Across Europe, the number of asylum seekers has been increasing for some time, as is the number of deaths in the Mediterranean. Observers from refugee camps in the Balkans, in Greece, financed in large part by the EU and its member states, report on inhumane conditions. Some of these look more like high-security prisons. How can an asylum policy be developed that corresponds to the conditions and circumstances in the 21st century? The current practice of asylum law in the European Union is full of contradictions, injustices, inconsistencies and excessive demands. The fatal result is mass death in the Mediterranean. The sociologist Ruud Koopmans dealt with exactly this question in his book. MENA Research Center spoke to him about this and other questions in a podcast episode a few weeks ago.
According to the director of the Berlin Science Center Berlin (WZB), Europe’s refugee policy declared bankruptcy some time ago. In the Mediterranean alone, more than 20,000 people have died trying to escape in the past ten years. For him, Europe has the deadliest migration system in the world, about 70 percent of people who die fleeing were on their way to Europe, although only a small proportion of global migration goes to the continent. For Koopmans, the aim of an asylum policy should be to save people. The opposite is currently the case.
Migration must be better controlled and expanded at the same time. Other countries such as Australia or Canada take in a certain number of refugees every year in so-called quotas, which the EU can also do. But this would only work if the EU states consistently reject all others at the same time. Koopmans therefore proposes outsourcing asylum procedures to various third countries such as Morocco, Senegal or Albania.
It would make sense to have fixed national continents for refugees and asylum procedures, which, however, do not take place in the applicant’s desired country, but extraterritorially, in third countries. So Koopmans advocates the “Australian solution”. In Europe it is currently being emulated by Denmark and Great Britain, although not in the sense of Koopmans. Because he pleads for the hardships of outsourced asylum procedures to be compensated for by generous quotas. For Germany, for example, this would mean that well over a hundred thousand refugees would be taken in every year – far fewer than now, but far more than in “normal” years, but above all more predictable, more capable of integration, and less conflict.
The question now arises as to whether asylum requests should be refused if they are applied for at an external EU border. In Koopmans’ model, the application for asylum would be examined – but not in the EU, but in third countries. Currently, those would be protected who can make the journey to the EU. Many die in the process. It is not the most vulnerable who are helped, but rather those who somehow make it, mostly young men, while the elderly, the sick, children and women often have no chance of applying for asylum. Also, people in crisis regions from which there is no route to Europe are not helped. This applies, for example, to the people in Yemen, where a terrible civil war is raging. The people there are trapped.
The hurdles for legal entry are almost impossible to overcome. On the other hand, once you make it here, you stay. As a result, many people are making the dangerous journey: Of the 2.2 million asylum seekers who made their way to Spain, Italy or Greece between 2014 and 2021, one in every hundred died, even on the central Mediterranean route every fiftieth. Of those who make it this far, however, only a portion actually needs protection. We leave many of the most vulnerable, like the million Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar, out in the cold.
The EU would first need an annual quota for humanitarian immigration. The UNHCR refugee agency, for example, would select a certain number of people in need of protection for a “coalition of the willing” in Europe. This should therefore be based on the average quota of asylum seekers recognized in the EU since 2013: That would mean 325,000 for the EU as a whole. However, these generous humanitarian admissions must not be added to other forms of refugee immigration – they must be counted towards this quota if the political compromise is to be viable. In years like this, when the number is far exceeded due to the war in Ukraine, the quotas would have to be suspended. For people who are personally in direct danger – political dissidents, for example – the possibility of applying for a humanitarian visa, for example at an embassy of an EU state, should be created.
Examples from within the EU itself suggest that Europe is not even capable of building decent housing on its own territory. Koopmans says a country like Greece has never had any interest in setting up decent refugee camps. The Greek and other EU refugee camps are purely a policy of deterrence: Because Europe has no control over immigration, we rely on deterrence.
Ruud Koopmans: The Asylum Lottery. A summary of refugee policy from 2015 to the Ukraine war; C.H. Beck Munich, 2023
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