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Transkript: Ruud Koopmans: The Asylum Lottery: The Challenges of Refugee Policy Making

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Welcome, everybody, to our third round of our new series, Unsolvable Problems. Today,
Witzeth Bay Director Ruth Koopmans will speak about the challenges of refugee policymaking,
the subject that he has been working on for the past years and which he presented in his recent
book titled The Asylum Lottery. Those of you who have followed the news yesterday and today will
know how highly important and controversial the topic is. Questions are welcome anytime in our
chat. My colleague Claudia Wood will bundle them and pass them on to Ruud. Please don't forget to
mute yourself after you speak. Jutta Amendinger says hello. She's sorry that she cannot be present
today and she sends her greetings. Next week we look forward to having Maya Adena and Steffen
Hoek talk about inequality, dissatisfaction, and populism. But now the floor is yours, Ruud Kopman.
Yes, thank you, Catherine, and thanks everybody for attending today.
Yeah, unsolvable problems, that's certainly something that is appropriate as a title for
European refugee politics.
It's a topic that with interruptions has been high, very high on the political agendas of
European countries ever since the beginning of the 1990s and in the context of wider migration
policies but especially the area of asylum politics has also been a driving force and
and continues to be a driving force for the rise of right-wing populist parties.
So this unsolved problem is indeed one that has very important repercussions for politics
and society more generally, and it's in my view very urgent that we find a solution for this controversy.
And that was also the reason for me to devote my latest book to this topic, The Asylum Lottery,
the Azulottery in German.
It appeared in February and has meanwhile also appeared in Dutch and in Danish versions.
And yeah, it has stirred quite a bit of public debate in all three countries.
It has also been quite well received, or at least in the sense of perceived, by political actors.
So that's something I'm particularly happy with. It seems to be that ideas are also taken up, discussed within the political arena.
So that's as an introduction. Much of the book is about a look back at the so-called refugee crisis of 2015, looking
at how it originated, how it developed, and also how the integration of people who came
as asylum seekers in 2015-16, how that integration has developed over the last years.
So it's basically a sketch of actually what is problematic about European refugee politics.
And then towards the end of the book, I develop a proposal how we could do things better.
And it's that latter part that I want to concentrate on today, but I want to start by just highlighting
very briefly some of the problems of the current system.
And the first and most important of those is the fact that the European asylum regime,
as I put it, kills more people than it saves.
We all know about the situation in the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, here it mentions the figure of 22,000 since 2014.
Meanwhile, we're already at 26,000.
This year alone, 2,500 people died in the first eight months so we're probably going to reach almost a record level
of 4,000 deaths or so in this year.
In the Mediterranean, most of these deaths occur in the central Mediterranean.
Or on the way to Italy from Libya and Tunisia. And if you consider the death rates in the Mediterranean alone, so the number of people
who die relative to the number of people who attempt the crossing, it's all based on data
of the International Organization for Migration.
Then you see that on the central Mediterranean routes about 2.3% of people who attempt the crossing die.
That's a very high percentage, especially if you put it into the perspective of what the risk actually is
that people run when they would stay in a civil war situation.
The number of people who have died, civilians, who have died in the Syrian civil war since it started
is 1.7% of the pre-civil war population in Syria.
So it basically means that the risk actually of crossing is higher than the risk of just staying
in a place like Aleppo.
And that too, apart from the absolute numbers which are horrific, tells you something about the risks
that people have to take to be able to claim asylum in Europe.
And this number of deaths in the Mediterranean is only the tip of the iceberg
because people of course also have to reach the northern or the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
And in order to reach these shores, they have to cross the Sahara Desert.
And there is an unknown number of deaths and there's a minimum number of 5,000 in the last 10 years,
but those are only the registered deaths,
but because there are hardly any observers there in the middle of the Sahara, the generally
accepted estimate is that the number of deaths there might be just as high as the number
of deaths in the Mediterranean.
So we can double these figures.
And these are, of course, horrific figures and also figures that are very high compared
to the risk that people are actually fleeing from.
So that's the first. Then the second.
Because this European asylum system is based on the principle that we give protection only to people who actually reach a European external border.
It is not necessarily the people who need protection most that are able to claim asylum in Europe.
