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Point of no return: The EU’s refugee policy - Doomed to division?

Once again, Germany is taking the lead and giving shelter to refugees and migrants from the Greek islands. Germany’s political leaders are now outdoing each other with calls to take in more people than the 1,553 agreed to this week.

Point of no return: The EU’s refugee policy - Doomed to division?
Many migrants and refugees see the Greek islands as a gateway to Europe


The co-leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), Saskia Esken, demanded that a “high four-figure sum” be taken in, while the Greens’ parliamentary party leader Katrin Goring-Eckardt specified 5,000.

Many church representatives, aid organisations, and local and state authorities have joined a chorus of people insisting that Germany should offer shelter to more people left stranded by the burnt refugee camp at Moria, on the island of Lesbos.

But German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU) is digging in his heels, for two reasons: He does not want migrants to think that they can get around established procedures for the granting of asylum — and he also wants to push for a European Union-wide policy to deal with migration. Seehofer wants the German government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, to come up with a solution. German attempts to go it alone, from Seehofer’s perspective, merely get in the way of attempts to formulate a European answer. Mathias Middelberg, the conservative parliamentary party spokesman on interior affairs told DW: “We cannot give the impression that Germany is willing to solve the migration issue on its own.”

Lone voice in wilderness

Reactions from other EU member states confirm this view. States such as Hungary or Poland, who have traditionally refused to go along with efforts to form a common policy, continue to sit on their hands. But they are not the only source of indifference or even open resistance. The Netherlands, for example, says it is willing to take in just 100 people. But it intends to trade this figure off against a UNHCR contingent, with the ultimate upshot that the country would not admit a single additional refugee. Austria has signalled even stiffer resistance, despite the Greens, who are fundamentally in favour of accepting refugees, being part of the coalition. The conservative Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has expressly pledged “not to follow the German path.” Instead, Austria says it will offer on-site aid in Lesbos. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg expressed concern that if Moria were to be evacuated by relocating migrants throughout the EU, the camp would soon fill up again with new arrivals.

Conservative German politician Middelberg agrees: “We cannot give the impression that if you make it to the Greek islands, you practically have a choice of where to go in Europe.” The issue of migration remains one of the biggest hot-button issues in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly assured voters that a situation like before in 2015 — when Germany allowed hundreds of thousands of people to enter the country largely unchecked — “may not and will not be allowed to happen again.”

The pilot project

The row ignited by the destroyed camp at Moria may yet have a lasting impact on the broader debate about reforming European asylum policy. Until now, calls for member states to take in refugees have fallen largely on deaf ears.

Both Chancellor Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are now thinking out loud about setting up new camps on the Greek islands, to be jointly run by the EU and Greece. The EU would ensure that European standards are maintained and that asylum applications would be processed on-site.

Only those whose applications are successful would be allowed to travel on to mainland Europe. Those whose applications are rejected would be sent back. The plan is basically a copy of the agreement hammered out between the EU and Turkey in 2016. “The new reception centre on Lesbos can serve as a pilot project for European refugee policies. Fast-track procedures at the EU’s external borders will be aimed at facilitating a rapid decision on whether a person should be let in or sent back,” says Middelberg. The plan will also be part of the blueprint on asylum policy reform to be presented by von der Leyen next week.

— This article has been provided by Deutsche Welle

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