German minister: ‘Morocco and Tunisia face a real threat of terrorism’

Development cooperation in Maghreb countries means creating apprenticeships, supporting communities and promoting agriculture, says Gerd Müller. Otherwise, the poorest risk being radicalised, says Gerd Müller. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

Gerd Müller is a Christian Social Union politician who has been development minister since 2013.

He spoke to Der Tagesspiegel’s Dagmar Dehmer.

Interior and justice ministers want to cut development aid to countries that do not take back rejected asylum seekers. Is that a good idea?

Development cooperation in North Africa means creating apprenticeships, supporting communities and promoting agriculture. Pulling out of that would hurt the very poorest and condemn them to hopelessness. That would only create new problems.

It is important that the Maghreb countries become economically and politically stable, as well as setting up shared economic areas. If we don’t do that, the pressure of the refugee crisis is only going to escalate.

Morocco and Tunisia face a real threat of terrorism. Tourism in the latter has plummeted. That is why the authorities have a big interest in working with Germany, particularly in the fight against Islamic terrorism. We have, for example, agreed to set up return centres in both Tunisia and Morocco. There, asylum seekers that have been unsuccessful in their application in Germany are given practical support for their new start in their homelands.

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These return centres are an evergreen issue in the political debate. Aren’t we just talking about reception camps again?

I’m not talking about camps. Rejected asylum seekers should be given the chance to return to their country of origin voluntarily, even before the process is completed.

Moroccans and Tunisians have almost no chance of being recognised as asylum seekers. So they don’t go back voluntarily, because they would go back as losers that have spent all their money on traffickers. That is why we are giving them the chance to participate in employment programmes, for example.

But really it’s about criminals. Is it wise to send such dangerous young men back into already fragile countries? We are not talking big numbers here…

At this point I’d like to make it clear that 99% of refugees are not criminals. Yes, there are a small number that have been criminalised or radicalised in Germany. That was the case for Anis Amri, who carried out the Berlin attack. That’s why each country has to do their homework.

Tunisia has a big problem with radicalised youth. The catalyst is the country’s high unemployment rate. But Tunisia is on the right path. More than 300 German companies are investing there and good results are being achieved.

Both countries, as well as Algeria and Egypt, have taken in huge amounts of refugees. In Egypt alone there are around 3 million. Morocco takes around 30,000 Africans each year from the southern Sahara region, as does Tunisia. In so doing, they are taking some of the pressure off sub-Saharan Africa.

We have a big interest in seeing these countries stabilised.

One of the most ambitious targets set by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the elimination of hunger by 2030. Is it doable?

It is possible in Africa. There is enough water and soil there for it to change from an importer to an exporter of foodstuffs. Nearly 60% of the world’s brownfields are in Africa, which can be used for agriculture.

Productivity can also increase. The average yield for corn is about a tonne per hectare. In Europe, that figure is between five and eight tonnes.

Of course not everything is comparable. But theoretically the planet can feed 10 billion people, if we invest in training for smallholders and in female farmers. Especially when it comes to land rights for women.

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Is that enough?

We have to invest in storing agricultural products too. It is unbelievable to me that in India and also in Africa, between 40 and 50% of the harvest can easily spoil. Rice, corn and millet crops are just piled in the field. Half is lost just due to moisture pests or mould.

The easiest thing is just to build silos in which to store the harvest. That doesn’t require a great deal of technical input. Processing industries should also be encouraged. That is why we are promoting the creation of cooperatives because large-scale systems are not the answer.

Hunger is a solvable issue, if we have the will to.

What else is Germany doing to help?

We have established 14 innovative centres that bring together farming know-how, plant protection, better methods, as well as educating young people and women. 13 centres are up and running already and the other will open this year in Mozambique. We’ve trained more than 220,000 people already.

We are also working with a number of organisations that are interested in the sector. Our goal is to educate more than a million smallholders, so that their income goes up and they create new jobs.

Hunger is a problem made by poverty. It’s a paradox, in that three-quarters of people go hungry where food is actually produced. To counteract the increasing presence of urbanisation and slums, rural areas have to develop better.

The solution cannot be for hundreds of millions of people seeing a future for themselves in urban areas, only for them to get there, fail to find accommodation or work, whereupon they slide into criminality or prostitution.

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