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IEP Lunch Debate with Norbert Seitz, Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI): “A European Refugee Policy?”

Mathias Jopp and Norbert Seitz

Minis­terial Director Norbert Seitz, head of department M: Migration, Refugees, European Harmon­i­sation of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, on 23 September 2015 talked about “A European refugee policy?” at the Repre­sen­tation of the State of Saxony-Anhalt in Berlin. After a short welcoming speech by Dr. Michael Schneider, State Secretary for Federal and European Affairs, as well as envoy of the state of Saxony-Anhalt to the Feder­ation, the event was moderated by Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, director of the Institute for European Politics (IEP).

At a time, where the European debate on a common refugee policy was the focus of interest, the IEP Lunch Debate with Minis­terial Director Seitz could not be more appro­pri­ately timed. Seitz began his presen­tation by embedding it in the current political situation. He included the agreement concerning the distri­b­ution of 120,000 refugees, as well as, upcoming informal summits on the topic.

He empha­sised the possi­bility to build so called “hotspots” as shelters and first contact points for refugees in Greece and Italy. For him they are a chance to safely house the refugees and distribute them specif­i­cally among the European states, as well as unburden the EU states with external borders. Infor­mation on a realistic perspective on immigration should be given to the refugees, as one way of handling the serious issue of human trafficking. The European leaders came to the same conclusion at an emergency summit that evening.

Equally important for him is the integration of refugees in their new desti­nation. The crisis regions are unlikely to calm any time soon, so there is a high possi­bility for the refugees to stay in Europe and a low chance of a decline in numbers in the next months to years according to Seitz. This problem mainly concerns the host countries individ­ually, at least for now. Integration and language courses are a good starting point for him, but not always enough for a successful integration, consid­ering the rather wide range in levels of education the refugees have. Facil­i­tated access to the labour market, if appro­priate language skill, is a necessary step for the new arrivals for settling down and be able to make a living.

For this aspect he under­lines the benefits of exchanging experi­ences on a European level and the role model function Germany would be able to occupy, if a successful integration is achieved. One has the chance to still the fears of smaller countries and show them how to handle big flows of refugees.

Following his presen­tation, an animated discussion unfolded, where Minis­terial Director Seitz was able to answer – even emotional questions – objec­tively and to clarify confu­sions concerning the newly found quotas. He, again, stressed the centrality of struc­turing the refugees’ life in camps outside of Europe as well. Like in the new “hotspots” it is imper­ative to put the refugees in a position to educate themselves, according to Seitz. This requires financial aid, creativity and the willingness to tackle the situation hands on. Cooper­ation with volunteer networks could be hugely advan­ta­geous here.

By: Annemarie Hedderich