Effectively combating the causes of migration
Lack of prospects is the reason why many refugees make their way to Europe. It is what policymakers are focusing on to combat the causes of flight and migration.
Ms Grzeski, you are the head of the new Coordination Staff for Refugees and Migration that was set up at the Federal Foreign Office in 2015. What does your job involve?
We found that the subject of refugees and migrants affects almost all departments of the Federal Foreign Office: not only European policy and humanitarian assistance, but also international cultural relations and education policy. The new team therefore aims to coordinate all the activities of the Federal Foreign Office in the field of refugee and migration policy. Communication with our embassies in the countries of origin and transit is a key to appraising the situation and developing possible solutions to the crisis. In addition, we represent the Federal Foreign Office on migration questions at Federal Government coordination meetings and also in preparations for international conferences such as the Valletta Summit on Migration of the European Union (EU) and African states.
An especially large number of people from Syria are fleeing to Germany. Rapid successes in combating the causes of migration are highly unlikely. Which goals has German foreign policy set itself for the Middle East region with regard to the refugee question?
Initially, of course, the focus is on stabilising the situation in Syria. We are working hard on that. In recent months, Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier has conducted countless, often difficult discussions in Riad, Teheran, Ankara, Beirut, Amman and Vienna. A small glimmer of hope has now appeared for the first time here as a result of the talks in Vienna. People’s experience of hopelessness and especially the lack of educational opportunities for their children play a great role in the decision to set off to Europe in spite of the great dangers involved. This is something we are addressing with our long-term support for the people of the region. In the short term, German embassies in countries of origin and transit have launched education campaigns to counter idealised views of the situation in Europe.
How important are meetings like the Syria talks in Vienna at the end of October 2015? Will it be possible to implement its decisions?
Finally, after five years of civil war and over 250,000 deaths, progress is being made in the struggle for a solution. At the end of October in Vienna, all the international actors we need for an answer sat down together at one table for the first time. This shows that the serious effort to break out of the vicious circle of violence and chaos is paying off. There has also been a first understanding on the path to a de-escalation of the conflict. Of course, all this is just a beginning. Hopefully, however, it is the start of a political process that takes us closer to a settlement of the conflict.
Different strategies are clearly required to reduce migration from the African countries that large numbers of people are leaving in search of a new future in Europe. What political measures are being taken here?
At the Valletta Summit in mid-November there was agreement between the government leaders of the EU and 33 African states that this challenge can only be mastered together – namely by not only combating the causes of migration and strengthening the protection of refugees, but also taking action against irregular migration. It is important here to support voluntary returnees by developing long-term prospects in their home countries. It is also important that young people receive training opportunities. For this purpose, for example, we can now use money from the new EU Emergency Trust Fund launched in Valletta.
However, combating the causes of migration so that people are not forced to leave their home countries because of need and hardship is not a new task of German diplomacy and development cooperation. Have any of the initiatives to reduce migration been successful, in your view?
Local conditions force people to flee – above all, the lack of security and communal order. If we can change these conditions, people will also find renewed hopes for a future in their home country. Let us take a current example: in Iraq, following the liberation of the city of Tikrit from the IS terrorists, rapid assistance make it possible to soon restore basic supplies to the city. This contributed to roughly 80% of the inhabitants returning to Tikrit.
False ideas about the supposed “European paradise” frequently prevail in countries of origin. How can they be countered?
We attempt to neutralise the many rumours and the false information that is deliberately spread by criminal traffickers by organising education campaigns to give refugees in the most important countries of origin and transit a realistic picture of the chances of acceptance and conditions in Germany. The goal is to prevent people in already difficult situations setting off with idealistic impressions and false expectations. We rely on different channels here: ranging from interviews by our ambassadors and megaphone announcements in front of the embassy in Beirut to daily tweets and posts on social media. In Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, for example, we put up large billboards with the text “Leaving Afghanistan – are you sure? Thought it through?” to make sure migration is not a spontaneous decision.
The refugee problem is the subject of intense and controversial debate in Europe. In reality, however, most refugees do not find sanctuary in prosperous Western countries, but, for example, in Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and Turkey. What support is specifically provided for these countries?
Turkey is a key state in overcoming the current refugee crisis. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria it has taken in over 2.2 million refugees and is an important transit country for refugees to the EU. Here and in Syria’s neighbouring countries – for example, Lebanon and Jordan – we turn to our proven partners for humanitarian assistance, such as the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR or the German Red Cross. The involvement of local partners is important here in facilitating the acceptance of refugees on the spot. This is where projects in the areas of crisis prevention and conflict regulation make a start. Our projects – for example, in the areas of food supply and school education – aim to achieve an improvement in life situations and enable refugees to again live dignified and independent lives.
How does Germany want and how is it able to influence the asylum, refugee and migration policy of the European Union?
The refugee crisis is a common responsibility that affects everyone in Europe. It cannot be solved by building fences. Instead it is a matter of coordinating European asylum policy rules and strengthening the European border protection agency Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which do not have enough personnel for the current crisis situation. We have always attached great importance to securing EU external borders. In addition, all incoming refugees should be registered and checked there in so-called hotspots before they can continue on their way. Here, however, countries like Italy and Greece need support from the EU and the other member states.
Will the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 have consequences for your work?
After the attacks in Paris we should not make the mistake of mixing the two topics of the fight against terrorism, on one hand, and refugees and migration, on the other. The threat to our security and freedom comes from Islamist terrorists and not from people who have fled from precisely these terrorist organisations, such as IS, and are now seeking protection. Against the background of the horrific events in Paris, however, we in Europe must work together to ensure that terrorists cannot abuse the flows of refugees for their purposes.
How optimistic are you that the enormous migratory pressure on Europe will decrease in the near future?
In view of the scale of current refugee movements it is almost impossible to make assumptions about how the numbers will change in the future. As a rule, in previous years numbers of refugees have decreased slightly in winter. It is clear that the Federal Government is undertaking intense efforts to reduce the migratory pressure. In Germany the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is working at full steam to speed up asylum procedures and to integrate people who are entitled to asylum into society faster or return those who not entitled to protection. When the political stabilisation measures in the crisis regions and the long-term migration projects in the countries of origin take effect, fewer people will decide to flee their homes and the flow of people to Europe will decrease again. ▪
Commissioner for Refugees and Migration at the Federal Foreign Office
Interview: Janet Schayan