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Human refugee policy helps everyone

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The following text forms – here slightly abbreviated – the introductory chapter of Gesine Schwan’s book “Europe fails. A human refugee policy is possible “(S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 2021. 144 pages, 16 €.“ (Collaboration: Malisa Zobel).

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On July 20, 1957, together with my French friend Claudette Caze, I watched the Polish film “The Last Stage (Ostatni Etap)” in the Auditorium Maximum of the Free University of Berlin. We were both 14 years old. The director Wanda Jakubowska shot this documentary film about Auschwitz, where she was interned from 1942 until the evacuation in 1945. The film disturbed me deeply and shaped my political stance forever. I couldn’t sleep all night. I saw the night scene in the courtyard of Auschwitz in front of me, where hundreds of prisoners had to spend the night standing in temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius.

They leaned close to each other and swayed slightly rhythmically to and fro in order to survive this ordeal as closely as possible. A few years later I learned of the fate of the St. Louis ship. After the Reichspogromnacht in 1938, 937 Jewish Germans wanted to emigrate from Hamburg to Cuba and the USA on this ship belonging to the Hapag shipping company. They mostly had valid papers for this. With a few exceptions in Cuba, however, they were not let off the ship.

Canada, too, was stubborn

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The German captain of the ship, Gustav Schröder, personally asked President Roosevelt to allow the passengers to enter the USA – in vain. The president, who wanted to give permission, bowed to pressure from his Democratic Party, parts of which threatened to no longer support him in the 1940 election. The then Canadian Prime Minister also refused. The ship had to return to Europe, was finally allowed to land in Belgium, and the passengers were distributed from Antwerp to the Netherlands, France and Great Britain.

Only those who were admitted there were sure of their lives, even if they were interned again. A terrible, sometimes fatal odyssey that ended in Auschwitz awaited everyone else.

If the ethical and legal standards to which we democrats publicly subscribe are disregarded, even in democracies where there is no threat to life and limb, we are complicit if we do not take action against them. In fact, a pragmatic and humane response to the refugee protection crisis is most likely to be found in the municipalities with their active civil society. The proposal I am making is not a panacea for EU migration and refugee policy. I am aware of how pressing the problems are in other parts of the world as well. When Europe is mentioned in the following, the most important actors of the European Union in migration policy are meant: the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European External Action Service and, above all, the European Council.

1. The European Union fails in refugee policy because it acts contrary to the values ​​it proclaims.

2. With this self-contradiction we Europeans harm ourselves. We lose credibility and trust internally and externally and destroy our social and political cohesion as well as the basis of our democracies. In this way we give away the opportunities for a common future, both within ourselves and in the global North-South relationship.

3. For a humane refugee policy we have to adopt the current guiding principle of deterring refugees as much as possible in favor of the understanding that we can design refugee policy as a win-win strategy.

4. The practical way out of the impasse is to reach a voluntary agreement on the admission of refugees in a coalition of willing states and to offer positive, also financial incentives for this, instead of all EU states under threat of sanctions for “acceptance” of refugees to oblige.

5. In refugee policy, a match between long-term interests and values ​​is easiest to achieve at the municipal level. Here the voting can take place transparently and the approval of the citizens can be won. A human refugee policy can also be combined with a successful expansion of effective citizen participation that is compatible with representative democracy.

6. In accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and long-term municipal integration, “municipal development councils” can integrate the admission of refugees into their future planning for the municipality. The host states cooperate with the host communities in the decentralized settlement of the refugees. A matching system coordinates the interests of the refugees with those of the municipalities.

7. The admission is financed by a “European Fund for Local Integration and Development”, to which the willing municipalities can easily apply for the financing of the integration of the refugees and in addition receive the same amount of financing for the projects that are in their interest.

Transparency, fairness, trust

8. Human asylum procedures depend on transparency, fairness, trustworthiness and speed. Legal assistance and the presence of organized civil society are essential. Different categories of refugees need complementary immigration and work regulations.

9. Human asylum procedures can be carried out in central European test centers or at the national level.

10. Refugees with a right to asylum, with subsidiary protection and those who cannot be returned (tolerated persons) should be treated equally according to the matching procedure. Anyone who definitely has no right to asylum and cannot switch to alternative – possibly temporary – residence programs must be repatriated, if possible with financial support.

11. The fear of a pull effect on refugees, especially from Africa, can only be overcome by taking a new look at the neighboring continent of Europe. Instead of illusory and inhuman isolation of Europe, a partnership-based cooperation in line with the long-term interests of Europe and Africa offers opportunities for both sides.

12. Local authorities and the European “Committee of the Regions” can play a decisive role on both sides. “Business as usual” in refugee policy is not only shameful and inhumane, but also destroys the chances of Europe’s future, of democracy and peace. What we miss out on are the meaning of life and joy.

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