Discussing Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Diplomats Address PIIA Members

‘Turkey would require help on refugee crisis,’ said Turkish consul general Murat Mustafa Onart at our roundtable on 3 November 2015. ‘Refugees have to adapt to their new surroundings,’ added Carsten Müller, deputy head of the German consulate in Karachi.

56390a767ad3cWith 300,000 killed and more than 12 million others displaced because of unrelenting war and slaughter, Syria is an open graveyard and the predicament of refugees is deteriorating by the minute. Because of Russia’s recent entry into the arena, the problems surrounding the conflict are now so profound that the British government is being cautious about its campaign to obtain parliamentary approval to conduct airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Meanwhile, winter is setting in and tens of thousands of refugees are arriving every day on the Greek Island of Lesbos from Turkey where regaining substantial political leverage president Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) recently triumphed (49.4 per cent and 316 seats in the 550 seat parliament, albeit short of a supermajority of 330) in an early election which boasted an 86 per cent turn out and reversed the weak results of this June’s election. Erdogan is firmly back in the saddle, the bet to have early elections has paid off handsomely and an elated prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed his delight by telling a crowd in Konya: “This victory is not ours, it is our nation’s.”

In reality, the brunt of Syria’s four million refugees is borne by developing countries with limited resources. Turkey is hosting 2.1 million refugees. Jordan hosts 1.4 million and Lebanon 1.1 million. Shamefully, the plan devised by the European Union (EU) to relocate the 160,000 refugees already in Italy and Greece is a complete shambles and has apparently only benefitted 116 people thus far and the EU, which trumpets itself as a champion of democracy and savior of human rights and the rule of law, is conniving with Turkey to restrict the flow of refugees to Europe in exchange for more advantageous terms for Ankara in its future relations with Brussels.

Moreover, Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz said that Vienna has been overburdened with responsibility and is angry with Berlin for encouraging an unrestricted influx of refugees (daily inflows of 7,000-10,000) by the abandonment of EU laws laid down in the Dublin III regulation (however, on 11 November 2015, Germany reinstated the Dublin rule for Syrian refugees). Furthermore, the initial euphoria of the “open door” or Willkommenskultur policy has become jaded and after weeks of infighting between Merkel and Horst Seehofer (premier of Bavaria) it has been decided to climb down on giving asylum seekers a free rein and some applicants will be given “subsidiary protection” instead of asylum. In other words, not everyone will be able to be reunited with their pre-flight family because grants of subsidiary protection do not allow automatic reunification with existing family members – who can acquire easy rights of entry by virtue of their relationship to the main applicant (see more below in comment, members of the cabinet are openly challenging Merkel over her refugee policy).

On the other hand, this awry state of affairs has led Sweden’s prime minister to argue that the EU has lost its values by refusing to accept Muslims as refugees: “I can’t understand this kind of attitude,” bemoaned Stefan Löfven whose small but prosperous country has a very proud tradition of accepting large number of persecuted people. Yet, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, lamented at the end of last month that the EU budget is stretched to its limits. Making a plea for aid, he lamented that the €2.3 billion promised by EU nations in extra emergency aid has not been forthcoming owing to which practical difficulties with dealing with the influx of refugees remain unresolved.

Austria, which announced that it will fence its border with Slovenia, will process 80,000 or so asylum application this year, a fourfold increase on past years. And of course, countries such as Hungary have built fences with barbed/razor wire and are using strong-arm tactics and tear gas and water cannon to keep the refugees out. It has also been reported that Iran has provided “inducements” in the form of accelerated residence rights to Shia Afghan refugees who are willing to fight for Assad in Syria and some 200 Afghans have already been “martyred” in this cause.

In other news, African leaders will soon consider details of the Malta Plan whereby – or so the Telegraph alleges by asserting that EU leaders offer Africa a grand bargain over migration with no bearing on the real world – the EU plans to deprive Africa of its best, brightest and most talented individuals by offering sweeteners for students, researchers and entrepreneurs. On the other hand, the so-called “action plan” envisages the facilitation of arrangements allowing EU countries simplify the deportation of Africans in Europe who claim to be escaping persecution at home. In return, the EU will offer a “trust fund” of €1.8 billion to countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya so that they can address “root causes of irregular migration”.

Press reports of the PIIA roundtable and further editor analysis/comment are available below.

