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Quit arguing over asylum seekers!

June 13, 2018

Once again, Chancellor Merkel and Interior Minister Seehofer are at each other's throats as they argue over how to deal with asylum seekers. But that only strengthens right-wing populists, warns Marcel Fürstenau.

Chancellor Merkel and Horst Seehofer
Merkel and Seehofer don't have much to say to one another these days, despite there being lots to talk aboutImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Lately, Germany's conservatives have been talking of a "migration master plan." An emotive label, given that migration tends to conjure up hopes and fears, while a master plan usually denotes a well thought-out approach for tackling problems head-on.

That was exactly the kind of effect Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU) had in mind. Once again, he wanted to present himself as a man of action when it comes to refugees and asylum-seekers; as someone who stands for law and order. But now, his perennial rival, Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has put her foot down, blocking Seehofer's proposal. 

That means Seehofer will not be presenting his "migration master plan" any time soon. Chancellor Merkel disagrees with Seehofer over how to treat asylum seekers arriving on Germany's border. Merkel wants to avoid further arguments with other EU member states on this unresolved matter. Because while Germany has taken in more refugees that all EU members combined, countries like Austria and Poland are reluctant to even accept a few.

Despite mistakes, opening the border was a great gesture

Italy, in particular, is burdened by thousands of Africans migrants who cross the Mediterranean in inflatable dinghies to arrive on its shores. And refugee camps on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea still remain overcrowded, with tensions between new arrivals and locals mounting.

Afghan asylum seekers in front of BAMF office
Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees has been accused of improper dealingsImage: Getty Images/S. Gallup

This is the backdrop to the Seehofer-Merkel row over asylum seekers that has been ongoing since the summer of 2015. Back then, in the course of just several months, roughly 1 million refugees arrived in Germany – because Merkel opened the borders to let them in.

It was a generous and great gesture. But until this day, Merkel is paying the financial and political price for her decision. Her move has also had consequences for Germany's neighboring countries.   

There is no point in continuing to question the legality of Merkel's decision. It was certainly a mistake not to cooperate with other EU states before choosing to open the border. But that is in the past. Prior to 2015, and since then too, time has been needlessly wasted without making serious efforts to reach a common European approach to asylum seekers.

And lately, Europe has seen the rise of populist parties, who are shamelessly stoking xenophobic sentiments. Unfortunately, the ongoing Seehofer-Merkel dispute only adds fuel to their fire.

Bad role models

Instead of wasting energy on arguing, Seehofer and Merkel should finally focus their attention on strengthening institutions desperately needed to integrate refugees. The scandal surrounding supposedly manipulated asylum applications filed with Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) is an annoyance and should be cleared up. Yet given the sheer dimension of the migration crisis and its causes around the world, this scandal pales in comparison.

Only a nationally and internationally harmonized approach will provide an adequate answer to this mass exodus. An approach that you might, in fact, call a "migration master plan." That Germany still has not managed to devise such a comprehensive approach is the fault of its ruling parties, the CSU, CDU and Social Democrats (SPD).

For years, they have been unable, or unwilling, to come up with a plan acceptable to all. Which makes them bad role models for all those who day by day are confronted with the challenges posed by flight and migration: administrative assistants working at the BAMF, policemen on the German border, volunteers tending to refugees, and asylum seekers and refugees themselves.

Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.