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'Protect refugees'

Interview: Conny Paul / egApril 21, 2015

Joseph Haslinger, president of the German P.E.N. center, criticizes the policies allowing thousands of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean. He tells DW about the political reactions to the writers' association's plea.

Josef Haslinger
Image: picture alliance/dpa-Zentralbild

DW: Mr. Haslinger, as President of Germany's P.E.N. center, you handed over a resolution prepared by your international association of writers to the Federal Ministry of the Interior last week and to the European Parliament in Brussels a day later. It was signed by 1,116 writers from 26 countries and called for a humane treatment of refugees. How did Berlin and Brussels react to this resolution?

Josef Haslinger: I'll start with the positive reaction: It was very well received in Brussels. Martin Schulz [the President of the European Parliament] felt the resolution supported his own concerns. He also told us he would fully endorse our resolution.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior in Berlin reacted completely differently. We did not obtain the appointment we requested for the submission of the resolution. We were not allowed to invite the press to publicly hand over the resolution. We were accompanied by one photographer of the Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa). He was not admitted and had to leave. When we were finally admitted to the Ministry, we did not even obtain a meeting with the interior minister Thomas de Maizière, but with the deputy minister Ole Schröder. He first criticized the resolution for being too aggressive. Then he wanted to go through its content point by point.

He found two reasons to declare the resolution completely unsuitable. First, he considered the resolution held demands which had been fulfilled long ago. Secondly, he considered it included allegations which were not true. So he maintained that our resolution was insignificant and wrong. That's how he we left it.

In Brussels, Martin Schulz received your resolution very respectfully and the handover was even streamed live on the Internet...

Yes, our resolution was seen as a form of support, as a gesture of European solidarity - and that was the whole point. The idea is that all European countries should equitably share the costs of a fair asylum procedure and a fair treatment for the refugees. And sharing equitably obviously means doing so according to the capacities of each country.

In the aftermath of the most recent refugee disaster in the Mediterranean, what is P.E.N. now expecting from the EU?

Although we do not mention the EU border protection agency Frontex in the resolution, we do refer to the shortcomings of the European border patrol. Above all, it says that it is unacceptable to continue to let so many refugees drown in the Mediterranean. During the handover of the resolution in Berlin, I pointed out that Mare Nostrum, the Italian rescue program for refugees, worked a lot more effectively than Frontex. The deputy minister strongly objected to this and claimed that Frontex was the more efficient organization to rescue people. There are other politicians who share my opinion. This actually reflects reality.

Things tend to move very slowly in politics. What must be done now to stop the refugee deaths?

What could be done directly would be to establish a border patrol based on the model of Operation Mare Nostrum [Ed. Note: which ended in 2014]. The rescue boats must search the Mediterranean for refugees. In the long term, much more needs to be done. To manage this, all the other points in our resolution need to be concretely applied. There are no unified European standards in the treatment of refugees - money must be invested to establish them.

The same laws and standards must be applied in all European countries, no matter which countries serve as landing point for the refugees. Some refugees are even on the run because they are trying to find a country which will offer better conditions. The European Convention on Human Rights should be the basis for this, along with the Geneva Convention, which is the spiritual foundation of the idea of the European Union. These offer the right conditions to conduct a meaningful discussion on how many refugees Europe can welcome and the way they should be received. As long as each country leads its own policy and tries to pass on the costs and the refugees to other countries, the political situation will remain inhuman.

You are demanding a unified right of asylum in Europe. What are the current national differences?

I'm not an expert in asylum right. I'm just a human being who clearly sees how many refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean. But there are major differences. Greece is not equipped to deal with the situation; Bulgaria and Romania aren't either. These are three countries in deep financial trouble. In this context, populist movements spread the idea that their countries can't possibly take care of refugees while their own people is suffering. Therefore, the reception of refugees and the asylum procedure must no longer be funded nationally. European funds need to pay for this.