There have been plenty of bad decisions taken by European politicians in the last few years. But few will cause as much misery as Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. Her decision to rip up the Dublin Convention and announce that any Syrian can claim asylum in Germany will lead to more people putting their hands in the lives of unscrupulous human traffickers as they try desperately to make it to Germany. This will, tragically, lead to more deaths.
In the magazine this week, I argue that Merkel’s policy is flawed on several levels. First, she has chosen to prioritise those Syrians who have already made it to Europe. These people are not in imminent fear of their lives unlike the millions of internally displaced people within Syria. It also ignores the plight of those in refugee camps on the Syrian border; the UNHCR say that they have a $795 million funding gap in their Syrian operation.
Next, Merkel — having unilaterally ripped up the Dublin Convention—wants to impose mandatory quotas for refugee resettlement on other EU states; Britain is out of this because it is one of the countries with an opt-out on this issue. The word from Brussels is that Merkel is prepared to use qualified majority voting to push this policy through against the opposition of several Eastern European governments. This is an extremely bad idea. For it is hard to think of a better way to boost anti-immigrant, populists than to force countries to take refugees against their wishes.
Then, there is the question of the future of Syria itself. By taking in those Syrians who have already Europe, Merkel is, intentionally or not, cherry-picking the more prosperous members of what used to be Syrian society, those who have sufficient resources to pay the traffickers. Without them, their ravaged country is far less likely to make a recovery once the fighting eventually stops.
Far from being an act of enlightened moral leadership, Merkel’s refugee policy is short-sighted and not properly thought through. It fails the test of true statesmanship.