Germany Can't Indefinitely Absorb Refugees

Hundreds of migrants and refugees wait for their registration at Berlin's central registration center for refugees and asylum
Hundreds of migrants and refugees wait for their registration at Berlin's central registration center for refugees and asylum seekers LaGeSo (Landesamt fuer Gesundheit und Soziales - State Office for Health and Social Affairs) in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

What do we owe to those threatened by war and violence? What, and how much? Where's the limit? These questions deserve to be answered. But if the debate keeps moving around in circles, between statements --conjured up by the media-- such as "We can do it" and "The boat is full," then the issue of refugees threatens to divide our society. We need an honest debate on how to handle the situation realistically.

Yes, the great majority of people who come to us have fled from war, either in their own countries or in neighboring regions.

Yes, we had a high proportion of refugees from the Western Balkans. But they have no chance of asylum recognition. They have to return to their home country as soon as possible.

Yet, despite the unprecedented helpfulness of the Germans, and the outstanding performance of local authorities, we have to do our best to limit the influx of immigrants. We can't continue to take in and integrate more than one million refugees every year.

We can't influence migration thorough German domestic policies alone; we need to solicit Europe's help. Even then, we won't be able to change the trend overnight.

Germany acted. We have created an asylum law especially to help those in need of protection. By doing so, we are respecting the fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitution.

But it's also clear that we have to work with perseverance and decisiveness to come up with international and European solutions, in order to take the pressure off Germany. Everyone needs to have more faith that national selfishness won't get us anywhere, and that everyone would benefit if we act together as one.

The EU's decision to distribute 120,000 refugees is good, but it's not enough. We need a permanent European distribution key.

We have functioning European institutions, but they cannot cope with the current refugee onslaught. FRONTEX needs more personnel to secure the EU's external borders, and should be developed into a European border protection authority.

A joint border security with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean is overdue. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) is already the embryo of a European asylum authority. Here, too, we should boldly approach integration.

We have to support Greece and Italy by building "European arrival centers." All of the arriving refugees should be registered there, and then fairly distributed across Europe.

European solutions will only succeed if we come to agreements with Europe's key neighbors, especially Turkey. The European Commission has proposed an action plan for this, which we will accompany with a bilateral dialogue on migration.

We have to support the countries that currently receive the majority of refugees. Besides Turkey, these include Jordan and Lebanon. In New York, it was possible to increase the aid for international humanitarian aid agencies to $1.8 billion.

The most important and ongoing task of our foreign policy is to fight the root cause of the refugee crisis. This is why we support --with all our power-- political solutions for big crises and conflict zones in the Middle East and Northern Africa. This also includes talks with Russia, which acted constructively in bringing about the Iran nuclear deal. We must prevent the implosion or explosion of national structures in Syria, in which case, more people would set out for Germany and the EU.

Above all, we will only achieve mutual understanding and trust if we discuss about realistic ways to handle the situation. This is why we need both confidence and a realistic point of view. Only with confidence will we be able to mobilize the political and social creative power to take advantage of the great opportunity posed: the integration of these people. And only by being realistic can we achieve our humanitarian goals.

Our policy can only be successful in the long run if we don't exploit people's willingness to help.

We are at a crossroads; barriers, fences and national egoism could divide this continent once again. Alternatively, this continent could succeed in finding answers together: with a European asylum policy, with a shared fight against the root-causes of the flight of refugees and migrants. It could become a continent that is honest and that takes on the challenges with clear vision and without illusions.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Germany and has been translated into English.