Resolving the refugee problem at European level

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Franco-German initiative Resolving the refugee problem at European level

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande have presented specific proposals on how Europe could deal with the rising influx of refugees. The letter, which they have addressed to the EU institutions, lays out concrete measures including a "long-term and mandatory mechanism" to divide refugees among individual member states.

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Some of the key points laid out in the Franco-German initiative include the establishment of registration units in Italy and Greece, agreement within the EU on a common list of safe countries of origin, and a mandatory mechanism to allocate refugees to the individual member states.

The aim is to achieve an EU-wide solution to dealing with the rising tide of refugees. Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have laid out their initiative in a letter to the European institutions.

The letter includes specific proposals to resolve the current situation, underlined federal government spokesperson Steffen Seibert on Friday (4 September 2015) at the government press conference. Most of the proposals relate to standardised registration, reception and distribution of refugees, and to fighting criminal human traffickers.

One goal – accelerated processing of requests for asylum

The planned registration centres in Greece and Italy could be up and running by the end of this year at the latest. The European Commission should also explore the possibility of setting up additional centres in other EU member states. A common list of safe countries of origin is also urgently needed. "We believe that a list of this sort will help us speed up and standardise the processing of requests for asylum," said Steffen Seibert. Multifunction centres are also needed in the major countries of origin and in transit countries to provide migrants with information about their chances of being granted asylum and protection. Steffen Seibert mentioned Niger, in West Africa, as one possible location for a centre of this sort.

Dublin III still applies

On Wednesday (2 September) Steffen Seibert underlined the fact that the refugee problem is one for the whole of Europe. The Dublin Regulation applies to all countries, he said.

The Dublin Regulation stipulates, among other things, that asylum-seekers must be registered in the country through which they first enter the European Union. The procedures put in place under the Regulation determine which country is responsible for the application for asylum. This is designed to ensure that the facts of each application for asylum are verified by only one member state. An interview is conducted with the applicant to determine which member state is responsible.

Should it emerge that the application for asylum must be processed by another member state, a request is submitted to that state to assume or resume responsibility for examining the application. Where this state agrees, the applicant is informed. Then the member states will generally agree on the details of the transfer. The procedure is based on the Dublin III Regulation.

The Regulation stipulates that asylum-seekers must submit an application for asylum in the EU member state through which they first entered the EU. Registration and processing of the request for asylum must also be undertaken in that country.

Spirit of solidarity in the EU

"We are working to help Europe achieve common solutions in a spirit of solidarity," said Steffen Seibert. However, it is plain to see that some countries are currently ignoring certain aspects of Dublin III.

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees had earlier decided that Syrians requesting asylum would not generally be returned to other member states of the European Union. Refugees who had already arrived in other signatory states of the Dublin Regulation were thus able to continue to Germany without any further obstruction. This triggered public debate about compliance with the Dublin Regulation.

Fundamental right to asylum

Steffen Seibert made it quite clear that "Germany has not suspended Dublin. The Dublin Regulation is still the applicable law." The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has merely simplified procedures.

The fundamental right to asylum is one of the most important principles that must guide our action in this situation. We have a clear commitment to the right to asylum, as laid out in the German Basic Law or constitution, said Steffen Seibert.

Changes to the law should be implemented swiftly

This week Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced that decisions would be taken swiftly on the refugee issue. Changes to the law are to be dealt with together as an overall package. He also expanded on this in the German television programme "Was nun, Herr de Maizière ?" (What now Mr de Maizière) broadcast on ZDF.

The package is to be adopted by the Coalition Committee this coming Sunday (6 September) and by the meeting of federal and state governments on 24 September. The entire legislative procedure is to be wound up by the end of October. "The timetable is ambitious," said Thomas de Maizière, but he stressed, "We have no time to lose. Swift decisions are needed."

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Berlin

The current situation in the European Union was also on the agenda when Chancellor Angela Merkel met Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for talks on Monday (31 August). They also discussed the situation in Ukraine, Libya and Syria.

Much of their time was taken up by European policy on asylum-seekers. A common policy on asylum must be enforced, said the Chancellor. Member states and the European Commission have a responsibility here.

Fair distribution of refugees within Europe

Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of a common European asylum policy. "We agree that the common European asylum policy must be enforced." The Commission should identify safe countries of origin and set up joint registration centres in Greece and Italy.

Migrants who are not granted the right to stay should be returned to their home countries, said Angela Merkel. There is agreement that, "refugees fleeing wars should be divided fairly among the various EU member states on the basis of the economic strength and performance of each member state". This is a shared position, she said.

Germany can learn from Switzerland

In terms of the speed of processing requests for asylum, Germany can learn from Switzerland’s experience, stressed the Chancellor when she met with Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga on Thursday (3 September). Angela Merkel pointed out that Switzerland’s procedure has been very successful, with registration centres for refugees, and the distribution of recognised asylum-seekers among the country’s cantons.

Mandatory quotas

The two countries also agreed that mandatory quotas for refugees must be introduced in the European Union. In this context Angela Merkel pointed to the position shared by France and Germany regarding fixed quotas for the fair allocation of refugees to the various EU member states.

Joining forces to combat xenophobia

Germany, said the Chancellor, is doing what is morally and legally right – no more and no less. EU states such as Sweden, Austria and Germany cannot be left alone with the problem, however.

Following their talks, Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga thanked Chancellor Angela Merkel for her open and frank statements on rabble-rousing, hatred and xenophobia. She stressed the common ground between the two countries and underlined their shared values.

Following her talks with the Swiss President, the Chancellor was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Berne.