Turkey would require help on refugee crisis, Seher Baloch, Dawn 3 November 2015

In its struggle to accommodate refugees fleeing from Syria, Turkey will soon need financial assistance from the international community, said consul general Murat Mustafa Onart at a roundtable discussion on Tuesday.

Organised by the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), the discussion also had a member from the diplomatic security division from the consulate of Germany, Carsten Müller. Moderated by Masuma Hasan, director PIIA, the discussion was based on the current refugee crisis in Europe. The session which started with introductory speeches by both speakers, soon opened to the audience for an interactive debate.

Millions of people are already displaced in their search and pursuit for a safe place within Syria while over three million have already fled the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Though the main destination of the refugees is Europe, many have fled to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Libya.

Although a major part of the influx looks towards Germany, some countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and eastern European country, Croatia are not as welcoming.

Speaking about the recent criticism levelled against Arab countries for not hosting the refugees, Mr Murat said the choice predominantly rests with the refugees themselves. “I would also like to add that Syrians started fleeing their country around four years back. But it is only recently that the issue came to the fore because the numbers increased drastically. We can’t force them to choose a particular country because so far they are opting to go to Germany,” he added.

When asked whether the current superpowers would go after the root cause behind the refugee crisis, Mr Müller responded that at present:

We are not looking at the question of why people are leaving their homes. Our first and foremost focus is to accommodate the refugees and take them in. We have to focus on how to manage the crisis as a large exodus of Syrian refugees is headed towards the UK and Germany. This is a European task and we have to deal with it.

He also pointed out the role of the neighbouring countries around Syria that are financially reeling since Iraq and Libya are already embroiled in conflicts of their own. He added:

According to the figures of this year, 800,000 to 1.5 million people have already entered Germany. And many others are on the way. The bigger question is how to deal with them and that is by accommodating them.

With the refugee crisis deepening, some officials are pinning hopes on the upcoming peace talks in Vienna where Iran will also be in attendance to discuss the future of Syria. But the future of the country will largely be dependent on Iran and Saudi Arabia, as the government of Syria has not been invited to be part of the peace talks.

Dr Masuma Hasan remarked:

And without the protagonist, the peace talks won’t be able to come to a broader solution for the Syrian people.

Mr Müller added that, “Politicians will have to adjust to different needs of the times. The whole process of the current crisis is not static. What’s wrong today might not be considered wrong tomorrow.”

According to him, there are two aspects of the refugee crisis that should not be overlooked – adjustment to a new culture, and the skills refugees bring to a new country. He further remarked:

Men and women are equal are in Germany and whoever comes to the country will have to adapt themselves to this fact. At the same time, some of the best inventions in the world would not have been possible without refugees. I’m half refugee myself and understand the fears people inherently keep within themselves.

Exacerbating the refugee crisis is the role of human smugglers around the Syrian border, as the increasing death toll indicates. Though these people cannot be easily nabbed, such dealers are criminals and nothing more, Mr Müller added.

Speaking about citizenship, Mr Murat said the legislative procedures regarding citizenship will have to be dealt with as the laws are not as flexible as they would want them to be.

During the course of the session, there were quite a lot of questions about the resurgence of the Ottoman Empire that Mr Murat had to deal with, yet he said in plain and unambiguous terms:

I understand the nostalgia attached with the Ottoman times, but that era is over. Nostalgia with the empires is resulting in more human tragedies than averting them. We want homogeneity above everything else in Turkey and our religion looks towards the future than the past.

Refugees must adapt to lifestyle in host countries, The News International, 3 November 2015

An interactive roundtable session on the subject tiled “The refugee crisis in Europe” was held at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Tuesday morning with Turkish consul general Murat Mustafa Onart and the deputy head of mission at the German Consulate-General, Carsten Müller.

Turkish consul general Onart said the refugee crisis did not start right now. Boatloads of refugees had been reaching the coast of Italy for a long time. He said there were large numbers of refugees pouring in from other countries like the countries of North Africa and others, but Turkey was not receiving enough funds to deal with the situation and cater to the needs of the refugee population.

“We have to see where the refugee crisis springs from and tackle the problem accordingly,” said Carsten Müller, the deputy head of mission at the German Consulate in Karachi.

Germany, he said, had been having the refugee problem for a long time with refugees from North Africa, and now the focus was on those from Syria, with Germany and the UK being the main targets. “It is important for us to get support for the refugees. We have to see that they are treated in a fair manner,” he said.

