Brussels: Mayors across Germany are complaining of being overwhelmed by the task of looking after an increasing number of asylum-seekers. About 1.1 million war refugees from Ukraine also need housing, medical treatment, and schooling for their children. The debate over migration policy in Germany is heating up.
"The number of people who are coming to us is much larger than what we can simply cope with," Chancellor Olaf Scholz said recently. President Frank-Walter Steinmeiersaid Germany was at the "limits of its capacity." Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, of the Green Party, said in an interview with German media group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) that: "'To protect the right to asylum, we must accept reality and solve the problems on the ground — even if that means making morally difficult decisions."
Deterrence in Denmark
For years, Denmark's social democratic government has pursued a tough course with its migration policy. The result in numbers: In July 2023, only 180 people applied for asylum in Denmark, which has a population of 6 million. In Germany, with a population of more than 84 million, the number of asylum applicants was 25,165, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).
Denmark's toolbox of deterrence includes significant cuts in social benefits for migrants. "The goal of that was that people either did not come at all, or people who had already arrived would enter the labor market more quickly. The latter, however, has only partially worked," Vienna-based migration researcher Judith Kohlenberger told DW. "What has also happened because of the cuts in social services: criminality has risen, and the educational performance of migrants has declined. Both consequences were predictable."
Swedish migration expert Bernd Parusel added: "Denmark also strongly restricted family reunification. In addition, the protected status for refugees from Syria was lifted and attempts were made to encourage them to go back to Syria." The more difficult conditions have in part put migrants off going to Denmark in the first place, Kohlenberger argued. "That only succeeded because countries neighboring Denmark have taken them in, so the migration pressure has simply been relocated. A main reason that fewer people have arrived in Denmark is that Germany has still been taking people in."
Processing asylum applications in Rwanda?
Parusel also mentioned another Danish plan, now put on hold, for people seeking asylum: Send them to a third country outside the European Union to have their application processed.
Rwanda could be the location for this process, according to Copenhagen. Similar plans by the UK are also on hold, at least temporarily. Kohlenberger explains why: "The people who have fled, who in a way are being outsourced, must be able to access an asylum procedure in accordance with the rule of law. And Rwanda does not have these legal cornerstones."
There have also been discussions in Germany about outsourcing asylum procedures to third countries. The basic idea: People who have fled their home countries have a right to protection, but not the right to choose where they find it. Australia is often cited as an example: Canberra has reduced its number of refugee arrivals via the legally controversial outsourcing of its asylum procedures to Papua New Guinea.
The demand for more effective deportation procedures arises over and over in the current debate: According to Germany's Central Register of Foreign Nationals (AZR), about 304,000 people were obliged to depart Germany at the end of 2022. Of these, however, about 248,000 were given temporary "tolerated" status (known as a Duldung), which means they could not be deported, for reasons such as sickness or war in their country of origin. About 13,000 people were deported from Germany in 2022.
Austria is often cited as a role model in this area. But only until someone takes a closer look – someone like Kohlenberger: "We have seen a real increase in deportations from Austria in recent years," the migration expert said. "But: Most of these were only to other European countries. Only very seldom do deportations include people whose applications for asylum have been rejected."
The EU lacks a system for allocating responsibility for refugees or for distributing costs. That is why, as Parusel observed, many countries are acting unilaterally to become less attractive destinations for irregular migration. He calls this a "race to the bottom" of deterrence. For him, this includes the restricted benefits in the north but also "very drastic practices" in southeastern European countries such as Greece to push people back at their borders.
In view of these, migration researcher Bendel told DW: "The most important thing is that we observe the laws: Namely international law, EU law and Germany's Basic Law constitution." These laws are, however, disregarded in many places.