April 21, 2015

Guest Post: Who is on Fire?

Humanitarian migration has become a trend around the globe. The number of forcibly displaced people and asylum seekers has grown enormously. New and old conflicts, including those in Eastern Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Congo and dozen other regions have put an increasing number of people in danger. In 2013, for the first time after the Second World War era, the UNHCR reported over 50 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide. This means that 51.2 million people are in need of help.

Do they find asylum in Europe? Do they search for safety and security in the 28-EU? Is Europe a most welcoming continent for people in emergency and danger? The answers are NO. Among the countries accepting the majority of refugees and forcibly displaced people Pakistan (1.6 million); Lebanon (1.1 million); and Iran (982,000) are on the first line. In addition, Ethiopia (with 404 refugees); Pakistan (with 334 refugees); and Chad (with 199 refugees) per $1 of GDP per capita, hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide. Other countries with large refugee populations are Turkey (824,000), Jordan (737,000), Ethiopia (588,000), Kenya (537,000) and Chad (455,000). France with 298,828 refugees and Germany with 362,668 refugees are far away from being “country-leaders” like the ones mentioned above.

When comparing the data of those three countries and the 28-EU, only one question can arise – how could we have discussed for so long such a small number of people who are in need of help, and what is wrong with us?

Last night, nearly 900 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, dying just steps away from their dream of reaching the EU-border. This disaster happened just a few days after another migrant boat had capsized and took 400 lives of undocumented migrants. It is time to rethink the balance between moral, the right to live and a state’s interest to protect its borders. The current asylum policy within 28-EU is driven by an unresolved fear of newcomers and their “differences” in comparison to “us” Europeans. The Troeglitz case in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, has also demonstrated both, the German society’s fear and its sickness. The region (Landkreis), whose inhabitants are afraid of newcomers and set fire to the refugees’ camp, received 284 humanitarian migrants in 2013 and around 650 people in 2014. Could those people be an extra burden for a municipality or a regional budget? Could those 800 people be a danger to the locals and their traditions, lifestyle and culture? There are some doubts.

The receiving societies are strong and “healthy”, when the natives are not suspicious and afraid of alien influences, when they can take something from the outside and fully absorb it into their own culture, traditions and everyday life. This is a sign of social “health”. Our world is on fire and millions of people are in danger and in need of help. The fire of war and hate spreads around the globe. The burning is reflected in some German regions, where locals feared and hated those people who were displaced from their home and countries, separated from their families and friends, who searched for safety and security so far away from the place where they were born.

Could Europe build a new asylum policy as a win-win situation?

These days, the majority of European politicians, authorities and also members of society in general are stuck with the debate on asylum policy. However, less than 70 years ago millions of Europeans fled or were expelled from their homes, before they found asylum outside of Europe. It was a time, when other countries and continents welcomed European refugees and thus saved their lives. It is high time for Europeans to pay back this debt. There cannot be any doubt that the future common European Asylum System (CEAS) has to focus its attention on the risks regularly taken by humans looking to enter Europe, and to pivot towards protecting people, rather than to merely control the borders.

The creation of processing centers outside of the EU could be a significant improvement and a good basis for a smart asylum policy within 28-EU. Such centers have to provide legal aid for asylum applications at all stages of procedure and grant certain necessities that guarantee those people in emergency a dignified standard of living. The centers are also in charge of educational, professional and linguistic support for asylum seekers and their family members. Then, the CEAS has to harmonize asylum systems within 28-EU and reduce the differences between countries on the basis of binding legislation. Legal assistance from the beginning and outside the EU would allow for a fair-minded adjudication of asylum applications and a more efficient administration. In addition, such a system would represent an efficient use of human and technical resources and improve understanding between both, the people in emergency and authorities dealing with asylum claims.

Does Germany need an increased influx of humanitarian migration?

The question is very easy to answer. In the short term perspective, Germany, as a leading European country, does not need an immigration influx from countries outside of the EU. Germany could keep pro Eastern European patterns and get most newcomers from Poland and Romania as in 2013. However, in the long term perspective, Germany will need a strong migration influx from third countries, in order to keep its leading role on the European and global arena, as well as to retain the living standard for the German population. Germany has currently one of the world’s most rapidly aging and shrinking population. The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) estimated that by 2060 the German population will have grown to 61,9 million (negative scenario) or up to 78,4 million inhabitants (positive scenario). Both, the negative and the positive scenario, show Germany with a significant decline at the risk of an “infernal” demographic spiral, where the proportion between old and young citizens would be 2:1.

The Bertelsmann Foundation issued a report confirming that without new immigrants from third countries, the national labor market will face a shortage of approx. 45 million workers by 2050. In addition, one out of two of today’s skilled workers with professional training will have left the workforce by 2030.(1) Mario Ohoven, the Head of Germany’s small and medium-sized businesses union, spoke of a shortage of 5-7 million workers by 2030.(2) Although the people are already here. Refugees, asylum seekers and forcibly displaced people are young and of working age. They have already done the national government’s job, who ordinarily should be promoting and welcoming people to come to Germany. Let us use the results and reap the benefits in the years to come.

Welcome people, support and teach them, as it is already being done in Bad Hersfeld, Germany.(3) The population of Hersfeld Rotenburg is around 120,000 and it is aging and shrinking in size. For years, the locals have been at risk to have no tradespeople or workmen, such as painters, plasterers, cleaners etc. Searching for a solution, the local community started a project aiming at and supporting a professional education for individuals who had applied for asylum and/or had refugee status in Germany. The students – asylum and/or refugee applicants – receive a payment of 600 Euro/month and profession. As a result, Hersfeld Rotenburg now has a big enough workforce and the community saves around 420,000 Euro annually, due to rejecting investments for the newcomers’ integration into the labor market.

Summing up, the biggest privilege of a human being is to be born at a place where there is neither war nor military conflicts; where women and men are equal; where individuals with different religious and political beliefs have the same amount of rights; where children do not need to work; where water and the environment are clean and safe; where every day is a competition for a better life and not a question of existence and survival.

Today, one can hardly argue against the fact that forced migration is never a personal choice. It is a result of our world of conflict. Due to this fact, it is a personal responsibility for each of us to work hard and raise awareness for the challenges and troubles faced by refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people, and to promote good practice of labor market integration, housing and the building of social and professional networks for these individuals.

(1) Fuchs, J., Kubis, A., Schneider, L., Zuwanderungsbedarf aus Drittstaaten in Deutschland bis 2050, Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2015, 97p.
(2) Annual meeting of representatives of Germany’s small and medium-sized businesses in January 2015 in Berlin.
(3) Read more about this success story in Thieme, M., Zwischenstopp: Hersfeld-Rotenburg, Deutschland, Capital, Aus. 04/2015, PP.90-91.

About the author:

Dr. Olga R. Gulina holds a PhD in Migration Studies (Germany, 2010) and a PhD in Law (Russia, 2002). She is the CEO& Founder of RUSMPI – Institute on Migration Policy. Email: contact@rusmpi.org

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