The Turkish consul general lamented that countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar showed no responsiveness to the issue.

In reply to a question as to how far the laws had succeeded in dealing with the issue, he said that now they had a legal framework in place and there was a special directorate constituted to deal with the problem.

Müller said, “We have to get into a dialogue with the governments from where the displaced persons come. Germany had been dealing with the problem for a long time. Economic reasons do not constitute grounds for asylum. As for those who seek asylum, we expect them to assimilate in German society and adopt Germany as their homeland and its culture as theirs.”

Another participant pointed out that unless the underlying factors behind the refugee problem were tackled, there could be no end to the phenomenon and asked as to whether there could be a global strategy to deal with the issue, to which both the Turkish consul general and the German deputy head of mission agreed.

The Turkish consul general informed the participants that the Turkish government had set up 2,000 camps, but apart from these there were private ones too.

Müller said the camps had to adjust to different needs. It had to be seen to that a camp did not like a camp, and you have to get the refugees out of a place that looks like a camp. According to him:

We have to give utmost consideration to religious identity. We are endeavouring to make Muslim refugees feel at home in Germany culturally. However, the refugees have to adapt to their new surroundings too. Anybody who wants to live in Germany must get it that he’s living in his own country. They have to take up the German lifestyle.

A number of questioners asked if it was likely that the Ottoman Empire could be revived, to which the Turkish consul general replied that the thought of the Ottoman Empire was good for nostalgia but conditions had changed and these were not the days of an empire.

Editor Analysis and Comment

Bewildered by the dehumanising way in which British and European politicians have reacted to persecuted people seeking sanctuary, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently drew parallels with 1938 when the free western world limited its intake of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and arguably even contributed to the Holocaust. David Cameron’s “swarm” remarks and Theresa May’s maxim that immigration makes it “impossible to build a cohesive society” seemed to be at the forefront of his thoughts but he did not name and shame them out of politeness. (The plain truth is captured by the suffering of refugees caught up in the horror of the Calais refugee camp who say: “We feel like we are dying slowly”.) The UN official therefore urged a closer examination of history and thought that the use of language, even the use of the word “migrants”, made it appear “as if they don’t have rights.” Protesting that “these are human beings”, Al Hussein called upon wealthy European countries to produce a blueprint for the intake of one million Syrian refugees over the next five years.

However, Al Hussein’s concerns have not produced the effect that one would wish and the picture in Europe is looking bleak because most countries affected by the refugee crisis are responding by closing their borders. As noted, Hungary has closed its border with Serbia and Croatia. Austria has announced that it will close its Speilfeld border crossing with Slovenia. Moreover, Slovenia’s prime minister Miro Cerar has said that his country will immediately build a fence on the border with Croatia. Slovakia is also building a fence on its southern border with Hungary. Meanwhile hundreds of Syrian and Palestinian refugees can be heard protesting at a British base in Cyprus, some of those detained have made comparisons to Guantánamo and say:

Let us leave. We are people, not animals.

As is well known, German chancellor Angela Merkel has made herself the “mother” of the world’s refugees. Despite the pledge to absorb 800,000 people (a figure looking increasingly outdated with 181,000 arriving in October alone) by the new year, she came under heavy fire for her soft approach to refugees and Hungary’s hard line fence building prime minister Viktor Orban.

Merkel also has misunderstandings with members of her cabinet such as interior minister Thomas de Maizière and (the influential) finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble who have vowed to change the family reunion rules for Syrian asylum seekers. As noted de Maizière wants limited asylum or subsidiary protection and Schäuble backs his bid, he explained: “Of course we have to limit family reunification, because our capacity is not unlimited.” As already observed above, Merkel faces mutiny within her own party and has had to block an unauthorised attempt to stop family reunification and these key ministers are unhappy with her stance. All this comes off the heels of Merkel having removed refugee policy from the remit of the interior ministry (owing to mishandling matters) and having replaced the oversight of these functions with her refugee coordinator Peter Altmaier. De Maizière’s moves have been dubbed an “attempted coup” but Altmaier said that it was only a “brief irritation” – one which he learned of through a furious phone call from deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, as de Maizière had taken unannounced action and failed to inform the chancellery of his intentions. Indeed, even after all that, de Maizière has renewed his intention to reintroduce the application of the Dublin III regulation which will effectively allow Germany to deport Syrian refugees from Germany and it has been reported that (12 November 2015, see here and here):

Germany plans to send back Syrians to the first country they entered Europe -except for Greece. It appears Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to rewind and end the suspension of the Dublin regulation.

