The admission and reception of asylum seekers will remain a central political challenge in Germany. For 2015, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees expects to receive 450,000 asylum applications.
Currently, the major common European challenge regarding questions of asylum and refugee policy continues to be the comprehensive implementation of standards laid down in EU law, in the Geneva Refugee Convention, and the European Convention on Human Rights, in order to guarantee effective humanitarian protection in all Member States. In this respect, both the individual Member States and the EU as a whole have a great deal of responsibility for international refugees seeking protection. In this context, the Common European Asylum System II is a step in the right direction, because it promises to raise protection standards in those EU countries where they have previously been low.
Search and Rescue Operations in the Mediterranean
After the maritime disaster near Lampedusa on 3 October 2013, in which more than 350 people lost their lives trying to reach Europe from the Libyan coast, the Italian government initiated the humanitarian sea rescue operation “Mare Nostrum.” For almost one year the Italian navy patrolled most of the southern Mediterranean and rescued more than 100,000 people, according to their own information.
Access to Refugee Protection in the EU
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees the right to humanitarian refugee protection. In the common asylum legislation, however, there is no mechanism that facilitates entry to EU territory for asylum seekers. Instead, the general visa provisions apply to asylum seekers as well. People seeking protection originate predominantly from countries whose citizens need a visa to enter the EU. Often, however, they do not meet the prerequisites to be issued a visa. Therefore, they have to try to enter EU territory illegally, and often risk their lives in doing so (see section on search and rescue operations). Increased controls of the EU’s external borders have aggravated this problem. A central challenge for the EU therefore lies in offering people who seek refuge safe access to humanitarian protection in Europe, including but not limited to the individual right of asylum.
Such protected entry procedures, which would allow people to claim asylum in an embassy, or apply for a humanitarian visa, involve some risks, however: Officials working in consulates and embassies would need to conduct a sort of preliminary examination of the applicant’s right to asylum, without being trained to do this. It also remains unclear how politically persecuted persons could effectively get access to legal counsel and support. Particularly in times of large numbers of asylum claims, there is hardly any realistic chance that these approaches will be implemented.
The coming years will reveal to what extent the EU is able to substantially extend the common resettlement program, which is coordinated in cooperation with UNHCR and aims at resettling recognized refugees living in overburdened third states to the EU. From 2010 to 2014, only about 5,000 resettlement places were offered EU-wide per annum, 90 percent of these by Member States that already have long-standing resettlement programs as a central instrument of refugee protection (UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark).
Mutual Recognition of Asylum Decisions
The Common European Asylum System II provides a solid platform for the harmonization of asylum decision-making, accommodation and procedural standards. So far, however, EU Member States have made virtually no progress in the mutual recognition of residence permits: Persons entitled to either asylum or subsidiary protection may only reside in the country that granted protection. There is no mechanism for the mutual recognition of national decisions on asylum (and thus no mechanism for transferring the responsibility to protect) if a person granted some form of protection settles in another Member State. In accordance with the EU Qualification Directive, they can be issued an EU-wide permanent residence permit only after five years of residence,
Fairness and Solidarity among Member States
Another challenge lies in the lack of intra-European solidarity when it comes to taking the necessary responsibility that a large number of people seeking protection implies. In fact, the Commission, Council and Parliament, referring to the principle of solidarity laid down in the EU Treaties, have repeatedly advocated a common asylum system that adheres to this principle.
The Regulation does not provide for mandatory burden and responsibility sharing. There is only an early warning mechanism, which is meant to detect any critical overloading of national asylum systems in advance, and to help deal with this situation in cooperation with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) (see info box on EASO). When the strategic guidelines for the EU's domestic policy were passed in summer 2014, the EU Council once again stressed the need for European solutions to common challenges, as well as the principle of internal solidarity and fair burden-sharing.
Legal Migration, Foreign Policy and Development Cooperation
A decisive factor for future European asylum policy will be the extent to which the EU can take pressure off Member States' asylum systems, and initiate additional political measures to better differentiate between people seeking protection and other migrants. In this context, the eradication of causes of flight presents the most complex challenge. A promising approach is so-called mobility partnerships, agreement-based cooperations with selected third countries, which combine the goals of both migration policy and development policy. At best, mobility partnerships lead to a "triple win" situation:
(1) Third-country citizens are provided with a legal alternative to an asylum procedure and therefore a chance to temporarily reside in Europe;
(2) The countries of origin receive development support in their difficult transition period, with remittances and technology transfer fostering economic growth;
(3) Finally, mobility partnerships are an additional instrument to counteract skill shortages in European host countries.
In addition to migration and development-oriented policies, there is also a need for approaches driven by foreign, economic and trade policy. This means providing potential migrants with better information about existing legal channels of migration, e.g. for specialists and skilled workers. Better information may prevent illegal, dangerous and (because of the fees paid to smugglers) expensive attempts to enter the EU in order to claim asylum there.
Integrating Immigrants and Utilizing Their Potential
Like all EU States, Germany can expect to continue to be a destination for people seeking protection, and it should prepare for temporarily or even permanently hosting large numbers of refugees. In view of this, it makes sense to offer integration measures (such as language courses and vocational training) early on. It also makes sense to recognize the potential of immigration: aging societies like those of the EU should make greater efforts to utilize and promote the potential, talents and skills of refugees. This is because refugees are generally much younger than the local population, and may help to counteract skill shortages and overall demographic risks, under the condition of their successful integration into society. In this context, a central and ongoing challenge will be to maintain and strengthen the acceptance of refugee admission within the local population.
This text is part of the policy brief