It’s difficult, just before Christmas, not to agree right off the bat with the proposal being discussed by several German states to unilaterally take in child refugees currently languishing in Greek refugee camps. Indeed, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Church in Germany supports the idea, noting that Jesus and his family were themselves refugees after his birth. Only the heartless aren’t moved by images of misery in refugee camps in Greece while here we are getting our homes cozy for the holidays. And if you’re hoping for a common solution at the EU level, you’re in for a long wait that will likely end up in kicking the can down the road.
Still, Habeck and others are wrong. Taking in thousands of children would be sending the wrong message in a number of ways.
Read more: Refugees endure living hell in Greek camp
A slippery slope
First off, the gesture would set off a new wave of migration. It wouldn’t end with the minors in question. For humanitarian reasons if nothing else, their relatives would be brought to Germany at some later point, too. As soon as word spread to countries of origin and transit countries that Germany was offering a new chance at a better life, many more would try to cross from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands. The camps there would get even fuller, not emptier. It’s the same downward spiral as sea rescue on the Mediterranean: As soon as the European Union takes in migrants, more start coming.
Habeck’s call is also wrong because it would let Greece and the rest of the EU off the hook, leaving Germany holding the refugee bag alone. German Development Minister Gerd Müller said that he’s experienced better organization of refugee camps in Africa in cooperation with the United Nations than in Greece. Germany is already sending relief to the Greek islands. It’s just as important, however, that Germany and the EU support Greek authorities in processing asylum claims more quickly.
This is an oft-forgotten aspect in the asylum discussion: Asylum is only for those who meet asylum requirements. That means war, including civil war, or persecution in your country of origin. Economic hardship is not a criterion, something Habeck seems not to have registered if he wants Germany to take in all minors.
That remains the great sticking point in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which is often accused of kicking off a surge in domestic far-right politics. Even those without a legitimate asylum claim can de facto stay in Germany because deportation is often impossible. Yet many Germans are increasingly questioning the sense of asylum procedures if they don’t ultimately decide whether a person is allowed to stay.
The lessons of 2015–2016
Then should Germany do nothing for those in these camps? Of course it should, but only in a limited way on a case-by-case basis — and only for those who have the chance to stay because their asylum request has already been checked. Still, the priority should be on improving the living conditions there.
Those who find this heartless are welcome to make their own suggestions on limiting migration. Because if we’ve learned anything from the migration wave of 2015-2016, it’s that migration needs to be limited and controlled. Handing out asylum to all undermines asylum law. That is also something to keep in mind as the Christmas feeling settles in all around us.