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The EU needs fair refugee reception quotas

Interview: Dagmar Breitenbach
April 15, 2015

Maritime disasters involving refugees, record numbers of asylum-seekers in Europe - current EU refugee policies appear to be less than efficient. German analyst Steffen Angenendt looks at urgently needed changes.

Italien Corigliano Mittelmeer Gerettete Bootsflüchtlinge Ankunft Hafen
Image: picture-alliance/epa/F. Arena

DW: What would be a starting point for good refugee policies?

Steffen Angenendt: There's a nexus between migration and asylum, and good refugee policies are combined asylum and migration policies. In practice, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two groups because the motives overlap. We have more and more refugees who are not persecuted in the traditional sense of the Geneva Refugee Convention and migrants who don't move on a voluntary basis but are forced to do so because they have lost their livelihood. Increasingly, both groups turn to smugglers to come to Europe. But that must be the starting point: coherent policies covering both groups.

Europe is currently experiencing the largest post-war number of refugees. What are the most pressing policies the EU needs to tackle?

On the one hand, we have increasing numbers: Some member states, like Germany, have ten times more refugees than in 2007/2008 - a historic situation. And the numbers are on the rise.

Steffen Angenendt
Steffen AngenendtImage: privat

On the other hand, we have highly diverse numbers of refugees in the member states, which is obviously against the idea of a common European asylum and migration policy. We may have a common European policy, but we have to act on an EU level in at least three areas.

The first is a fair distribution of asylum seekers. Of course, we have a Common European Asylum System (CEAS), a legal framework for European policies which is set to be implemented in July. But, in fact, implementation is the crucial point. In theory, if the system were fully implemented, there should be equal asylum procedures, reception conditions and living conditions in all EU member states. The EU countries are obliged to implement the system because these are EU regulations, but they are quite reluctant. So in practice, it's the contrary, there are highly diverse situations in the member states. Last year, we had about 75 percent of asylum seekers in only five EU countries.

Since the 1990s, the country where the refugee first enters EU territory is responsible for asylum procedures. The EU external border countries are responsible for the burden, the asylum procedures. And they think that is highly unfair, so they don't implement the EU regulation to provide similar standards. It's a double problem: first, they are not fulfilling their duty in offering asylum procedures, and second, they are not offering full services to the refugees. The consequence is that the refugees move to other EU countries to apply for asylum there. What we need is a new and fair system of responsibility sharing; for example, a system of fair reception quotas for asylum seekers.

You mention the external borders. With regard to maritime disasters involving refugees, what can the EU do to prevent thousands dying on their way to safety in Europe?

For humanitarian reasons, there has to be a joint EU rescue and search operation again, because these numbers won't go down. There must also be far more cooperation with the neighboring countries, and we should support them in building up their own legal and institutional capacities in the field of asylum and migration management.

It's also important to assist the countries who have taken in so many refugees, like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. We need much more money to help these receiving countries to protect these refugees and integrate them locally. Here, development assistance can make a substantial difference.

And we need a new integration policy for refugees here in Germany and in other EU countries, because it's important that these refugees have faster access to the labor market and so they can live their lives. We have recognition rates for Syrian and Iraqi refugees of nearly 100 percent. These are people coming to Germany ,or other EU countries, so right from the beginning, we have to work toward their integration. And we need to involve local citizens more in refugee integration. Right now, there is such a willingness to do something for refugees in Germany, but often people just don't know how to contribute and what to do. Here concrete proposals on the local level would be helpful.

Steffen Angenendt is a Senior Associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. He has published extensively on German, European and international migration policies.