It is actually those who are healthy, young, and male enough to be able to make this dangerous crossing.
And also those who have the financial capital to pay the human smugglers that are necessary to make the route to Europe.
And the fees, as you probably know, that these smugglers demand are very, very high.
Just for a crossing of the Mediterranean alone, we're talking about 3 to 5,000 euros.
On top of that, we get the money for the crossing of the Sahara, then often people are robbed
and exploited along the way, so they have to start gathering money anew.
So that's one can estimate that somebody who crosses the Sahara and then the Mediterranean
has to spend up from 10,000 euros to be able to reach Europe.
And that's of course, those those are amounts of money that most people in the poor and
civil war torn regions of the world are not able to pay.
So that it's actually a relatively privileged section of the population at risk that's actually
able to make it to Europe.
And because at the moment when people reach European external borders and claim asylum.
The reality is that we have very lengthy asylum procedures with many appeal
possibilities. Often these procedures take many years, but even if the outcome is that somebody.
Is not recognized as a refugee and that's not a rare occurrence, if you look across the European
Union then on average 45% of asylum claims end in a rejection and not just on the first
instance but in the final instance. So that means almost half of the people who claim asylum
are not actual refugees according to international and European refugee law. But that 45%
percent is not returned to their countries of origin or to countries of transit because.
Our expulsion system does not function at all. It's a very rare occurrence that people are
actually brought back to their countries of origin after rejection. So what happens is actually the
European asylum system excludes many people that need protection because of the Darwinian
hurdle race that we demand from people in order to reach European external borders and
at the same time it helps or it makes people profit from this system who actually do not
need that protection and that's very unjust.
So on top of the deadly character of the system we also have a very unjust and in the sense
of, you know, with the means available to us, helping as many people who really need
protection as we can. It is also an extremely inefficient system. And then I would like
to highlight a third.
Problem with the current system that people from certain very serious conflict zones are not able to reach Europe at all or only in very, very rare cases.
Because, you know, again, it's the principle, we help people who are able to reach European external borders, but we hardly help anybody who is not able to reach these borders.
And it means that people in Yemen, for instance, who are in what is probably the worst humanitarian
crisis in the world today, they're basically trapped there because the country is on the
one hand surrounded by Saudi Arabia, which is one of the parties in the war.
And on the other side is the Red Sea, which even if you would be able to cross it, you
would end up in Somalia or in Eritrea. So these are not countries where things are much better than in Yemen itself, well a little
bit better, but not really much.
So that basically Yemenites are trapped within a civil war and torn country and it's not
just the civil war that threatens them, but because of this isolated situation, there's
a lack of medical provisions, there's hunger, even many young children die.
So it's a, it's a terrible situation. And you know, the European asylum system has nothing to offer these people because what
we basically say is, you know, you Yemenites just try to reach a European external border,
cross the Arabian desert, cross the Mediterranean, and then if you're able to reach Greece or
Italy, then you can claim asylum and then we'll help you.
And you can even see that within certain countries of origin.
Nigeria, for instance, is a country where there's actually a considerable number of
asylum claimants that do come to Europe, but these asylum claimants are mostly very overwhelmingly
from the south of the country and within the south and also very overwhelmingly from one
particular state, Edo state.
And that is not an area where there's a civil war, where there are actually refugees.
And most of these people are also rejected, ultimately.
While at the same time, there are actual refugees in the northeast of Nigeria who are on the
run for the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military.
Also in the surrounding countries, Chad and Cameroon and Niger, there are people who have
fled for this conflict.
But none of these people actually reach Europe.
So those are the actual refugees in Nigeria, but they don't make it to Europe because these
people are much too poor and destitute to be able to afford the human smugglers.
In Edo State, by contrast, there is a historically grown smuggling network and it's a relatively
prosperous state for Nigerian standards so that there's both the opportunity in the sense
of smuggling networks and there are also the resources in the sense of people are not so.
Poor and destitute that they cannot afford the journey so that the people who come from Nigeria
to Europe are actually not the refugees but a relatively privileged section of the Nigerian.
Population. Then of course there's also the side of the countries of immigration. I don't want
to say too much about that, but I have a chapter in the book on labor market integration, which
shows that in spite of very optimistic scenarios, especially by employers and employer organizations
in 2015 about, you know, the refugees being a solution to the economic problems of the,
German labor market and the solution to our demographic problems. If you look at the actual
labor market participation rates of refugees, they are very low and in that sense they are.
