TNF: The European Union has agreed on the relocation of 160,000 refugees from member states which are under a lot of pressure. Until today fewer than 1000 people entitled to asylum have been relocated. Who is responsible for the failure of the relocation thus far? Is it the member states or the European Commission? Your assessment?
Julian Lehmann: In the European refugee policy, in general I see the Commission as a progressive player. It delivers a lot of constructive proposals. Often these get sabotaged in details in negotiations with the member states. About the relocation: There are a number of reasons, why the numbers are so small at the moment. The number of formally confirmed places is under 4000. There are countries, that don’t accept people from certain nationalities. The member states take a lot of time to answer requests for relocation and simply deny the ’applicants’ without naming reasons. But the biggest problem with relocation is the following: the mechanism is not laid out for the high numbers we see now every day. In Greece more than 100,000 people arrive per month - we need manpower and sufficient possibilities to properly take people in during a relocation request. But they are not there. To date there has been the possibility to simply travel on one’s own, this is what most asylum seekers did.
TNF: We watch a lot of refugees gathering near the Greek town of Idomeni near the Macedonian border, instead of traveling to the hotspots to apply for asylum in the EU. Is the relocation failing because of the refugees themselves?
Julian Lehmann: The hotspots were established for asylum applicants with high recognition rate - 75 percent and more - they were not designed as reception centres for all asylum seekers. The relocation will only be an alternative to travelling on one’s own if the resources get enormously extended. But there is no political will for that, also because one is focusing on the cooperation with Turkey. Despite doubts about the lawfulness of this cooperation: In every case a repatriation programme needs a lot of personnel from the member states in Greece, and the member states already at home have many problems in raising sufficient personnel. Thereby we have a conflict of aims regarding the cooperation with Turkey and the relocation.
TNF: In Idomeni we hear a lot of people saying: ’We want to go to Germany!’ Where does the fixation of the refugees on Germany come from?
Julian Lehmann: Much is coming from word of mouth and contacts; people have family and friends in Germany. They have smartphones and can inform themselves. Germany is said to not only be a country with the best economic prospects, but also sends signals towards other member states, that Europe as a whole can do more and it promotes a more humanitarian policy. The asylum system in Germany in the past has been and still is better than in many other member states. All this is recognised, even if distorted, because the conditions in Germany have worsened. By now in eastern European countries you find refugees with better initial reception conditions and good chances of economic integration - also because in total only a few people arrive there.
Julian Lehmann The Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) is an independent non-profit think tank centred in Berlin. Besides other activities in the past it has served an advisory role to the German Foreign Office. Lehmann is project manager at the GPPI and an expert for human rights diplomacy and refugee protection.