So, I've been rather hard on Germany's immigration policies lately. But it's not sporting to criticize the authorities without suggesting a workable alternative — no magic pixie dust. Here's a rough sketch of one, off the top of my head. Let me know what you think in comments.
First, the pragmatic (or, to skeptics, cynical) principles and/or real-world constraints on which the policy is based:
- Immigration policy should put the interests of that country's citizens first. Other interests come into play, but in any democratic country, the will of the people should rule, as long as it is consistent with basic human-rights principles. There is no human-rights principle that says a national of one country has a right to live abroad simply because he or she wishes to. Uncontrolled free migration has never been and will never be a human right.
- Every country has a tolerance limit on the number of people from foreign cultures which it can accommodate without negative consequences. The more remote the culture from which the immigrant comes, the bigger the potential for problems.
- The only successful, permanent solutions to the problems behind current refugee flows must come from within the affected countries, through a process of reconciliation and economic development. Germany should support these processes, and does so right now, however imperfectly and inconsistently. Germany's policies under the Nazi era were repugnant, and Germany has historical responsibilities growing out of them. Allowing uncontrolled mass migration is not one of those responsibilities. The difficulties of foreign countries thousands of miles away cannot be solved by German immigration policy, and can be made worse, for instance by brain drain.
- Germany cannot fix the root causes of current migration. Germany has no influence on the civil war in Syria. None of the state parties who are supporting proxies in Iraq or Syria (Iran, Russia, Gulf Arab States, etc.) cares about Germany's opinion, or the opinion of the EU. Conditions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the West Balkans cannot be remedied by any German or EU policy short of military intervention, which should not and will not occur.
- Those who are permitted to resettle temporarily in Germany for humanitarian reasons should be selected, to the greatest extent possible, on the basis of greatest objective need and/or danger, as determined by current international human-rights law.
With those in mind, here's my 11-point sketched-on-a-cocktail-napkin plan:
- International bodies should drastically increase funding for refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other areas near war zones. Funding is beginning to dwindle, causing conditions in those camps to deteriorate. For humanitarian and practical reasons, this must be reversed. No matter how many refugees the EU accepts, as a practical matter, most refugees are going to stay in those camps, and conditions need to be improved there.
- The EU should build a high-tech fence around its external borders with non-EU nations. The 'dream' of a borderless Europe cannot survive a reality in which large disparities in the standard of living exist. And in fact it is now dead. Sooner or later, fences will be built and patrols increased. Better sooner than later. And when I talk about disparities in standard of living, I am talking about northwest Europe. No MENA migrant is saying to herself: 'If only I could get to Moldova, Albania, or Serbia!' They don't even want to get to Greece, Italy, or Spain. They all want to get to places that have relatively sophisticated and tolerant societies and strong economies. Eastern European states are on the frontline, but they are not the destination. Routine traffic and train checks within the Schengen borders should be increased based on algorithmic modeling of human-smuggling routes.
- The punishment for someone convicted of human smuggling will be a minimum of 5 years in prison, followed by deportation, if applicable. If serious injury occurs to migrants, minimum 7 years. If death, minimum 10 years. No exceptions, unless you testify against the other members of the smuggling ring. These harsh penalties should be used as bargaining chips against small fry to get them to inform on higher-ups. Surveillance, sting operations and undercover informants should be used liberally to infiltrate smuggler groups. If these sound like harshly repressive methods, that's because they are. Governments can and should use severe methods against harmful, dangerous exploitation. And these methods work: they decimated the American mafia, which was once thought to be invulnerable. I bet a lot of cops currently enforcing pointless marijuana laws would prefer to fight human smuggling.
