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Europe’s Refugee Disaster: Merkel Losing Her Patience with Lack of EU Solidarity

  • September 18, 2020

The Italians, Cypriots, Spanish, Portuguese, Greeks and Maltese do not, he said, “want to be stuck with all of the refugees” on their own. The Scandinavian countries, he said, are “imperiously reserved” while the Visegrád countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) along with Austria don’t want to hear anything about refugee distribution.

“I am disappointed by the position of our Austrian neighbors to refuse to accept a limited number of asylum-seekers from Greece,” Seehofer told DER SPIEGEL. “In a situation like this, Europe must demonstrate unity. If we do nothing, we are strengthening the political fringes.”

But the German government has been particularly disappointed by the French. They didn’t react at all to a request from Germany – despite Paris having recently been so cooperative regarding the coronavirus bailout package.

The debate as to which group should be distributed throughout Europe under what conditions is difficult in part because it isn’t clear what happens then. Should they automatically be granted residency permits and allowed to stay? Or do they have to go through asylum proceedings, which could end in deportation? The answers to such questions diverge widely – both in Germany and in the rest of Europe.

Uncertain Futures

Still, it is clear what will happen to the 1,553 people that Germany has accepted: They have already been granted asylum status and can now begin establishing their new lives. Following their arrival, they will be distributed among different German states, where they are to be integrated and hopefully find work.

By comparison, the situation for those who remain in Greece is much worse. Even those who have received asylum status, laments the human rights organization Pro Asyl, face an extremely uncertain future.

Merkel, Seehofer and Scholz have made things rather easy on themselves by only accepting those refugees who have already been granted asylum status. But pressure on the chancellor to take even more of those who are suffering on the Greek islands is growing.

With many European countries refusing to help, some German states are insisting that they be allowed to help on their own. Both Thuringia and Berlin would each like to accept several hundred refugees from the islands.

Financing such an effort would not be problematic, say officials in Thuringia. “As a state, we would assign the people to the municipalities and then cover the costs,” says Thuringia Migration Minister Dirk Adams, a member of the Green Party. But, he adds, he doesn’t believe that the price tag will be the decisive factor.

Most of the migrants in the camps on the Greek islands are from Afghanistan, but in Germany, not even half of asylum applications from the country are approved. Most of the others are just given temporary, tolerated status or are made to leave Germany immediately. The German government, though, is likely interested in avoiding the arrival of too many refugees with unclarified asylum status, at least so long as no European solution is in sight.

“Obligatory Solidarity Mechanisms”

A new attempt to take a step toward resolving the impasse is planned for next Wednesday, when the European Commission will present its repeatedly delayed reform package for asylum and migration policy. It isn’t yet known what the details of the plan will look like, partially a function of the fact that last-minute talks are still underway. A number of open questions remain, such the kinds of cases in which it can be decided at the external EU border who has a chance for asylum and who does not.

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