This is not surprising because racism and anti-Muslim sentiment are soaring in Germany and, as noted above, some states such as Bavaria initially refused to follow Berlin’s diktat. Some days ago, the chancellor has rejected the processing of asylum claims in special transit zones – dubbed “uncontrollable detention zones” by the SPD party – on Germany’s borders. Overall, these events demonstrate the tensions inherent between the “refugees welcome”/“open door” or Willkommenskultur policy and the hawkish position espoused by politicians such as Horst Seehofer (premier of Bavaria) of the junior CSU party who is in a ruling coalition with Merkel’s larger/senior CDU party but wants a tougher approach to deal with the refugee crisis. (Bavaria is the entry point for large numbers of refugees into Germany and Orban and Seehofer are united in what they see as Merkel’s “big mistake”.)

Instead of the  special transit zones, Germany will set up special “reception centres” set up with fast-track procedures for those deemed unsuitable to be granted asylum. Varying degrees of spin were applied to the decision and the Guardian reported this to be “an unusual defeat for the centre-right and a victory for Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader and vice-chancellor.” Critics of Merkel’s Willkommenskultur policy are at pains to point out that German municipal governments are struggling to arrange accommodation for the large numbers of refugees arriving; they also say that Germany does not have the capability in schools to integrate refugee children who have no knowledge of German. Equally, large questions loom over whether so many Muslims can be absorbed into German society where sexual equality and free speech are cultural keystones.

Notably, the EU border agency Frontex estimates that 710,000 asylum seekers entered the EU during the first nine months of 2015, an increase of 282,000 in comparison to 2014. Moreover, in its Closing the Back Door to Europe report, the New York Times notes that, if anything, the unilateral uncoordinated actions of EU countries are magnifying the suffering of the refugees. Frontex figures also show that 170,155 migrants entered the EU from April to June 2015 and the figure included 54,923 Syrians, 31,022 Afghans, 17,440 Eritreans, 7,793 Pakistanis, 7436 Nigerians, 6,292 Somalis, 5,321 Iraqis, 3,511 Sundanese, 2,885 Albanians whereas 33,531 entrants remained unspecified.

Undaunted, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said that his government is “altogether in a position to manage this challenge” in the wake of the European Commission’s prediction that 3 million people will arrive in the EU by 2017 and the Commission thinks that the large inflow of migrants/refugees into Germany may trigger a 0.7 per cent increase in GDP by the year 2020. In light of the new EU figures, British Justine Greening International Development Secretary has raised alarms that Europe’s migrant crisis is likely to last for 20 years. However, in a similar vein to the Commission, describing migration as an economic boon, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) explained that:

There is a growing realisation that migration has the potential not only to play a positive role in the economic and social development of destination countries, but in origin countries, too, as migrants return with skills and money.

Insofar as British are concerned and their empty promises are concerned, it is noteworthy that the Cameron government has even managed to offend the Church of England which wanted 10 Downing Street to do more in order to ease the plight of refugees as this would be the only good and Christian thing to do. Consequently, 84 bishops are unhappy that the government ignored their proposal to provide accommodation, care and support for 50,000 refugees so that a “meaningful and substantial response” can be provided to the continuing “moral crisis”.

Furthermore, Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative for international migration has argued that the refugee crisis represents a “moral challenge” for Britain and he has warned the Cameron government to face up to the issue that “defines a generation”. Sutherland, the former attorney general of Ireland, was concerned about vulnerable people freezing to death with their children and he considers it “insane” that countries think that they can isolate themselves in order to find a way out of the crisis. “This is not a transient issue. It challenges the moral fabric of the societies we live in,” he said.

According to UNHCR, despite rough weather conditions, from 23-29 October 2015 Greece witnessed 42,425 refugees and migrants arriving by sea. The refugee agency explained that that October accounted for 33 per cent of the total arrivals in 2015 and an increase of Afghan arrivals (now said to be 40 per cent of all arrivals in Lesbos) and families with young children has been observed and is probably attributable to the resurgence of the Taliban and the drawdown of western troops in that country.

Posted by Editor.


Filed under Afghanistan, Discussion, Europe, Immigration, Migration, PIIA, Politics

5 responses to “Discussing Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Diplomats Address PIIA Members

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