The German minister of the interior announced on the weekend that Germany would temporarily close its southern border. In so doing, the government would temporarily leave the so-called Schengen agreement, which allows the free movement of people in the Euro zone.
To be sure, this is absolutely legal and conforms with European law, which allows EU member states in a emergency situations a 30-day period (with a possibility of renewal) to leave Schengen in case the government determines that its internal security is threatened. Germany has done so before — this past June for the G7 meetings.
As it currently stands, only a few countries share the burden of accepting and caring for refugees.
However, in light of recent discussions, a few important issues need to be clarified.
Above all, the temporary monitoring of its borders does not mean that Germany is turning away refugees that are seeking asylum there. Quite to the contrary, just on Monday, the vice-chancellor announced that the government is prepared to accept up to 1 million refugees this year (up from 800,000).
Should it be the case that, say, a van with refugees is being stopped at the border to Austria, the police force will not turn them away and send them back where they came from. Rather, they will be brought to a refugee shelter in the city of Passau, in Southern Germany, where they will receive humanitarian assistance. The federal government has made up to 6 billion euros available for this in addition to the regular budget. The driver, however, will be prosecuted for human trafficking. Also, refugees arriving in Germany via third, non-EU countries directly, are still welcomed and will be cared for in terms of providing shelter, food, health services, etc. They are also eligible to apply for refugee status.
Second, Germany’s border to Austria is not closed. The government introduced temporary border checks only. This allows it to trace human smugglers and enforce the so-called Dublin agreement, which regulates how refuges are to be treated once they reach the European Union. Specifically, the provisions in the Dublin agreement stipulate that refugees must be registered in the EU member state that they first enter. In the context of the current crisis, this means especially Hungary and Greece. While the Dublin agreement may not be ideal, it requires the effort of all 28 member states to not only show solidarity, but also political will, to find a common, European solution.
Thus, third, Germany’s temporary measure is mostly intended to put pressure on other EU member states to agree to a quota system whereby refugees landing anywhere in the EU can be distributed among the European member states somewhat more equally. As it currently stands, only a few countries share the burden of accepting and caring for refugees.
To alleviate the crisis, the EU as a whole needs to commit more money to build more shelters and help, in particular, the southern EU member states (Greece, Hungary) to adequately shelter and feed arriving refugees.
The current situation is unbecoming for a Nobel Peace laureate.