UN High Commissioner praises Germany’s refugee policy

UN Refugee Commissioner António Guterres praised German refugee policy, saying the country sets an example for other EU member states. [UN Geneva/Flickr]

UN Refugee Commissioner António Guterres praised German refugee policy, saying the country sets an example for other EU member states. [UN Geneva/Flickr]

Many European countries could learn from Germany’s refugee policy, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres praised in a recent interview, but German municipalities are up in arms over the influx of refugees entering the country. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Amid widespread criticism and protests in Berlin and elsewhere, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has been praising Germany’s refugee policy.

“Germany has played a leading role in refugee protection and serves as a positive example for other European states to follow,” he told Die Welt.

In recent months, Berlin has seen schools occupied, hunger strikes before the Brandenburg Gate, a rooftop filled with men threatening to commit suicide, and many other demonstrations of discontent. The events seem to symbolise growing confusion over the increasing numbers of refugees flooding into the country.

People fleeing to Germany must grapple with complex and complicated applications for asylum, are not allowed to work, and are often unable to leave their allotted region of residence.

In the meantime, municipalities are complaining of problems related to housing, including container villages, tent cities and overflowing refugee camps.

But according to Guterres, the Federal Republic has offered many people protection through its asylum programme and has taken meaningful steps to provide thousands of refugees with security.

The refugee support organisation Pro Asyl also praised the German system: The German government has earned the UN’s praise, the NGO said. By pledging to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, Pro Asyl says Germany is a Europe-wide leader.

But Refugee Commissioner Guterres’ words are also an appeal to other countries to do more to protect refugees, said Karl Kopp, a Europe analyst from the organisation, in a statement for EURACTIV Germany.

Pro Asyl: German government is hindering progress at an EU level

Kopp described EU-wide refugee policy as “shabby”. Many refugees continue to perish in attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea, he said.

“Many more are rejected by the EU and sent back to their countries of origin,” Kopp pointed out.

According to UN estimates, 1,600 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean over the last three months – despite Italy’s attempt to rescue refugees with its Mare Nostrum military operation.

Fairly dividing refugees among the EU member states will require inter-European solidarity, Kopp explained. “That is where Germany lacks rigorous efforts – the country is even putting on the breaks,” he criticised.

Internally, there is still much to be done, the EU expert said. “We are one of the richest countries in the world. It is not acceptable for us to be housing people in warehouses,” Kopp said.

“That simply fuels resentments in society and infringes upon the human dignity of the refugees,” the refugee expert pointed out.

The fact that a high number of refugees already live in precarious conditions in Germany is the result of national austerity policy implemented recent years, Kopp explained.

Municipalities call for a “Marshall Plan”

Internal affairs ministers from Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony have recently been complaining that conditions are overwhelming the regions in their efforts to accept refugees.

The German Association of Cities and Municipalities said local authorities are also facing problems related to accommodating growing numbers of refugees. The association’s managing director Gerd Landsberg said the municipalities need a “Marshall Plan of sorts”.

This is the only way to preserve the human dignity of refugees while they reside in Germany.

“I am not a pessimist but the likelihood is high that refugee numbers will increase even more dramatically than we have seen so far,” Landsberg said in an interview with Die Welt.

The surest way would be a public construction programme to build additional refugee facilities, Landsberg proposed. Germany needs a comprehensive national strategy that allows for the conversion of existing buildings into refugee accommodations he said.

New EU Refugee Commissioner to combine forces

Landsberg also called for the creation of an EU Refugee Commissioner post. A common European policy for refugees and civil war refugees would provide a common area for protection and solidarity, something Landsberg said the EU urgently needs.

In the medium-term, the EU could also use a fair system that regulates distribution of refugees Europe-wide, Landsberg suggested.

“A balance must be created”, he stated, “and the EU can organise this more effectively if it combines numerous existing initiatives into one Commission portfolio.”

Since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System to deal with immigration for political or humanitarian reasons.

New EU rules have now been agreed, setting out common standards and co-operation to ensure that asylum-seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply.

But EU countries rejected a European Commission proposal for more shared responsibility in dealing with asylum requests and that immigrants arriving in the countries with a disproportionate share should be relocated to other EU member states.

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