The Consequences Of Merkel’s Compliance With Interior Minister’s Ultimatum


Interior Minister of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, Horst Seehofer, presented Merkel with a controversial ultimatum on Monday, June 18th, to impede Germany’s influx of Syrian refugees. CNN states that the new migration policy Seehofer is bringing to the table would allow Germany to deny Syrian asylum seekers entry into Germany under the following conditions: they do not have identification papers, their asylum claim has already been rejected by Germany, or they are already registered for asylum in another European country. If Merkel does not comply with this policy, Seehofer threatens to act unilaterally and start to reject refugees come the first week of July. This ultimatum has certainly catalyzed diplomatic action on Merkel’s side, not only because she is determined to avoid the chaos of 2015 and concedes that Germany needs a more controlled immigration system set in place, but also because her lack of conformity to Seehofer’s policies could potentially prevent her from getting re-elected, speculates CNN‘s Atika Shubert. However, as head of the most powerful country in Europe, what are the implications of Merkel’s concurrence? Would it simply be a concession to Seehofer and his more conservative Christian Social Union, or more than that — a nod towards the nativist and anti-human rights actions exhibited recently by the Italian and United States governments? 

 

Reactions to Seehofer’s migration policy range from doubting its effectivity to considering it an outright violation of human rights. Stefan de Vries, a French journalist featured in a segment of EuroNewsGood Morning Europe, expressed skepticism for whether or not it is really feasible for Europe to implement effective immigration controls without encroaching on the human rights of refugees. Other voices however, are more grounded in their disdain for the ultimatum. According to Shubert, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has and continues to defend Merkel’s open-door immigration policy. The Institute for Human Rights in Berlin claims that a total of 63 of Seehofer’s proposals violate Germany’s European and human rights obligations. The Geneva Refugee Convention from 1951 revised its definition of “refugee” in 1967 to be more inclusive and nuanced. The Convention guarantees that every single person seeking protection against human rights violations regardless of whether they have identification papers. Additionally, under the principle of “non-refoulement”, the Convention established that a refugee cannot be expelled or returned against their will. Germany, a participant in the creation of both of these institutions, would defy core rules of the Institute of Human Rights and the Geneva Refugee Convention if it succumbs to Seehofer’s migration policy.

 

Compliance to Seehofer’s ultimatum is dangerous because it can instigate a domino effect throughout the rest of Europe and the Middle East. It would not the be the first country to reject arriving refugees before examining applications for asylum — Italy has claimed that spot. According to Shubert, Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte’s government supports the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and encompasses the anti-immigrant League party. During the peak of the refugee crisis, Italy’s Coast Guard would rescue around 4,500 migrants in one day, but the new populist government is now going so far now as to turn boats away from ports. Italy is not nearly as influential as Germany and is currently alone in its direct violation of human rights for refugees. Thus, Italy’s actions are still predominantly condemned and not as likely to contaminate the policies of other countries. Germany, however, has the power to create a ripple effect if it begins to reject refugees before arrival. As the most powerful country in Europe, Germany’s violations of human rights could end up justifying implementation of similar policies throughout the rest of Europe.

Merkel should not agree to Seehofer’s migration policies primarily for moral reasons, but also because Germany is benefiting from immigrants economically, according to Stefan Trines from World Education News and Reviews. While the 1.4 million foreigners that have crossed over into Germany have absorbed a tremendous amount of social services and other government resources, those refugees integrating in German society are solving a long-term problem caused by a quickly aging native population. The one percent increase in population the Syrian refugee crisis has caused will provide Germany with the labor market power it will need to fuel its economy in the future. Germany does not want to experience the same crippling decline in population that is plaguing Italy.

 

The brutal Syrian Civil War is one of the multiple fires sparked by the Arab Spring and Jasmine Revolution in 2011. Syrians, no longer willing to submit to Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship went up in arms to rid their country of suppression. As the inhumanity in Assad’s war tactics increased — extending to use of chemical weapons against his own people — Syrians had no choice but to flee their country to whatever country would accept them. Out of the European countries, Germany has been the country to take in the highest number of refugees and integrate them in their society. In 2015, Merkel implemented an open-door policy that, as stated by Tom Barnes from The Independent, suspended the 1990 Dublin Protocol which forced refugees to seek asylum in the first European country they set foot on. The Independent claims that in the first six months Germany registered 44,417 applicants resulting in overcrowded refugee centers and a poor system of distributing resources. Since then, Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of applicants. While in the past few months numbers have been decreasing, Germany is still struggling to handle the constant flow of asylum seekers. Politicians are stuck between adhering to their morals, efficiently distributing economic resources, and ensuring their citizens that national security is also a priority — especially in the face of ISIS’ threatening presence.

 

Seehofer’s ultimatum was a perfect political tactic to inhibit the flow of refugees; Merkel has little choice but to concede if she wants to have some influence in migration policy and subsequently, to survive re-election. However, the migration policy seems to only have Germany in mind. Other European and Middle Eastern countries are left to handle the flood of refugees, and the refugees themselves are left to their own resources — which are non-existent. The ultimatum could potentially be detrimental to Syrians. More and more countries will follow suit and close their borders, and those within closest range of Syria, such as Greece, the Balkan, and Turkey will be more overcrowded than they already are. Seehofer’s migration policy is a violation of human rights for refugees and should not be imposed.

 

Alexandra Nichols

Undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies specific to the Middle East. Fluent in Castilian-Spanish and a beginner in standard Arabic. Intern for the US Department of Defense Africom Research Team. Member of the UC Berkeley Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition and the Conscious Coffee Project that seeks to promote ethically sourced coffee products.