Opinion: Europe’s refugee challenge | Opinion | DW | 20.08.2015
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Opinion: Europe’s refugee challenge

Europe is expected to receive four times as many refugees as it did last year - numbers that haven’t been seen since the end of World War II. Time to review five simple truths, says DW’s Felix Steiner.

In Europe, with its Christian tradition, the acceptance of refugees should be a matter of course. After all, Christians believe in the Son of God, who himself escaped being murdered by a brutal king by fleeing to another country. It's no coincidence that the many people helping to take care of new arrivals across Germany are part of the Christian community. But, as a whole, Christian Europe has struggled with the issue of refugees, long before the latest forecasts of enormous numbers of people expected to seek asylum in Europe this year. Here are five simple truths to keep in mind:

One: Not everyone who comes is a refugee

The term "refugee" has been clearly defined. And the same goes for the basic right to ask for asylum in Germany. The decisive criterion is persecution, not discrimination or economic need. All of the people coming to Europe or to Germany have good reason to make the journey. But more than half of the migrants arriving here do not meet the criteria to be granted asylum. They choose this way because they have no other way to request admission.

Germany is like a doctor arriving in a disaster zone: Even if you want to help everyone, it's simply not possible. That's why those with minor injuries are ignored, even though they may be in pain. And despite this, the doctor is not in violation of the Hippocratic oath. He's not being inhumane; he's just being practical. That's why refugees from war zones and those facing persecution in their home countries take priority over those who come to escape economic woes.

Two: The refugees will be here permanently

Steiner Felix Kommentarbild App

DW's Felix Steiner

In the New Testament, it says that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph return home after the death of King Herod. But does anyone really think that peace will return to Syria or that Iraq will stamp out terrorism in the near future? Can we imagine stability in Afghanistan? Freedom in Eritrea and Somalia? Wealth and prosperity in Ghana, Senegal, Albania, or Kosovo? It's extremely unlikely. Proactive politics means acting on the assumption that today's refugees will be with us for a long time. And that means they need to be integrated as quickly as possible. If politicians are honest with themselves, they will recognize that the crises at Europe's borders will likely expand, meaning that there will be similarly high numbers of migrants arriving in the years to come. That's something for which citizens need to be prepared.

Three: Work and education is good for integration

This is something that is patently obvious. If past regulations banning asylum seekers from getting work permits were meant to be a deterrent, they didn't work. Besides, it's best for the country when newcomers can quickly become financially independent. And they do want that. In addition to safety and freedom, they want to achieve a normal standard of living. Many would even like to earn enough to support family members back home.

What does this actually mean? The refugees have to live where there are jobs to be had. As tempting as it may be to use the many vacant buildings in the eastern German countryside for refugee accommodation, it makes no sense. What should they do there? State-subsidized construction of apartments in booming urban centers is the better way to go. The same is true at the European level. Germany is pushing for a fairer distribution of migrants across EU member states. But do we really want to send young refugees to countries that already have youth unemployment rates of more than 30 percent? That will not result in integration - it will only create hatred and social unrest.

Four: The state must respect its own laws

If it can't do that, then it has to make other laws. An immigration law, for example. And if it can't accomplish that, then it's a failed state. Or at least one that's lost the respect of its citizens who, for their part, see no reason to abide by the rules anymore. A highly dangerous situation for a democracy that depends on the consent of its citizens.

Asylum procedures in which thousands of people are rejected but are then allowed to stay on are also redundant. As are the so-called Dublin Regulations for a common EU asylum policy that has not worked once in the past 25 years. So, either scrap the rules, or enforce them. Even if it's unpleasant. Anything else is deceitful.

And in some cases, the state can and must take action against its own citizens - against those who attack foreigners, set fire to refugee homes, or incite hatred against migrants via the Internet. There have already been many incidents that would qualify for punishment under Germany's law against incitement to hatred. And given that people are posting such sentiments under their real names, a few demonstrative prosecutions could perhaps work wonders.

Five: Integration only works if people want it to work

What sounds like a platitude from a phrase book for young politicians is based on actual fact. The authorities alone cannot solve the challenge facing us. The state needs citizens to donate clothes, toys and furniture, to volunteer to teach German, or help refugees navigate officialdom. It needs people who will accept the refugees as their new neighbors; something that would be easier if there were less red tape and migrants could leave their accommodation centers and move into normal apartments. And it would help if our chancellor were to stand up and ask the German people to help meet this huge challenge.

Many people in Germany are afraid of what this mass influx of migrants means for them. Especially in eastern Germany and among poorer, less educated Germans, there is considerable fear that they will lose their apartments, their jobs, their social benefits. It's up to politicians to take these fears seriously and assure people that Germany is up to the challenge.

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