BERLIN -- Europe is facing a great challenge for our generation. Never before have so many people fled political persecution and war as today. Many of them are seeking refuge here with us in Europe. In view of the crises in our neighborhood, we must assume that this could remain the case for years. And as Europeans, we owe it to ourselves and to the world to help them.
One thing is clear: the response so far does not meet the standards that Europe must set for itself. The EU cannot put this off any longer -- we need to act now. We must therefore pursue a European asylum, refugee and migration policy that is founded on the principle of solidarity and our shared values of humanity.
Ten points must urgently be addressed in this regard:
- Humane conditions must prevail throughout the EU wherever refugees are received. For this, we need EU-wide standards that are followed in every member state.
- We must guarantee a common European code of asylum, so that asylum status is valid throughout the EU and the conditions for receiving it are stable across member states.
- We need a fair distribution of refugees in Europe. German citizens are helping to receive and integrate refugees into our society as never before. But this solidarity will only be maintained in the long term if people see that the refugee crisis is being approached fairly throughout Europe. A state of affairs in which only a handful of member states shoulder the entire burden -- as happens today -- is just as unsustainable as a system which forces the countries on the EU's outer border to take the strain alone. We must therefore reform the Dublin Convention immediately, and find a way of creating binding and objective refugee quotas which take into account the ability of all member states to bear them.
- Europe also needs a common approach to managing its borders, which cannot be merely restricted to securing our frontiers. Above all, we need more European responsibility for registering and looking after newly arrived refugees.
- We must provide immediate assistance to the EU countries that are currently under particular strain. Germany is the only EU country to have made available emergency funds to improve the situation of refugees on the Greek islands. The EU and its member states must become more efficient in this area and quickly offer the countries which first receive refugees practical and financial support. For us in Germany, we must ensure that the municipal authorities are able to cope with the influx. In order to do this, we must provide them with lasting and systematic financial support.
- We cannot stand idly by and watch people risk their lives trying to get to us. The Mediterranean Sea cannot be a mass grave for desperate refugees. Europe's humanitarian legacy, indeed our European view of humanity, are hanging in the balance. With this in mind, we launched enormous concerted efforts to organize marine rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea in the spring. But we must consolidate these efforts across Europe, and equip the EU with the required capacities.
- At the same time, we can only help genuine refugees if those who are not entitled to asylum do eventually return to their countries of origin. For this, we must make readmission a key priority of our relations with the countries of origin, and also be prepared to make technical and financial support for these counties contingent on constructive cooperation. Existing incentives such as visa facilitations could be expanded.
- We must come to an EU-wide understanding as to which nations we consider safe to return people to. All countries of the western Balkans aim to join the EU, and we have good cause to extend to them the prospect of accession to the community. By the same token, this means that we cannot treat them as persecuting countries at the same time. In the future, a country that fulfills the criteria to be an EU accession candidate should be considered throughout the EU to be a safe country of origin.
- Germany needs an immigration act. We need a prudent, controlled immigration policy that facilitates lawful stays for the purposes of employment. We must reduce the burden on the asylum system in this area. Other countries may wish to follow suit.
- Finally, a comprehensive European asylum, refugee and migration policy also requires new political initiatives to fight the causes of flight in the countries of the Middle East and Africa. Stabilizing failing states and curbing violence and civil war must go hand in hand with concentrated efforts to achieve economic development and create genuine economic and social prospects -- especially for young people in the countries of origin. All of the international community's efforts, above all those of the European Union and the United Nations, must be focused with the utmost intensity on this aim.
This piece was previously published by the German government.
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