It was one year ago that Germany began to feel the full impact of the refugee crisis, with the first trains of refugees arriving at the Munich train station. It was clear from the outset that Germany had to assume responsibility in the crisis, and so we did.
The refugee crisis is highly complex and there is no single lever we can pull, no magic wand we can wave in order to solve it. Instead, we have to work continuously on many different levels. There are the root causes, such as the civil war in Syria or the often desperate situation in some African countries; there are joint European efforts to address the crisis; and there is the situation on the ground in Germany itself. Overall, I think, the circumstances have much improved since last September, when the refugees began arriving in Germany.
Addressing the root causes is probably by far the hardest part of solving the refugee crisis. In Syria, the fragile ceasefire, mainly brokered by the U.S., might provide a new opportunity for the Syrian people, although caution is advised. At a donor conference in London this year, the international community raised $11 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees residing in, among other places, Jordan and Lebanon. Germany pledged $2.5 billion at that conference.
On the European level, solidarity among the member states is still not as strong as we would like it to be, but Germany will continue to press for more cooperation within the EU. A central part of the EU effort has been the refugee agreement with Turkey, which has significantly brought down the numbers of refugees arriving in Europe. The EU has now particularly focused on the situation in Africa. It has established a close cooperation on migration issues with Niger, a country through which 90 percent of the refugees boarding boats in Libya pass. The European border protection agency, Frontex, has been completely reformed over the last year and can now help protect the EU's external borders much more effectively.
Germany took in 1.1 million refugees in 2015. This has been a great challenge, but Germany has lived up to it and the situation has improved on many levels compared with one year ago:
Asylum procedures have been expedited. This August, Germany adjudicated the applications of 57,000 people, more than three times the number as in August of last year. Hundreds of additional employees were hired to process applications more swiftly.
Contrary to what some populists claim, the security situation in Germany remains stable as well. Crimes committed by migrants dropped by more than 36 percent between January and June of 2016. And many of the crimes were more of the petty sort, such as attempting to ride a train or bus without a ticket. The crime rate is especially low among refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the countries from which most new refugees in Germany come.
The main challenge, of course, remains integration - this is why Germany is now providing courses for refugees to help them integrate into society, learn the German language, and find employment. At the same time, refusal to join integration courses will lead to cuts in benefits for refugees.
Overall, we have achieved a lot in the last 12 months - internationally, on a European level, and in Germany itself. But the refugee crisis is far from over and still needs enormous efforts. Germany will continue to stand by its commitment and do its share, internationally, in Europe, and at home, because it is our humanitarian obligation to do so.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of two critical conferences at the UN on the Refugee and Migrant crisis: the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants (Sept. 19th, a UN conference) and the Leaders Summit on Refugees (Sept. 20th, hosted by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, at the UN). To see all the posts in the series, visit here. To follow the conversation on Twitter, see #UN4RefugeesMigrants.