Friday concluded with a round table on the “Global Effects of the European Migration Regime”. It inspired a vivid discussion amongst the participants and the audience. The session included the chair Joseph Vogl, professor of German Literature, Cultural and Media Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin and Permanent Visiting Professor at Princeton University, Jochen Oltmer from the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) at Osnabrück University, Ute Kollies, head of the UN Office for for the Coordiniation Humanitarian Affairs in Mali. The third speaker was Bediz Yilmaz, a recent Philipp Schwartz Initiative for Scholars at Risk of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the IMIS at Osnabrück University, joined by Sergey Lagodinsky, head of the department “EU/Northern America” of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
In his introductory remarks, Joseph Vogl outlined the term “Migration Regime” as the interrelation of negotiation processes on different levels between migration processes and political actors where he particularly emphasized the role of states. It involves regulation mechanisms, institutional and administrative procedures as well as an ideological understanding of migration. This lead Joseph Vogl to the hypothesis that the so called “Willkommenskultur” (welcoming culture) of the German population failed to produce a political resonance because political actors remained unwilling to take responsibility for the new scenario. Despite her now famous phrase “Wir schaffen das” (“We can do it”), chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government lead the EU to introduce various mechanisms to strengthen the control of its borders and to limit the immigration of refugees. By closing the Balkan route, EU politicians accepted a rising number of victims as the only remaining option is trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Germany’s attempts to convince other member states to accept more refugees according to the principle of burden sharing remained unsuccessful. At the same time on a national level, German political discourse also highlights the brutality of deportation methods as a deterrent posited against another greater influx of refugees. These incoherent political reactions evoke questions about how the European migration regime looks like and if there are efficient political actions to combat the causes of flight.
In addition to this, Jochen Oltmer criticized the “Geschichtsblindheit”, the historical blindness and the “Weltvergessenheit” (oblivion of the global) in recent political discourse on migration. He argued that in common discourse mythical claims prevail, like that the integration process of displaced ethnic Germans in Germany had been easy or that European colonialism had little relation to recent migration issues. Hence, mechanisms like the EU-deal with Turkey or the closing of the Balkan route illustrate the complete negation and ignoring of migration as a global and long-lasting process. Instead, dubious statistics suggest that since World War II there has not been a greater number of refugees than today, reducing migration processes to a sheer phenomenon of numbers.
Ute Kollies, speaking from a personal point of view and not as an UNOCHA official, underlined that based on her deep well of experience of working with refugees in many different places on the African continent and in sharp contrast to the public opinion, Africa is actively dealing with most of its own refugees. Apart from that, she stressed, border controls cannot prevent people from leaving a country that fails to offer a life perspective for them. Hence, she challenged the picture of a “European refugee crisis” which gives a wrong impression of the geographical sphere and justifies highly questionable methods to restrict the inflow of refugees into the EU. She ended her statement by stating that by ignoring the causes which produce refugees the EU answers with a set of wrong practices which worsen the conditions and lead to a loss of humanitarian renomé. To overcome this short-sighted, eurocentric vision of a “European refugee crisis” she appeals to scientists, researchers and experts to get involved and enrich the public debate with their findings.
In shifting the perspective to the Middle East and Southern Europe, Bediz Yilmaz reported on the conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey. She lost her job at Mersin University after having signed a petition for a peaceful resolution of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. She finally had to leave Turkey. First-hand she experienced what it means to become a refugee, expelled from one's country of origin, depending on other countries’ benevolence. Prior to her departure she conducted interviews with Syrian refugees in Turkey where Syrians have no chance to be politically accepted as refugees. They told her about their torn feeling towards Turkey; on the one hand they felt gratitude and admiration towards Erdoğan because they found shelter, on the other hand, however, because of their poor political status and the lack of any life perspective they continue to hope to flee to Europe. Due to the once dominant open door policy of Turkey’s government, only 10% of Syrians live in camps, but they continue to be strongly dependent on the Turkish leaders’ political decisions.
To Bediz Yilmaz there exist two Turkeys, deeply divided into supporters of president Erdoğan and backers of a course toward Europe. She named Turkey “the closest other” and criticized that although Erdoğan continuously attacks political opponents and has abolished free press and exchange by gradually monopolizing executive power, the EU keeps shaking hands and avoids to sanction his anti-democratic practices. She concluded by emphasizing the immense need of expert advice in order to determine paths into a better future. Personally, she feels like a refugee herself, one part of her being grateful for the support she received in Germany. However her other part wants to return to her home country Turkey.
