HUFFINGTON POST

Germany Steps Up On Refugee Crisis As Rest Of EU Dawdles

If the EU can't agree on a solution, the dream of a borderless Europe may be a fleeting one.
Men protest outside of the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary on Wednesday, Sept. 2. Hungarian officials barred t
Men protest outside of the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary on Wednesday, Sept. 2. Hungarian officials barred thousands from boarding trains to Germany.

A summer of tragedy in Europe is set to continue into fall, with Germany shaping up to be an important player in a crisis that's sending hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans into the country.

Germany expects to receive the most refugees and asylum seekers of all EU member states -- up to 800,000 by the end of 2015, according to German interior minister Thomas de Maizière, at least double the number that arrived last year.

Unlike many of its neighbors, the country welcomes the responsibility. Germany is the European Union's biggest recipient of asylum seekers. On Aug. 25, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees announced that the country had suspended the Dublin Regulation -- an EU rule that requires refugees to seek asylum in the first European country they arrive -- for Syrians. The change effectively allows all Syrian refugees to apply for asylum in Germany.

"As one of the world's richest countries, with good infrastructure, a viable welfare state and a solid budget surplus, we are in a position to rise to the occasion," German Labour and Social Affairs Minister Andrea Nahles said at a briefing ahead of a G20 meeting in Turkey.

Asylum procedures differ dramatically among European countries. Hungary, for example, granted asylum to fewer than 10 percent of applicants in 2014. Sweden, in contrast, granted asylum to 77 percent of its applicants. France accepted almost 70 percent and Germany had the highest percentage of over 80 percent. This year, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, France and Italy are the EU countries slated to receive the largest numbers of asylum applications. 

Germany has warned it can't shoulder the burden alone, and has taken leadership of the discussions surrounding a solution - namely, Germany has called upon the EU to reach consensus on a comprehensive and unified approach.

"If Europe fails on the question of refugees, this close connection with universal civil rights ... will be destroyed and it won't be the Europe we want," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Sunday. 

"If we say that Italy and Greece can't be left alone with this task, then neither can it be that three countries, like Sweden, Austria and Germany, are left alone with the lion's share of the task," she added during a press conference in Berne Thursday.

Earlier this year, Europol published a map outlining migratory and human smuggling patterns from Africa and the Middle East t
Earlier this year, Europol published a map outlining migratory and human smuggling patterns from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Germany is the primary destination.

The EU has made little progress in reaching a pan-European solution to the problem. Merkel has suggested a quota system to distribute people more evenly across the 28 EU member states. While the proposal has received support from France, it has been met with thorny opposition from other countries. Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary plan to reject any proposed quotas. 

Britain, which does not participate in the Schengen agreement that allows people to move freely among its 22 participating states, blames the open-border agreement for the continent's influx of people and the worsening human smuggling problem. "As countries in Europe are increasingly realizing, these tragedies have been exacerbated by the European system of no borders," Britain's home secretary Theresa May wrote in The Sunday Times

Many experts argue, however, that political infighting about Schengen is time wasted. Instead, EU leadership should focus on a comprehensive policy that will take care of refugees and economic migrants coming to Europe and work to integrate them into European society. In countries like Germany with aging populations, this will specifically involve economic integration. 

The number of asylum applicants across the EU has drastically increased in the last few years.
The number of asylum applicants across the EU has drastically increased in the last few years.

"The real crisis is not about migration or refugees. The real crisis in Europe is the incompetence of Europe to come to a common response," Hein de Haas, former co-director of Oxford's International Migration Institute, told WorldPost last week.

"With more than half a billion inhabitants, the European Union has the resources to cope with this, and can make sure that people arriving at the European border get access to asylum procedures," he said.

While Germany's willingness to accept refugees and asylum seekers surpasses that of other European countries, its numbers still pale in comparison to the efforts of countries like Turkey and Lebanon. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that by the end of 2015, 1.9 million refugees will be living in Turkey. Approximately 1.3 million already live in Lebanon. 

Members of PEGIDA, a German right-wing anti-immigrant movement, demonstrate against increased accommodation for imm
Members of PEGIDA, a German right-wing anti-immigrant movement, demonstrate against increased accommodation for immigrants near Dresden, Germany, June 26, 2015.

And despite Germany's general acceptance of refugees and asylum seekers, the road to integration will be long and arduous. According to a poll released Thursday, fully half of Germans worry that growing numbers of asylum-seekers are overwhelming the country. Anti-migrant protests flare up regularly across Germany. More than 150 arson attacks have stricken asylum-seeker shelters in the first half of 2015. Last week in Heidenau, outside of Dresden, right-wing anti-migrant protesters booed Merkel during a visit to a government migration shelter and deemed her a "traitor."

EU interior and justice ministers will meet in an emergency session to discuss courses of action on Sept. 14 in Brussels. A comprehensive solution is unlikely to emerge, which may push some leaders to advocate instead for stronger borders, as Hungary's Victor Orban has already done. The dream of a borderless Europe may be dying a slow death. 

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