A burden on the welfare state rather than a solution for our labor market and demographic
problems, which as such you might say is not of course the aim of refugee politics, but it shows
that much of the optimistic scenarios have actually not come through.
If you see that in the system that we have, we have a very uneven spread of refugee migration over time.
And this leads to overburdening of labor markets, of housing markets, but also school system, kindergartens, even health, the health system.
Because so many people sometimes come in very short periods of time.
2015-16 was one example and 2022-23 is the second example.
If you include the Ukrainian refugees, as one should, then we have actually now more
refugees in Germany and also in Europe more widely than we ever had before in the post-war period.
And of course, if so many people come in such short periods of time, this is going to lead
to problems on the local level as we are experiencing them also these days.
Well, in my introduction, I already referred to the relation between these negative consequences
of the current asylum system and the rise of populist parties. On the left you see the
curve of support for the AFD in Germany. And as many of you will remember, in the early
summer of 2015, the AFD was basically almost dead. It was a big crisis within the AFD.
The original founder, Björn Hocker, left the party with about one third of the members
behind him because of disagreements with the people who later then took over the party,
Alexander Gauland, Frauke Petry at the time still.
And the party as a result of this conflict went very much down in the polls, dropped
below 4%, so would have had no chance of entering the Bundestag anymore.
And then in August 2015, the so-called refugee crisis started.
Numbers of refugees increased very, very strongly and, you know, it was the period of the Schaffendass,
a couple of months of positive euphoria, but very soon after terrorist attacks and sexual
assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve 2015-16.
This was basically a gift for the AFD and was also perceived by the party as such.
And ever since, of course, it has been.
A factor in German politics and of course we're seeing the same right now with the AfD
now reaching unprecedented support in the polls and we've also seen the same in basically
all European countries that in the context of the refugee crisis right-wing populist
parties experienced stronger, sometimes weaker, but everywhere basically a growth in their
electoral appeal. And finally, the last disadvantage of the current system is that it makes us
very vulnerable in a geopolitical sense. If you look at the origins of the 2015 crisis,
then it wasn't the case that in 2015 suddenly numbers of refugees in the Middle East were
exploding that had happened already in 2011, 2012 with the start of the Syrian civil war.
It was internal developments in Turkey, power conflict there, which basically led the Turkish
government to open the gates to smugglers.
The Greek government at the time being involved in the conflict, especially with Germany related
to the euro crisis and the bailout policies, etc.
The Greeks very openly used refugees as a pressure, a means of pressure on the rest
of the European Union and Germany in particular, basically also opened the borders, transported.
People to the Macedonian border, and so which then led Angela Merkel to the famous or infamous
deal with Turkey, which then brought things to a close also very quickly.
And more recently and much more threateningly, just before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine,
we saw an attempt by Viktor Lukashenko, backed by the Russians also very openly, to sort
of create a second refugee crisis by basically setting up new air connections to northern
Iraq and to Turkey, getting people, luring people to Belarus with attractive prices and
promising basically to bring them to Europe, which the Belarusian government also did.
Bust people to the Polish and the Lithuanian borders. And it was only in the end by, you know, illegal means, namely pushbacks, that Lithuania and
Poland were able to stop that refugee flow at the cost, of course, also of people dying
at the borders there.
With the support of the entire European Union and also the German government, because it was very
clear that had Poland and Lithuania not done that, we would have seen a repetition of 2015.
And then, of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know what would have happened.
A couple of months later, namely the invasion by Russia of Ukraine. So just imagine that that would
have happened in the middle of a refugee crisis, which would again have split the European Union,
have created, would have created conflicts between European member states, would have burdened.
Eastern European countries with the accommodation and integration of Ukrainian refugees. So chaos
in Eastern Europe, a perfect scenario for an invasion in Ukraine. And of course, that threat
is still on the table. We still have that same asylum system. The threat is there because these
autocrats, they know that in the current asylum system, Europe has no way to stop the flow of
people claiming asylum because we have to, if we act according to the law, we have to let everybody
into the European Union regardless of where they come from because everybody has a right to claim
asylum. So it means we have no way to control such immigration flows, except of course by illegal
means. So the threat is still there. Belarus can still play that game. Russia can even play that
game through its enclave around Kaliningrad, and they have actually already made threats to do so.
