Tangibly reducing the numbers of refugees

The German government is counting on a European solution to bring down the numbers of refugeesPhoto: picture-alliance/dpa/Weigel

"On the one hand we want to push ahead with efforts to integrate those already here and who are entitled to stay in the country. On the other, we want to get those who have no entitlement to be here to leave the country faster and in larger numbers than has hitherto been the case," said government spokesperson Steffen Seibert on Monday at the government press conference.

Once again Steffen Seibert stressed that the goal of the German government is to achieve a "lasting and tangible" reduction in refugee numbers. Although the numbers are significantly lower than they were a few weeks or months ago, the reduction "is not nearly enough". "We already have a better ordered system, but we must continue to work on this agenda," said Steffen Seibert.

National, European and international efforts

In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also underscored the unremitting efforts of the German government. "We must reduce the numbers of refugees. Our country can cope with one million refugees in one year, but we cannot cope with that number of refugees every year. That is why we have put together two asylum packages, one of which has already been approved by the German Bundestag. The second package will follow shortly."

Recently, in her New Year’s address, Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that work was ongoing at all levels to resolve the refugee situation. "At national level, in Europe and at international level, we are working to improve the protection of Europe’s external borders, to replace illegal migration with legal migration, to fight the factors that force people to flee their homes in the first place, and thus to achieve a tangible and lasting reduction in refugee numbers."

Stepping up the rate of return

With a view to the swifter return of asylum-seekers from the Maghreb states, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert stated last Friday at the government press conference that asylum-seekers from North African states who have no residence entitlement will also have to leave Germany. "We already have a readmission agreement with Algeria. That means that on paper everything is regulated. In practice, there are in fact individual cases that prove to be very difficult, and we must discuss how the practice can be brought into line with the provisions of the agreement."

Today, the Maghreb consists essentially of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, which are linked by the Atlas Mountains.

Martin Schäfer, the Federal Foreign Office spokesperson, added that it is not enough to negotiate readmission agreements. There are many opportunities to "make it difficult or impossible to implement fundamental political agreements of this sort in practice".

Talks with the Maghreb states and the Western Balkan states

Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are working together to overcome "bureaucratic obstacles", he reported. The goal is to agree first with the Western Balkan states and then with the countries of Northern Africa on the use of EU-issued "laissez passer" travel documents, said Martin Schäfer.

A "laissez passer" is an EU-issued standard travel document that would allow non-EU citizens without travel documents to be returned to their home counties. This travel document could be used by non-EU citizens leaving the EU voluntarily for their home countries, provided the latter recognise the document.

"And that is the monumental task facing us. We did not begin working on it yesterday or last year. We have been working on it for a great many years and it is an arduous task. I can assure you that the Federal Foreign Minister and the Federal Minister of the Interior are addressing the matter with great energy and vigour, also in the personal talks they conduct with these countries," said Martin Schäfer.

Monday, 18. January 2016

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