In the final input, Sergey Lagodinsky, who like Ute Kollies declared to speak outside of the frame of his home institution, emphasized democratic aspects of Europe, as the Union is not only liberal but also democratic. In his eyes European politicians find themselves in a tight grip of voters, on whom they depend. Therefore, it is the European society, that has to become more democratic in order to transform the EU. He elaborated this claim by putting himself into the three identities he incorporates and describes the actual refugee situation out of each identity’s perspective:
From his first perspective as a migrant, he took what he called an egoistic point of view. From his own experience, migrants who for a longer time have been living in Germany tend to look down on the newcomers. To him it is not surprising that some of the former migrants even vote for AfD, as he finds there is no automatism that migrants always take the side of other migrants. Secondly, he identified himself with his Eastern European identity. While he feels partly ashamed by Russia calling EU’s migration policy “soft”, using for instance the term “Gayropa” in this context, the other part of him feels offended by the Western Europeans’ demonstration of moral superiority, as if the Poles were not behaving like “real” Europeans. His third view expressed an also ambivalent Jewish perspective. While it demands solidarity with arriving refugees and their situation, he cannot deny fundamental anxieties stirred up by the many arrivals from an area culturally and politically hostile to Jews.
Joseph Vogl opened the subsequent panel discussion asking whether the other guests would categorize the recent right-wing populism as a new trend or one that goes back to the 1990’s. To Mr. Lagodinsky, right-wing extremism is a latent phenomenon in every society. Moreover, Ute Kollies added, it becomes visible every now and then, especially in times of socio-economic weakness. Both the interplay between society and politicians and reports on the media are factors that could enforce those extremist tendencies. Jochen Oltmer, however, argued that in comparison to the 1970s, resentments against migrants have lessened. For him the reasons for the surge of right-wing populism are far more complicated. Even though he admited that economy belongs to the explanatory factors, he stressed the relevance of perceived deprivation and negative future expectations. In order to prevent extremism, politicians are to serve as mediators between all political groups.
Elaborating on the mentioned social, economic and institutional conditions of Germany, Vogl asked whether it then would have been possible to resolve the crisis in a simpler way. Jochen Oltmer’s answer was mixed. He indicated that institutions like the BAMF had gradually been reduced over time as a consequence by both putting a naive trust in EU frameworks and institutions and by outsourcing further responsibilities to non-EU-countries. Rebuilding the needed capacities was a time-consuming process, which, however, finally worked out. Sergey Lagodinsky emphasized the relevance of a society’s limited capacity of cultural absorption. Kollies developed this argument into a somewhat different direction, stating that the more the host society is willing and able to identify itself with the incomer’s fate and culture, the less problematic the admission and integration of refugees turns out. In response to that, Sergey Lagodinsky criticized Angela Merkel's decision in 2015 when she, in his eyes, acted far too quickly and hence aggravated people’s anxieties and uncertainties of irreversible and unforeseeable changes and consequences. This met criticism, asking for possible alternatives. As Ute Kollies stated, she agrees on the emerging challenges but also stresses that there was no alternative to accepting the refugees. Instead, politicians produced a lot of empty words, without offering realistic solutions. Bediz Yilmaz compared this situation with Turkey, where neither a “master plan” for the 3 million refugees nor a concretely defined migration order exists.
The backdrop of this obviously temporarily - and now resolved - political helplessness, Jochen Oltmer stated, let many people to lose their confidence in the German government. Hence, political actors should continue to share reliable information about the included chances and challenges in the given situation. Most importantly, we should think about how to combat the causes of flight, especially by questioning our relationship to countries which produce war and refugees. This lead him to the statement, that the idea of providing development aid in terms of injecting money into poor countries without stabilizing the overall situation, will counterproductively rather enable more people to finance their migration. In a bit of an poignant overgeneralization he concluded that poor people do not migrate.
To the question from the audience, how neoliberalism might have enforced the actual migration situation, there is no definite answer. On the one hand, Bediz Yilmaz argued that neoliberalism enforces exploitation tendencies, while Mr. Lagodinsky pointed out that neoliberalism, at the same time, promoted many good migration opportunities. Referring to the AfD, it is more important if and how far a society is willing to open up to migration.
Despite the late hour, the round table provided a forum for lively discussion. The diverse professional, personal and cultural backgrounds of the participants enriched the exchange of opinions concerning European and especially German politics on migration and integration. The fact that none of the guests recommended any concrete meassures underpins the complexity of the actual situation. We are, one might conclude, still in the stage of finding the right questions instead of rushing to answers. However, each of the participants agreed that communication between politicians and society needs to improve and that only coherent and long-term development aid could ease both local lives and migration flows towards Europe. Right now, the European migration regime lacks both a global approach and solution-oriented discussions between politicians, civil actors and researchers.