They can also do so in a very, they can play the game also in a very indirect way by creating.
Food shortages in Africa. That too is something that Putin is threatening with, or threatening
with, he's to some extent even doing it by blocking Ukrainian ships with grain, thus creating
a situation in Africa that might lead to migration pressure on Europe. So there's all kinds of way
in which we are geopolitically vulnerable because of this system.
So that brings me to how we can do better. So we have three key problems, if we distill from what I've been just talking about.
The first is that basically everybody who makes it to European border can claim asylum
and effectively also has the right to remain.
Secondly, that we're helping nobody who doesn't reach European borders and that of course
those that do reach European borders, we're helping them.
Do gain refugee protection in Europe are a very selective part of the population at risk.
And we also ask from people that they basically pay with their lives or in the case of women
also with their physical integrity in order to be able to claim asylum.
So what I propose then towards the end of the book is a fundamental rethinking of our
asylum system, which is based on the one hand, well it's based on the principle basically
of substituting irregular asylum migration by regular asylum migration.
Irregular in the sense, and not according to legal and control channels, regular in
the sense of legal and controlled.
So there's one important category for which such a change is not possible and that's point one.
We cannot have a policy change for the countries that directly border the European Union.
And why? Well, because...
In that case, we have sort of an exact copy of the situation for which the international
refugee system was actually created at the beginning of the 1950s in the form of the Geneva Convention.
It was basically to prevent the situation of the 1930s where German Jews were trying
to flee for the Nazi regimes for the Nazi regime and were basically told at the Swiss
or at the Dutch border or at the French border, you know, we have taken up already a couple
of thousands of Jewish refugees and we're full now and people were sent back and of
course they were sent back to death.
And that is the situation that the international asylum system wants to prevent.
And that is exactly also the situation where we would be in if we would reject people who
seek asylum and who come directly from neighboring states.
And that's also the reason there's been a lot of debate why the Ukrainians are treated
differently from the Syrians in 2015. Well, the reason is precisely this, that the Ukraine borders directly on the European Union.
There are no other countries of transit between the country of civil war and the European
Union and therefore there's no possibility in which we can say, well, we help Ukrainians,
but we do so in the form of humanitarian contingents and only up to a certain level.
Because if we would send back Ukrainians, if we would have sent back Ukrainians in February
March last year, we would have just been sending people back into the risk of death by bombing.
Whether that is a situation that one can maintain in the long run, if this, if this war lasts
many years, that's, that's a question for the future.
But at least in the, in the first war situation, that is what makes Ukraine different from
Syria. And the same should of course be true if there are conflicts or also political persecution
in other countries that border on the European Union because there we are the first call
for protection. We are in the same situation with regard to Ukraine as Turkey or Lebanon
or Jordan were and are in relation to the Syrian civil war. If we don't take up the
Ukrainians, we leave Ukrainians in a war situation. So we are in relation to Syria in the position
that for instance Canada and the United States are now in relation to the Ukrainians. These
countries have taken up some Ukrainians, they have done so through resettlement but they have
done so in limited numbers also.
For all other countries, so the ones not bordering on the European Union, my proposal is that we.
Help refugees in these parts of the world in a proactive way, in a secure way,
by taking up resettlement contingents from situations of collective risk, usually civil war.
So that's the way in which we can help countries of first reception in the case of the Syrian
civil war, taking up resettlement contingents from Turkey, but also from Jordan and also from Lebanon.
Countries that are now in relation, in comparison to Turkey actually in a disadvantaged position
because Turkey has the blackmail possibility because it borders on the European Union,
it could open the gates and close the gates at will and thereby is able to basically blackmail.
Europe and receive a lot of financial support. But under an alternative system, we would also be able
to help countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, which actually on a per capita basis have an even
greater burden to carry than Turkey. But we could also help refugees who are now not able to reach
Europe at all and who also are not in a situation where they receive adequate protection in the
first country of reception. The refugees from Myanmar, the Rohingya, who are currently mostly
in Bangladesh are one example. There's also some refugees who have not even been able to escape
from the country of civil war. Yemen is the main example. Those people we could also help
by resettlement contingents. And then there is a...
