The migratory pressure on certain countries within the EU is increasing. In Germany alone, 244,132 people applied for asylum last year – an increase of 21 percent compared to the previous year and the highest value since the record year 2016. The situation in Austria is just as dramatic: the number of asylum applications in 2022 compared to the previous year has almost increased tripled. In the communities there are already protests against new refugee accommodation – and according to surveys, the right-wing populist FPÖ is now the strongest party in the country. Municipalities are now desperately looking for accommodation, in some communities in Austria refugees had to be accommodated in makeshift tents in the middle of winter. Governments are now being asked by their municipalities and cities to implement a “reality-based refugee policy” with all those involved. In Germany, a refugee summit led by the chancellor is being demanded.
The migration crisis is back, albeit not as severe as in the record years of 2015 and 2016. Last year, the EU registered 330,000 illegal border crossings, almost a million asylum applications were made. The member states have been hopelessly at odds on this issue for years and cannot agree on new EU regulations on how best to prevent migrants from fleeing and how those seeking protection can be distributed within the EU. The question of how illegal migrants can simply remain in Europe despite a deportation notice also remains unanswered, because of 340,000 decisions in the EU in 2021 only one in five was implemented. Two years earlier it was 29 percent.
The German position of liberal handling of the EU-wide migration regulation applies not only to external border protection, but also to the so-called visa lever. This visa lever is a kind of thumbscrew for countries of origin that was introduced in 2019. According to this, the interior ministers of the member states can decide, at the suggestion of the EU Commission, to make the visa conditions for the third country in question more difficult – for example through higher visa fees, longer processing times or shorter validity periods – if it does not cooperate in the readmission of illegal migrants. So far, the German government has not supported this, in contrast to countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Italy or the Netherlands.
The German side relies more on incentives than pressure. Its credo is: If you want countries of origin to take back migrants, you have to make sufficiently fair offers for legal migration to these countries. This approach sounds humane at first, but from the point of view of the countries of origin it is definitely a double-edged sword: Only well-trained people usually have chances of legal migration to the EU, but they are urgently needed in their home country to build it up.
In addition, funds are to be used so that the home countries conclude so-called repatriation agreements as quickly as possible. It is a “carrot and stick” policy. The concept is that if a country is willing to agree on a repatriation agreement and take back its nationals who have fled, it should be rewarded with extra payments. If the third country refuses, the visa conditions can be made more difficult. According to experts, this system will not be able to prove itself. Since 2004, the EU Commission has only been able to conclude legally binding repatriation agreements with 19 countries, most recently with Belarus in 2020. Important countries such as Tunisia, Egypt or Morocco have so far rejected such cooperation with the EU states.
How can the European Union manage, on the one hand, to offer protection to the persecuted and, on the other hand, to limit irregular migration – and, moreover, to distribute refugees halfway fairly among the member states? The pressure is increasing, on the one hand among the people in the EU who no longer want to support the refugee policy and are migrating to right-wing populist parties, on the other hand among the municipalities in the EU who feel left alone when it comes to the costs of housing the migrants. There are also EU elections next year, and Brussels intends to present a coherent concept by then. “The redesign of the migration system has been talked about for seven years now. If an agreement on the reform of the EU asylum system planned by the EU Commission fails in the current year “there will be no new attempt any time soon,” says asylum lawyer Thym. The objection that the status quo is better than a bad reform, is not tenable: If the reform fails, the “erosion” of the EU rules on refugee protection will “progress”. States such as Greece and Poland are already disregarding the system at their borders, and Italy is also blocking any migrants being taken back via the Dublin regulation. According to it, the EU state that a refugee first enters is also responsible for the asylum procedure.
The EU Commission essentially wants to continue the status quo, that is, responsibility is transferred if the transfer to the country of first reception fails within six months. Specifically, it means that an EU country is officially responsible for a person who enters irregularly while an asylum procedure is still going on in Italy, if a transfer is not completed within six months – which is the rule in practice.
In an interview with MENA Research Center, migration sociologist Ruud Koopmans calls for a far-reaching change in EU asylum policy. He is “not concerned with abolishing the individual right to asylum”, but merely with restricting the right to “apply for asylum in Europe”. He is committed to replacing irregular refugee migration with regular migration, because without effectively restricting irregular asylum migration, one can save all thoughts about generous admission quotas and humanitarian visas. For the scientist and author, the planned EU asylum reform will not change the fundamental problem “that anyone who reports to a European sea or land border has the right to apply for asylum in Europe, even after a rejection it is impossible to return people to countries of transit or origin.” According to Koopmans, only the transfer of asylum procedures to countries outside the EU can lead to a “substantial reduction in irregular migration”.
Through a similar policy, Australia has managed to completely end deaths on the sea routes to the continent, but at the same time it is one of the countries that take in the most refugees via humanitarian quotas in the world. According to Koopmans, the goal must be to make it clear to potential irregular immigrants to Europe that they can receive protection under international law if they meet the requirements for this. But not in the longed-for target countries of northwestern Europe, but in a third country.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.