Escape to Europe: Seehofer’s Long Shadow over Europe

Asylum seekers arriving in the EU must end up in camps and be considered “not entered”. Right-wing refugee policy in Europe has become the mainstream.

The “reception center” on the Greek island of Samos is a model for the European Union Photo: Nicholas Economou/Imago

Berlin taz | Seven months have passed since Horst Seehofer left his post as Federal Minister of the Interior. His memory is fading – but his influence on future European asylum policy is only having an effect now. Because the European Union is speeding up a radical reform of the asylum system in these weeks, which depends almost entirely on Seehofer’s ideas.

The basic idea: those who reach the external border first come to the camp there in order to clarify by preliminary examination whether access to the normal asylum procedure is granted at all. Until then, entrants are officially considered ‘not in’. Only those who come from countries with an EU-wide share of positive asylum decisions of more than 20 per cent and do not enter through a “safe third country” are allowed to enter the EU for the normal asylum procedure. Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) warns of “virtual concentration camps on Europe’s borders”.

The plans for this go back a long way – and they come from Berlin. On November 13, 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, then headed by Seehofer, submitted a paper to other EU countries. It bears the neutral title “Food for Thought” and aims to prepare for Germany’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. It starts on January 1, 2020. Seehofer wants to end what all previous presidencies failed to do: put the dysfunctional asylum system on a new footing.

His idea: “It is clear that applications that are unfounded or unacceptable should be immediately rejected at the external borders, and the applicant should not be allowed to enter the European Union,” says the newspaper. “In particular, we should examine whether people from safe third countries should be refused entry.” “Safe Third Countries” means transit countries such as Turkey, Tunisia or Morocco. Responsibility must be transferred to them.

Early March 2022: Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Belarusian authorities expelled hundreds of migrants from a makeshift camp in the border village of Brozje. People try to cross the border into Poland and get stuck in the forest, completely exhausted. Anyone who helps them goes to prison: 13 activists, some of whom provide life-saving assistance on the border strip, are arrested by Polish police. They are accused of “aiding illegal immigration” and face eight years in prison.

This case is one of 89 examples from a study by the NGO Picum commissioned by the Greens in the European Parliament. It shows that those helping refugees in the European Union should expect increased prosecution. 89 aides involved were criminalized in EU countries between January 2021 and March 2022. In the vast majority of cases, it was about providing refugees with food, shelter, medical assistance or transportation, or helping them with their asylum claims – or saving them from distress at sea . The result: investigations or accusations of aiding the entry, transit, residence or smuggling of migrants.

There aren’t always convictions, and many cases are still pending – but Picum hasn’t been able to catch them all. There is a clear trend: Europe’s isolation must be surrounded by intimidation of those who show solidarity. “This is intended to deter and ensure that flight to Europe remains life-threatening and inhumane,” says Green MEP Erik Marquardt. It calls for better protection for helpers. (Sega)

But the German council presidency expired in June 2020 – without agreement on the issue of asylum. Ideas remained very contradictory. Sticking point: Countries like Greece and Italy have been pushing for a distribution mechanism for a long time. Countries such as Germany and France agree in principle, while others such as Hungary and Poland strongly oppose it. But things cannot go on like this for long. The new then-president of the European Union Council, Ursula von der Leyen, was also under pressure when it came to applying for asylum. Thus, in September 2020, the Commission submitted a draft of the Migration and Asylum Pact, which essentially adopted Seehofer’s “food for thought”.

But since then, nothing has happened for a long time. Progress has only been made with the “blue card” – a visa program for qualified specialists – and the establishment of the EUAA in January 2022, which grew out of an authority that already exists almost all countries depend to a large extent on their position.

Since the introduction of the charter, UNHCR has submitted seven specific legislative projects in the field of asylum and migration. Two of them cleared the first hurdle in the council on June 22. Among other things, it agreed to the so-called organization of the examination. This forms the basis of what Seehofer planned: a binding registration procedure at the external borders, including a “protection need check” – in just five days.

A spokeswoman for responsible EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas, when asked by Taz, says the latest decisions are “significant progress”, especially when it comes to the challenge of “balancing solidarity and responsibility”. However, there was no consensus on the mechanism for distributing arrivals at the EU level, something that the Mediterranean countries demanded above all else. Instead, there is now a so-called “solidarity platform” set up on June 27. With this, member states can voluntarily accept refugees from countries at external borders or send money to them. Of course, this was already possible in the past. There is no binding regulation. However, Brussels is optimistic: the Ukraine crisis has shown what is possible, says a spokeswoman for Schinas. “If we can achieve these results in times of crisis, we can also prepare ourselves to deal with migration in normal times.” Progress on the agreement is “more urgent than ever”.

Other separate UNHCR legislative proposals state the following: Anyone who comes from or has entered countries deemed safe remains directly in the camp after examining the express asylum procedure. In the event of a refusal – which is very likely – the deportation must take place within two weeks.

Much of this is already a reality in the Aegean. The European Union has established so-called “Multipurpose Reception and Identification Centers” on the islands of Samos, Kos and Leros. Others have to follow and replace the “hotspots” created in 2015. From scan to migration, everything is in one place. It is likely that such camps were set up in many places along the outer border.

Attorney Robert Nestler founded the NGO Equal Rights Beyond Borders. She has been providing legal advice on the Aegean islands for years. Nestler says that much of what the Checklist and other laws of the Asylum Agreement say are already applied in Greece on the basis of national law. But pouring the whole thing into European legal form is an important political signal. You can then do this on all external borders.”

Expedited Asylum Procedure

He criticizes the legal hoax of a “no-entry illusion” for all entrants: “It will always involve imprisonment. People are not allowed to leave the place of residence.” The expedited asylum procedure aims to limit legal channels to a single case. “There is always a lack of legal tools for self-defense,” says Nestler. Brussels and national governments will be able to shift responsibility to each other: “The EU says ‘We only set guidelines,’ Member states say ‘We only implement.’ Everyone can say: ‘We have nothing to do with this.’ It can already be observed in Greece Today the EUAA largely dominates the asylum procedure in the camps: it conducts hearings for those seeking protection and drafts a recommendation for a decision on the asylum procedure.The actually responsible Greek asylum authority usually decides only on this basis – without seeing people Those seeking protection themselves.Nestler complains that “EUAA law is beyond its powers.”

Germany has agreed to the screening regulation and is thus the first major component of the new EU asylum package. Clara Bonger, a left-wing member of the Bundestag, spoke about this: “In the coalition agreement, the federal government promised to end ‘suffering at the external borders’ and ‘unlawful refusal,'” says Bunger, to agree to the draft screening list “but just the opposite.” The traffic light is “in breach of its obligations under the coalition agreement.”

Against the backdrop of the brutal massacre in the Spanish enclave of Melilla at the end of June in which at least 37 people were killed, Bonger made a request to combat pushbacks and human rights abuses at the EU’s external borders – just as the traffic light promised in the coalition agreement. “Once the federal government agrees, only the European Parliament can stop disastrous plans to regulate screening,” Bonger says.

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