A second means, which is meant for a smaller group, but in terms of the idea behind refugee
protection, very important group, these are people who are individually politically persecuted. So
these are the classical dissidents or journalists who are persecuted or members of specific
minorities such as homosexuals in countries where there is a death penalty on homosexuality.
They, of course, cannot be helped with resettlement, resettlement contingents because they are
meant for collective risk situations and they're also limited by nature.
So we need an additional mechanism for people who are individually persecuted and that could
be done by way of humanitarian visa, which can be applied at European embassies around
the world. That's like the right to like the resettlement contingents. That is not something
that has to be invented from scratch. It's actually an instrument that exists in some
countries. Switzerland has it in in Europe. Australia has it. So it is just something
we can we can copy from countries that have that already.
But what is, I'm going to rush now a little bit because otherwise I talk too much.
So You
Now maybe about these contingents, about the size of them, what I propose in the book is that in
order to make this also like a feasible political compromise, my proposal is why don't we agree
across the political landscape, the mainstream right, mainstream left, that we just, you know,
take up the same number of refugees as we've done in the past, say the past 10 years,
on average, of course, not with these huge fluctuations that creates these integration
and accommodation problems, but in a more predictable and regular fashion. But on average,
the same number of yearly people as in the last 10 years, and the last 10 years were actually
relatively high numbers. And then you come to a number of 325,000 resettlement refugees for Europe
and 160,000 for Germany. So these are not small numbers. These are relatively large.
Contingents that would provide the basis for a political compromise because it doesn't mean
that we take up more refugees. It doesn't mean that we take up less refugees, but it means that
we take up refugees in a targeted fashion, helping those who need it most and also in a predictable
and controlled fashion so that we know how many people will come next year and we can
prepare ourselves for it.
So, very important, I mean this is sort of the easy part of the story, namely resettlement,
humanitarian visa, instruments that exist already, and you know, few people would disagree
that that is a better way to help refugees than the current system.
But of course, if you really want to implement that, it will only work if you reduce irregular
migration at the same time. Because if you don't, none of these problems that I've sketched at the beginning will disappear.
They will actually all become only more intense because on top then of the irregular migration,
we have these large resettlement contingents.
So we would have to take up even more people. And people would still cross the Mediterranean because the resettlement contingents are limited.
So there will always be people who do not get on the contingent.
They are also not a means that actually helps those people at a 45% that are actually ultimately rejected.
They will of course not get a place in a resettlement contingent.
They will also not be able to claim a humanitarian visa.
So they still have the same incentive to come to Europe as without resettlement and without humanitarian visa.
So you'll have to do something to reduce irregular migration also if you want to create the absorption
capacity and also the political will and the political support in the population in order
embark on such proactive refugee policies.
So how can you do that? Well, there are two. Well, importantly, you cannot do that,
on the national level. There is no national solution in which we can reduce irregular
migration in any meaningful way. There's a lot of symbolic proposals and slogans going around,
Like, you know, border controls, either stationary or, or inland border controls or, or, what's
it called again, the say over some, you know, these maximum numbers, I can't hear you Dieter.
I didn't find the word now.
Obergrenze. Yeah, yeah, you know, Obergrenze. Marco Söder entered into the debate again, we should have an Obergrenze of 200,000.
Those are of course completely empty words because without a change in the system, number
200,000 plus one will still have the right to claim asylum.
So nothing changes by just saying we have an Obergrenze. And nothing changes also by border controls because if somebody, you know, is stopped
at the border and says, I want to claim asylum, you still have to let that person into the
country. So these are all, you know, there is no national solution. There's also no European
solution. That's maybe more in need of some clarification. There has been a lot of debate
and a lot of political energy has been invested in the last 10 years in the so-called European
solution and the distribution, the fair distribution of asylum applicants across the member states.
That's it. That's all.
Is, you know, not going to do anything to stop the flow of irregular migrants through
the Sahara and across the Mediterranean. It is just about, you know, dividing the burden
among European countries. And we should know by now and politicians should know by now
that this European solution is not going to be reached, at least not under the current
system where we have no control about the numbers, we have no control about whether
those who come in are genuine refugees or people who come for economic reasons.