- None of these measures will stop migration, of course, but they will reduce it substantially, and will gather data for better interdiction strategies. To have controlled, humane, rational, fair system of migration, there is no alternative to a strong, secure border. In the era of drones, satellites, and GPS, this is actually not an insurmountable problem. Where will the funding come from? Some will come from reduced numbers of migrants. Other funding will have to be found. But since there will be overwhelming support for this project in places like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria, I suspect the funding will be found. If you go to Hungary and say: 'Here's €100 million — now please take tens of thousands of new immigrants from Africa and the Middle East', Hungary will say — and has said — no way. Never. Over my dead body. Not in a million years. Hungary will not change its mind on its own, and there is no way to force it to change its policy. If you go to Hungary and say: 'The EU wants to give you €100 million to build a secure, reliable, modern border fence so that you can better control who enters your country', the response will be 'Yes, please!'
- All states within Europe, perhaps with the exception of Belarus, should be declared safe countries of origin. All migrants from Albania, Kosovo, etc. should be swiftly deported unless they can qualify for refugee status, meaning they fear for their lives because of war, or other grave threats specifically directed at them personally. Relative poverty does not justify refugee status. Nor do allegations of discrimination, unless they directly threaten life. The stupid code of blood revenge in Albania is definitely not Germany's problem, and not a reason to grant refugee status. The tiny fraction of rural Albanians still involved in this foolish and illegal practice should be encouraged to abandon it, as their fellow citizens already have.
- All migrants who arrive in any Western European country should be fingerprinted and have a DNA analysis performed and stored in a secure EU-wide database. They're already fingerprinted, of course, but DNA analysis is cheap and much more reliable.
- Germany should set up stations in refugee camps near the Syrian border and at embassies and consulates in other problem areas. Applications will be processed there, at the site. If refugee status is granted, the person will be granted an entry visa into Germany and permitted to travel normally. They will be met at the airport and taken to housing and set up with benefits. They will be permitted to stay as long as the situation in their country of origin justifies. Once the situation stabilizes, they will be returned to their home country. Refugee status was never meant to be permanent. If they have spent a long time in Germany and made a successful transition to German society, they may apply for residency status or citizenship.
- Migrants who arrive in Germany without refugee status will be housed in humane detention centers. Their movements will be monitored with ankle bracelets to ensure they do not disappear into the illegal underground. If they do any serious lawbreaking during the period of detention, they will be immediately deported — no questions asked, no appeals. They will be given lawyers and permitted to make a case for refugee status or another argument for being granted residency. If that is denied, and their appeals fail, they will be deported within one month. They will also be warned that if they attempt to return, they will be imprisoned. If they go underground, they will be subject to immediate deportation upon discovery — no questions asked, no appeals.
- In consultation with other EU member states, Germany will set an annual upper limit on the number of humanitarian migrants, including refugees, which it will harbor. I'd suggest something like 250,000 per year. A million refugees a year is not sustainable for Germany. Some of those will be allocated for urgent humanitarian cases, such as people with medical conditions that can't be treated in their country, or people who are faced with immediate, deadly threats because of severe, government-sponsored persecution or war. Grants of refugee or humanitarian status should be based on selection for greatest need/threat. They should be rationed out so that the yearly maximum is not exceeded. The willingness of other EU countries to accept refugees will surely increase once secure borders exist and they know that they will be expected only to accommodate a set number of refugees known in advance.
- This will mean that thousands of people who do qualify as refugees under international law will be rejected by Germany because Germany has hit its yearly limit. This is unfortunate, but the number of refugees that Germany can handle should and must be determined by Germany, not by the number of refugees out there. Germany will debate about how many refugees it should accept per year, and those who get the most votes for their number limit should win. Those refugees who are rejected by Germany should be encouraged to apply for refugee status in another country, with a notice that Germany found their claims justified, but has no room under the quota.
- As for non-humanitarian policy, German should institute a points system to attract immigrants who have shown a specific interest in migrating to Germany and have relevant job and language skills. There should be quotas to ensure that this immigration is spread out among numerous countries, to avoid (excessive) brain-drain effects. If you want to foster a harmonious and welcoming attitude toward immigrants, the best thing you can do is make sure most of the ones you let in are well-educated, employed and productive, bringing ideas and skills that will make them an immediate benefit to everyone, including members of the native population.