policy.

And things don't look better when it comes to the concept of "controlled centers" that are supposed to be set up for asylum-seekers arriving at European port cities around the Mediterranean. To this day, no one knows who would operate such centers, where deportees would be sent, or how those with true asylum prospects would be distributed within the EU. So far the plan seems to be: "Volunteers step forward!" And so far, no one has.

Perhaps the quiet hope of the EU is that such centers simply won't be needed since arrival numbers are dropping anyhow. Yes, they are dropping! There is neither a migration nor a refugee crisis at the moment. The drama is simply something being stirred up by populists in order to win votes by playing the emotion card. They are creating a problem that doesn't exist as they cry, "Close the gates!" and wait for solutions that cannot be implemented.

Read more: Opinion: We can build a fortress Europe!

Now, even Chancellor Merkel has gotten in on the act. She has hoisted her flag to catch the hard populist wind blowing through the EU from the right. But she should know by now that there is no way to navigate the migration issue as long as one is chained to the anchor illusion.  

Riegert Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union
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