Under these conditions, Poland, Hungary and many other countries, they're never going
to be willing to take their part of the burden. So you can, again, it's symbolic.
It is again because, you know, national solutions don't work, but then, you know, what politicians
then do is basically then let's blame it on the Poles. Let's blame it on the Hungarians or in Hungary and Poland, of course they blame it on the
So that also is a game which is maybe useful for political competition, but it's not solving
the problem in any way.
The only solution of the problem is actually to do something about the incentive that exists
under the current system to make the journey through the Sahara and to make the journey
across the Mediterranean, because people know, and we know that from our own research, that.
People know very well that once you make it into Europe, the chance that you can actually
stay is, well, borders on 100%.
And that makes it very attractive also, regardless, again, symbolic, largely symbolic discussions
about, you know, the exact level of financial benefits that we offer to asylum seekers.
There's this sort of competition between European countries of creating the most sober conditions
for asylum seekers, but in the end, what attracts people is basically Europe at large.
And it's only a secondary question then once they're in Europe, where they then go.
So we have to do something to remove the incentive. And there are basically two instruments that we can use and both of them require cooperation
with third countries.
So migration agreements with countries outside the European Union.
The first pillar.
Of those are agreements with countries of origin about the return of rejected asylum seekers.
This is an instrument that is important for this 45% category that gets rejected in the end,
who tend to come from particular countries with very low recognition rates. Nigeria, for instance,
being one example. Many West African countries are in that category, also the Caucasus countries.
Countries. If we would have effective return agreements with these countries, where governments
of countries of origin actually cooperate in taking back people, of course, we would
take part of the incentive away to make the journey to Europe, because people know that
they will ultimately be returned to, say, Nigeria. Then the incentive to actually pay
a lot of money to smugglers and to risk your life becomes less.
But I would want to emphasize that this is only a very partial solution to the problem.
First of all, because it cannot be applied to all countries of origin, only to those
countries that are actually safe enough.
And the most, it doesn't apply to the most important countries of origin, such as Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria.
And secondly, the barriers that prevent people from being returned to countries of origin
are not just the lack of cooperation of these countries of origin, but to an important extent,
it is legal barriers within Europe that stand in the way of these return policies.
So if you look at the number of people in Germany that is actually liable to be returned,
and that has not some form of legal protection against return, that number is very, very low.
So, again, a lot is promised often by politicians in this area.
The current government, for instance, promised in its coalition agreement an Abschiebungsoffensive,
so an expulsion offensive.
And of course, that offensive has never occurred and it will never occur, even with effective
return agreements, simply because of the legal barriers in Europe itself.
So what we need to achieve is actually to prevent these people from entering the European
asylum system in the first place.
And that can be done if we would be able to extraterritorialize our refugee protection system.
And what this means in concrete is that we make agreements with third countries, this
can be transit countries such as Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, but also third countries that are
neither countries of origin nor countries of transit.
Rwanda is of course one country that is in the discussion now because Denmark and Great
Britain are, or have actually, a memorandum of agreement with Rwanda about precisely this
idea of asylum processing in Rwanda for people who are rejected at the Danish or at the UK
Now Rwanda is just one option and it's perhaps not even, or not even, perhaps not, or perhaps
more than perhaps, probably not the most optimal choice, but there are many other countries.
If you have this option off the table, you can also think of Ghana or Senegal in Africa,
which are much more stable, more democratic countries than Rwanda, which would be potential
candidates for such agreements.
Now, you can say this is completely, you know, this is a utopian illusion that we would ever
be able and that this is able to have such agreements and that such a system could work.
But there is actually, well, there are actually two examples where this has actually worked.
The first example is actually one from Europe.
It is the Turkey-EU agreement.
Which, at least in its original version, was a variant on this proposal, namely Turkey
agreed to take back people who were rejected at the Greek border, including people who
had transited through Turkey, Syrian refugees that had transited through Turkey and claimed
asylum in Greece. Turkey promised to take them back because at the same time, Turkey
cheat that Syrians would receive adequate protection within Turkey. And it should be
said Turkey has done that also, although recently there are signs as growing xenophobia against
Syrians now, but for a long time, actually the protection status of Syrians in Turkey
was quite good. In the end, it wasn't, it wasn't exactly implemented as it was supposed
to be because the Turkish government decided basically that it was easier to just stop
the boats so that nobody arrived anymore in Greece, so that this whole exchange mechanism
never really occurred.
