Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior said on Saturday (19 September) that in the future, the European Union should take in a finite number of migrants, while sending the rest back to a safe country in their home regions.
“We cannot accept all the people who are fleeing conflict zones or poverty and want to come to Europe or Germany,” Thomas de Maizière said in an interview with Der Spiegel.
De Maizière has taken a tougher line in the current crisis of tens of thousands of migrants sweeping across Europe, many heading for Germany, than the country’s leader, Angela Merkel.
For the conservative minister, Europe must refrain from setting relatively generous quotas of refugees, creating instead “a legal means of immigration” with a cap on the number of people the continent can be responsible for.
Once the continental limit on refugees has been reached, De Maizière said they should be sent back to their “region of origin” to a place where “they can live in security and without persecution”.
“We should financially help the countries concerned,” he added.
Merkel has warned that the asylum issue could become a bigger challenge for the EU than the Greek debt crisis and urged a coordinated approach from Brussels, supporting quotas of refugees for each EU member state but without setting a continent-wide ceiling on the number accepted.
An EU proposal on setting quotas of migrants for each member has triggered strong opposition from Britain and eastern European countries.
De Maizière this week also proposed toughening asylum laws by sending migrants back to the first EU country they reached and by reducing benefits.
He wants the so-called Dublin Regulation, which normally requires people to make their asylum claims in the first EU country they enter, to be enforced again after Germany said in August it would no longer apply to Syrians.
If his draft is approved, it could leave thousands of people who have reached Germany in recent weeks out in the cold.
EU leaders have agreed on the outlines of a two-year plan to deal with unprecedented numbers of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa.
But implementing the system to resettle or relocate 60,000 refugees is proving to be highly contentious at a time of rising anti-immigration parties in Europe. Many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing for refugees, but contend that the European Commission's proposed quota system needs to be reworked.
EU leaders argued through the night at a summit in June over the plan, wary of taking in migrants and reflecting deep national rivalries that the bloc's cooperation is supposed to transcend. They have set December as the latest deadline to agree final numbers.
But the refugee crisis has worsened since then. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commisison, now hopes to convince EU member states to accept the mandatory distribution of 160,000 refugees.
In order to achieve this, the Dublin Regulation, which forces refugees to apply for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in, and is often accused of destroying solidarity between EU countries, would have to be altered or suspended.
Such an ambitious policy would require a fundamental change in attitude among EU leaders, who in May refused a similar distribution plan for just 40,000 refugees.
The urgency of the migration crisis will force the EU to review the list of safe countries of origin and examine the system of distribution for asylum seekers, two issues that have been blocked at the European level for years.
- 22 September: Interior ministers meet in Brussels
- 23 September: Emergency summit in Brussels