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Are Germany and the EU prepared for a new influx of refugees?

Thousands are stranded on the Greek-Turkish border. Some have drawn parallels to the 2015 crisis but both Berlin and Brussels reject the comparison. DW breaks down what’s changed since then, and where problems remain.

Thousands of migrants and refugees have gathered at the Turkish-Greek border, desperate to make it into the European Union. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Europe to share the migrant “burden.” Some now are drawing parallels to the 2015 migrant influx, saying the past few weeks have felt like deja vu — but whether the EU is any better prepared than it was five years ago remains to be seen.

What happened in 2015?

At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016, Germany took in around 1 million asylum-seekers — many fleeing conflicts in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and who were looking for safety in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to rally the country with the phrase: “We can do this” (“Wir schaffen das”).  Thousands of volunteers nationwide stepped up to support the new arrivals — but the rallying cry rang hollow to border authorities and local officials who were swamped and felt unsupported.

“The problem in 2015 was that the countries in southern Europe simply waved through unregistered refugees and sent them in the direction of northern Europe,” Heiko Teggatz, the head of the federal police union, told DW. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

The authorities who registered the new arrivals and took on their cases lacked not only personnel, but key equipment. As recently as 2017, nearly 40% of the immigration offices in Germany lacked technical equipment used for identification — with many names incorrectly spelled in the system and fingerprints attributed to the wrong person.

Much of the work fell to Germany’s nearly 11,000 municipalities, who were responsible for housing as well as integrating the new arrivals. Due to a lack of space, many asylum-seekers were placed in makeshift centers built from shipping containers, or housed in gymnasiums.

“From the perspective of the municipalities, a situation like the one in 2015 should not be repeated,” Alexander Handschuh, the spokesperson for the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, said. “That would lead to an overload.”

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What’s changed in Germany since then?

Although many stepped up to help during the crisis in 2015, the arrival of refugees and the bureaucratic chaos that ensued also fed into the rise of right-wing populism in Germany. In 2017, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) garnered enough support to enter the German parliament for the first time after campaigning on an anti-immigration platform.

Five years later, Merkel stands by her decision and says it was necessary to avert a humanitarian crisis, but she also says that “mistakes” were made in the way it way handled.

New systems and personnel have helped Germany’s towns and municipalities become better prepared to handle new arrivals — up to a certain point. Cross-border cooperation within the EU has also improved, including the creation of a central data bank which stores the fingerprints of asylum-seekers.

The German government has also since pushed for increased security at the country’s borders, with around 3,000 to 5,000 officers. Teggatz told DW that the police powers have also been expanded so that officers are also now allowed to use pepper spray and water cannons to deter “unauthorized border crossings.”

Infografik Flüchtlingsrouten nach Europa EN

Where does the EU stand?

Politically, things have taken a turn to the right. Efforts to come up with an EU-wide asylum policy have failed, with countries including Hungary and Poland rejecting efforts to distribute migrants equally among member states. “Hot spotarrival points in Greece and Italy remain under pressure, with authorities there arguing that they’ve been left alone by Brussels.

An EU project following the developments over the past few years came to the conclusion that in response to the situation in 2015, governments enacted “very restrictive measures” to discourage migrants and refugees.

READ  Gambian returnee migrants tackle COVID-19 head-on

“Nothing has really changed for the better since 2015,” Professor Sabine Hess, one of the project leaders and a cultural anthropologist at the University of Göttingen, told DW.

Hess noted that politicians have only been able to come up with ideas on bolstering the borders “instead of thinking about the global problems that cause people to flee.”

What is the EU-Turkey refugee accord and is it still active?

In a bid to prevent another wave of migration into Europe, the EU and Turkey signed a deal in 2016 to regulate the flow of migrants. Under the agreement, Turkey agreed to prevent human traffickers from sending refugees to the EU and to take back Syrian refugees who arrived in Greece.

In exchange, Brussels agreed that for every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, another would be resettled in the bloc. The EU also agreed to provide Ankara with financial assistance and speed up EU accession talks, as well as loosening visa requirements and extending the customs union.

Under the deal, migrant arrivals in the EU dropped off significantly compared to the situation in 2015 and in 2016.

Since then, the EU has either already paid or has budgeted around €6 billion ($6.7 billion) in financial aid and projects for the around 3.6 million Syrian refugees who are being hosted by Turkey. Ankara has regularly complained that the EU has not held up its part of the bargain, and that payments have been slow. Due to concerns about rule of law in Turkey, the EU has also not yet followed through on membership talks or loosening visa requirements.

When Erdogan announced his country’s borders with the EU were open over the weekend, many viewed the move as a signal that the deal was off.

However, both Germany and the EU said this week that they continue to operate under the assumption that the deal with Turkey is still being implemented — although they’ve strongly criticized the move.

READ  The stories of migrants risking everything for a better life

Both France and Austria have slammed Turkey for “blackmailing” the EU, while Merkel said it was “completely unacceptable” that Turkey is using refugees as political pawns.

What role is Frontex playing?

Since the mass arrival of asylum-seekers in 2015, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency — or Frontex — has played an increasingly important role in the EU’s refugee policies.

“After the crisis of 2015, a pool of officers for rapid intervention was created, and that’s the pool we’re drawing on right now to deploy in Greece — both at the sea border and at the land border,” Frontex spokesperson Ewa Moncure told DW.

This week, Greece requested additional support from Frontex, which helps member states patrol the external borders of the European Schengen Area.

The German government said this week that it will send 20 additional officers to support Greek authorities at the border as well as an amphibious helicopter. There are currently 60 German federal police officers taking part in Frontex operations in Greece.

Frontex is also building up its own standing corps after a new regulation went into effect in 2019, with the agency getting a massive budget boost amounting to €1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) in the coming year.

“We are still using the old mechanism that is used for the rapid deployment — but in the future that will be more flexible,” Moncure said.

Source: DW

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  13 stranded Nigerians return from Germany, Canada, France

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

READ  Denials, abandonment trail deportation of Nigerians from Germany

UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  UNHCR seeks support for refugees, hosts in Ethiopia

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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