But still, the agreement worked in the sense that the number of crossings from Turkey to
Greece was reduced to a very low level, and also the number of deaths in the Aegean declined
in the first years almost zero.
And the same happens in an even more effective way in Australia, which at the beginning of
the century, was confronted with similar problems as Europe is now confronted with in the Mediterranean.
In the beginning of the 2000s then a conservative government in Australia introduced the so-called Pacific Solution in which boats with migrants were brought to.
The island state of Nauru and to the island of Manus which belongs to Papua New Guinea.
Australia had reached agreements with these two countries about asylum processing in.
Between these two states and people who were recognized there first were actually given asylum in Australia.
Later on, resettlement was also undertaken to other countries such as New Zealand and the United States.
And the system was very effective in the sense that the number of crossings and also the
number of deaths in the seas around Australia declined to zero until a labor government
came to power, abolished the system, numbers of crossings went up, numbers of debts went
And then that same labor government decided basically to return to the old policy.
And again, the number of boat crossings declined very rapidly and the number of debts at sea declined to zero.
Now we don't have, we can maybe go into this in more detail in the discussion, but of course
Of course, it's not about copying the Australian example exactly because the situation in these
refugee camps was certainly below the humanitarian standards that the European Union would want to agree to.
And there are of course these reports of people who died there as a result of suicide, etc.
But even if you consider that in a sort of a trolley problem, and these are two options
that are both, I think we could improve on both of them. But even if you consider the Australian solution as it was.
Than the number of people who died in Manus and Nauru was infinitely less than the number
of people who died before the implementation of that policy as a result of drowning.
And importantly, Australia has, as a result of these policies, received a very bad reputation,
but it's actually a country that takes up refugees at a very similar level to those
countries in the European Union, such as Germany, who take up relatively large numbers of refugees.
Because instead of taking refugees up through irregular boat migration, Australia has increased
its resettlement contingents. It has implemented a humanitarian visa program, so that if you
count everything together, Australia helps as many refugees as does the European Union
on a per capita basis, but it does so in ways that are way less deadly than the European
system and that is way more targeted in the sense that the people who are helped by Australia
don't include 45% of people who are actually rejected and who don't actually need refugee
protection. Australia doesn't have the problem that the people who receive protection are
overwhelmingly young and healthy young men from relatively privileged families. No, it
is able to help, together with the UNHCR, those people who need help most.
I think I'll conclude here with my final slide, which I think is something very important
to remind in every debate I have on this issue, I bring up this at the end.
Of course, there are, you know, any policy proposal, you know, there is no perfect solution for a problem as difficult as the asylum and refugee issue.
There is no perfect solution, but we should be very wary that the perfect or the imagined perfect solution is not the enemy of a better solution.
And we have to be aware that if we do not embark on reforms in this direction of our
asylum system, the alternative is not some Friede Freude Eierkuchen system, but it's
actually the system that we have.
And that system that we have, I've said a lot about it, is absolutely untenable.
It's untenable from many, many perspectives, geopolitical, integration, populism, et cetera.
And of course, the many debts that it produces.
And of course, there is a worse alternative than the status quo.
It is actually the alternative of the populists.
And it's the alternative of fortress Europe. And of course, it is already there to some extent, but it can, it can easily get worse
Because in spite of what is often claimed, migration can be controlled very well.
It is not difficult to stop migration. Walls, fences, pushbacks and border violence, unfortunately, they work.
So the populists, they have a workable alternative.
And the closure of the Balkan routes in 2015, extremely effective.
The closure of the Polish and the Lithuanian border when Lukashenko tried to blackmail
the European Union, extremely effective.
So you know, the populist alternative is an illegal perspective and an inhumane alternative,
but it's one that will be able to deliver.
It will be able to stop irregular migration. And if we do not do something, if decent people and decent political parties do not something
to control irregular migration and to replace it with a more humane asylum system, that's
That's the alternative that we're ultimately going to have.
Thank you.
