Event ReportsPublished on Sep 29, 2015
The current refugee crisis in Europe is unlikely to end soon as one third of Syria's 20 million population are potential migrants, if the situation in the country itself will not change, says Jakob von Weizsaecker, Member of the European Parliament.
No end likely soon to European refugee crisis

Member of the European Parliament, Jakob von Weizsaecker, thinks that the current refugee crisis in Europe is unlikely to end soon.

Speaking at a talk on 'The EU refugee crisis and its policy implications’, organised by Observer Research Foundation on 25 September 2015, von Weizsaecker gave a comprehensive overview of the current situation, highlighting the most common migration route as well as the rising figures. Over one million migrants are expected to reach Germany in 2015 alone, which very well justifies the term crisis.

von Weizsaecker pointed out that while the origin of migrants is diverse, the fastest growing share is constituted by Syrian refugees. As their country is in a state of war, almost all Syrian refugees are granted political asylum in Europe, other than asylum seekers from countries like Albania, whose chances to be given asylum is near to none.

von Weizsaecker said as Syria has a population of over 20 million people and one third of them are potential migrants, the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe is likely to continue for the years to come if the situation in country itself will not change. And, that is why the EU faces a potentially large and long term migration process.

von Weizsaecker argued that this is not necessarily bad. In contrast to India, the EU faces a lack of young people. As most asylum seekers are young, they might help to alleviate the problems of ageing European societies, although labour market integration takes time. This is why Europe should seize the opportunity and also focus on policies for controlled migration of high skilled labour, said von Weizsaecker.

Discussing potential strategies to ease the developing tensions inside the EU, von Weizsaecker argued that a stable situation inside the EU can only be achieved through a common response. This includes an even distribution of migrants and intensified border controls, implemented by the European border agency Frontex. Only this can guarantee open borders inside the Schengen area. There will be, of course, a fiscal impact which is not negligible: A minimum of 12 billion Euro for one million arriving migrants can be expected.

Coming to the end of his talk, von Weizsaecker highlighted the key challenges the EU faces today: To sustain the European welfare state for all, without distinction between migrant and non-¬migrant; the challenge of integration, which also can be phrased a ’cultural challenge’; the response of the labour market to the skills of migrants, while ideally maintaining a minimum wage, which is closely connected to the rather rigid labour market inside the EU.

von Weizsaecker emphasised the global impact and importance of the current migration flows. From a moral point of view, he said, Europe cannot refuse a human being the right to choose a better place to live, as it is a lottery where one is born - a "geographic caste system", he said. "We have to think globally about migration: it is here to stay, and we maybe have to work towards a world without borders," von Weizsaceker added.

Jaimini Bhawati, former Indian ambassador to the EU and currently RBI Chair Professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), commented on von Weizsaecker’s talk. While agreeing with von Weizsaecker, he provided a historical perspective to the situation, arguing that the tensions in the source countries of migrants (now Syria, but Iraq and Libya in the past) are mainly influenced by Western politics. This creates a responsibility, which especially the EU has to carry through talks with the existing Syrian government as well as within NATO.

India would be "more than willing" to contribute and share the knowledge it has gained in its relationship with Bangladesh. Furthermore, India could share valuable intelligence information on possible threats from terrorist organisations and both sides could benefit from a closer cooperation in this area.

Bhagwati also addressed the strategic level at which multiple countries, including India, have a heightened interest. The stability of the region is a determining factor of the development of the crude oil price, according to Bhagwati. He closed his remarks on a positive note saying, "I’m confident that Europe can and will address this refugee issue."

After much praise for the 'experiment' that the European Union constitutes by Bhagwati, von Weizsaecker levelled self criticism. He said that the EU is not as effective as it could be with nation building in the Balkan region, which is, besides Syria, one of the major source regions for refugees (although they are almost never granted asylum). And although the EU has much less influence in Syria itself, it should work harder to support a change of government.

After the floor was opened for discussion, the Greek ambassador to India, Loannis Raptakis remarked that the EU must do a better job to promote the possibilities of controlled migration towards the member states, which would especially be helpful for India.

Further on, the question was raised why the EU had made so many mistakes in their migration policy in the past. von Weizsaecker responded that the current situation is ironic, it is Germany now who calls for a fair distribution of refugees, while during the negotiations for the Dublin II regulation on the distribution of refugees, it was Germany that pledged to place the main burden of immigration on the border countries. He again stressed the importance of a fair distribution to the stability of Europe, not without mentioning the accompanying problems of language barriers. Bhagwati responded by saying that India might have a lesson to share on that topic: successfully including eleven different scripts.

During the discussion, the question was raised if the incoming migrants may be too different to be successfully integrated into Europe. von Weizsaecker responded that one needs to be careful about stigmatising religions and mentioned three different models to handle religion from a state actor’s perspective. And while they are all very different, all seem to be working. Of more importance, according to von Weizsaecker is that societies develop resilience to the deeds of some "mad" individuals without automatically attributing them to a religion, like it can be observed in the UK. This would contribute much more to stability than fear of incompatibility.

A speaker from Syria dismissed the idea of Syria being at fault for the situation in its country, rather the circumstances and the strength of your neighbours are the determining factors.

von Weizsaecker concluded the debate with a positive comment. Although many people inside and outside Europe are scared by the current refugee crisis, it actually might be an opportunity as well. "Sometimes, we need to be scared to rise to the challenge!" he said. The normal European workings are petty politics, but in the end Europe might be the sum of the solutions by solving crises. "It’s good to be worried and to rise to the challenge. I think we will!"

Report prepared by David Bausch, Research Intern, ORF Delhi

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