Thank you, Ruth Koopmans, so far there are still six minutes left for a short discussion
and we have one question in the chat by Dieter Gosewinkel.
Gosewinkel, I shared your questions in the chat, so Koopmans, you can see the question
by Dieter Gosewinkel concerning labor immigration and the questions, wouldn't third countries
hinder their own elites to go to Europe for taking up work.
Well, this is a bit beyond your main topic today. Thank you very much, Ruud, but yeah, you know what I mean.
Yeah, it's not entirely beyond because an issue that I haven't addressed is how you can actually
make it attractive for third countries to enter into such migration agreements with the European
Union. And there, of course, an important bargaining chip that we have is to offer
these countries' labor emigration possibilities. So in that sense, your question is important.
And what you need there is, of course, labor migration agreements, which work for both ways.
And we have certain demands on our labor markets, which are not just highly skilled
computer engineers. We need people in agriculture. We need people very badly in the tourism sector,
in hotels, restaurants, etc. We need people in distribution, etc., also low-skilled jobs.
So if you consider, take a country like Nigeria, with a huge population explosion,
with high unemployment levels, there are lots of sectors of the economy where Nigeria can easily
miss people and where Europe can actually make good use of them. So I think it is possible.
And there is a second question by Masumur. Yeah, thank you, Ruud. I think you partially responded already. My question deals with the
cooperation from third country, which is necessary for any type of extraterritorialization, whether
corridors or evaluation of asylum requests.
So the EU has tried several times, even in the past, to bring third countries on board.
And these attempts have always clashed with the lack of will of third countries, also
for reasons which are not entirely rational, because the solution that you are proposing
for labor migration is a rational one, but often the EU is dealing with regimes that
have an image to defend, and Tunisia I think is a good example of it.
Despite all the agreements, Syed has refused to meet both European Parliament delegation,
European Commission delegation.
So the EU is facing on the one hand unsafe third countries, which cannot even be considered
in the current legal system.
On the other hand, save their countries, which are considered more or less stable, but that
present nevertheless problems of trustworthiness.
So do you think this is solvable? Thanks!
Yeah, I mean, it's definitely not easy. So yeah, two answers.
I think in the past, at least what has been not tried enough, we've always tried to make,
we have many agreements, return agreements, for instance, with countries such as Tunisia,
Morocco, for decades already.
They don't work. Why don't they work? Because we have always tried to make agreements with these countries which entail less migration.
It was always from our side, from an attitude.
We want less migration, we want you to take your people back.
And in return, we were willing to give people, these countries money,
or we were threatening with cuts in development aid or making visa fees higher and that kind of threats.
That hasn't worked. I think the kind of agreements that can work are ones where we can see it as Europeans
that we cannot and we should not strike deals that mean less migration, but deals that actually
mean the same amount of migration or maybe even more migration, but in a controlled manner.
And then if you look at it from that perspective, then all these North African, West African
and Middle Eastern countries, they have quite a strong interest in migration to Europe because
they are very dependent on the money that migrants send back to their country.
The families in these countries also want migration for precisely that reason.
That means that regimes also cannot enter into deals with the European Union
that mean less migration because they would make themselves very unpopular.
So that is how you can sort of make it rational for these countries to cooperate.
But you're of course right that some of the rulers of these countries,
Cais, I think, is an example currently, are not really acting rationally, at least not in...
There may be some rationality behind it, but it's not this material rationality that I was
talking about. And there I think the solution is that we have to make ourselves less dependent on
these few transit countries that we now have to deal with. And that's why I find it important
to open the option of making migration agreements with countries which are not even transit
countries which are not countries of origin. And that's why I find it important to have
this option of Rwanda or Ghana or Senegal on the table so that you have several countries,
a multitude of countries that you can make agreements with so that you're not dependent
on the likes of Caius.
It is 10 o'clock now, and I'm sorry, we do have another question.
We need to end this session now.
It's been most impressive and inspiring and a lot of food for thought.
Thank you very much, Kurt Koopmans. If there are any questions left,
feel free to send me an email and we can do it bilaterally.
We will. For all of you who want to re-listen or share, You will find the podcast of this series on our website in a few days.
See you next week and enjoy your long weekend.
Thanks for your attention. Bye bye.