2030-Study of the UN

Migration and refugees and Germany’s responsibility

The 2030-Agenda of the United Nations promises the transformation of our world. What about Migration in Germany?

By Thomas Gebauer and Ramona Lenz

While migration played a minor role in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is now an integral part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Target 10.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals reads: “facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.” Apart from this explicit reference to migration in the SDGs, many of the 17 goals and 169 targets concern root causes of flight and migration. The elimination of poverty, the realisation of the right to health, justice, peace and a responsible use of resources – all these are prerequisites for people being able to freely choose where to live.

The Global Migration Group (GMG), which consists of 17 UN organisations and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), was formed for the purpose of clarifying the migration-related Sustainable Development Goals. So far, its meetings have mainly dealt with the development of indicators for measuring progress in the area of migration. Representatives of civil society also took part in the meetings.

The GMG  has demanded that the “historic opportunity” be seized in order to improve migration governance. The participation of UN organisations, the IOM and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the development and implementation of migration policies indicates a fundamental transformation of the political, which has been observable for years and also characterises the SDG process. Critically accompanying the 2030 Agenda therefore requires also looking at how intergovernmental and non-state actors deal with the SDGs.

This seems indispensable also because the goal of “facilitating orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration” through “well-managed migration policies” is still very vague and difficult to measure. This was also criticised by the GMG. However, the political indeterminacy is not removed by specifying quantifiable indicators. There is a risk that flight and migration are not oriented towards human rights criteria, but towards utilitarian criteria of the destination countries, especially since business are also involved.

What is problematic about the definition of “regular migration” is the concurrent establishment of “irregular migration”, which creates the basis for justifying the exclusion of human beings. An indicator that measures the progress in goal attainment by the number of victims of human trafficking can be met by opening legal paths to immigration, but also by criminalising border crossing assistance. Civil society actors are called upon not to let themselves be coopted by a utilitarian refugee and migration policy and to counteract the instrumentalisation of human rights.

Misguided policies as root causes of migration

After Germany was rightly praised for its welcoming culture in 2015, things have changed again: The “Balkan route” is more tightly closed than before, the machinery of deportation towards Turkey has been set in motion, and the number of countries classified as “safe” by German government representatives that are anything but safe for refugees has jumped up. At the same time, everyone is talking about combating root causes of migration. However, on closer examination the programmes of the German government and the EU that are supposed to help promote the protection of refugees and combat root causes of migration turn out to be measures for combating flight and migration themselves. They are not about the safety of refugees and migrants, but about sealing off and safeguarding one’s own territory through externalised border protection.

Turkey is not the EU’s first dubious cooperation partner in matters of stopping refugees. Already since the Rabat conference in July 2006 and the Khartoum Process initiated in November 2014, the EU launched numerous action plans, programmes and projects for checking the number of refugees and migrants ideally before their arrival at the European external borders. While the Rabat Process focuses on West and North Africa, the Khartoum Process mainly addresses the Horn of Africa and the route via Niger.

Negotiations about the safety of refugees are con-ducted with the governments of countries such as Eritrea or Sudan, which have committed serious and systematic human rights violations and which are often themselves the reason for people fleeing. While this is declared as development cooperation, it is in large part about training local security forces that are to provide effective migration and border management in future.[1] It cannot be ruled out that the governments of these countries will deploy the security forces trained with these funds for oppressing their own civil society or accept funds without stopping the human trafficking, which they profit from themselves and which is even more lucrative with reinforced border protection.[2]

Subsidised agricultural products from Germany dumped on African markets, food speculation, land grabbing and the use of farmlands for producing biofuel for the global North instead of food urgently needed for feeding the local population are further aspects of misguided policies producing causes of migration such as hunger and poverty. The German Ministry for Development also declares its participation in the restructuring of African agriculture after the European model as development cooperation – allegedly for the purpose of fighting hunger, while in fact it caters to the interests of international agribusiness. Critics are warning that more than 100 million small farmers could be deprived of their livelihood in the coming years.[3]

The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which the EU concludes with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, ACP countries for short, lay down in treaties what pushes people to flee: namely that Europe hardly needs to pay any taxes for accessing relevant resources and can also export goods customs-free e.g. to African countries, while these countries must pay all kinds of licence fees: for patented seeds, medication, communication technology etc.

Moreover, arms exports and military interventions dominated by self-interest as well as the facilitation of tax flight and avoidance, the privatisation of public services and the way of life and mode of production of the global North that are harmful to the climate contribute to producing causes of migration. If the social destabilisation and the destruction of livelihoods are not stopped, the silent perishing of human beings that is hardly perceived in these parts will continue. Only very few will succeed in fleeing to Europe. For most refugees are internally displaced, and the vast majority of those leaving their countries remain in neighbouring countries in the region.

Misguided asylum policy

The erosion of the right to asylum started in 1993 and continued in late 2015 with the asylum packages I and II in the slipstream of what many deemed the “biggest refugee crisis since World War II”. However, the measures taken by the Federal Republic of Germany for reducing the number of people taking refuge in Germany are not confined to the national territory. The German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Mazière, admonished that “refugee policy must not begin only at Germany’s borders”, that a “concerted, interlocked, networked common strategy” is necessary for strengthening the rights and the safety of the refugees. But how little this is about the rights and safety of refugees becomes clear when we look at some of the countries that are judged safe by government representatives and with which Germany and the EU cooperate or aim at cooperating so that they stop or readmit refugees.

Human rights violations in these countries, which are often a reason for flight, are condoned, and further actions violating human rights are even encouraged by urging governments to keep the population within the country. This contradicts Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which everyone has the right to leave any country.

This illustrates the problematic core of the dominant security discourse. When security is mentioned today, then as a rule the focus is not on the safety of those who are most in need of it, the poor and destitute, but only on the safety of the privileged, the protection of the dominant status quo, much as it may be characterised by social inequality. Since security policy makers principally locate the dangers that might threaten the status quo only in external relations, their efforts towards security mainly aim at drawing boundaries.

Approaches for a responsible migration and asylum policy

According to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities formulated in Rio in 1992, Germany must take responsibility to the extent that corresponds to its financial and technological resources, its contribution to environmental destruction and climate change and its share in producing further causes of migration, historically and presently.

At the national level, Germany should take the recommendations of the Council for Migration[4] seriously. Instead of the planned Integration Act – which demands integration efforts unilaterally from immigrants – this would mean thinking about an integration contract that looks at factors for disintegration such as lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing, lack of perspectives and the increasing inequality between rich and poor as obstacles to integration for everyone. The transfer of competences for matters of refugees, migration and omnilateral integration from the Ministry of the Interior to another, possibly specially created ministry, also suggested by the Council for Migration, could reduce the one-sided focus on the security aspect.

Concerning the situation of asylum seekers in Germany, which has deteriorated with the asylum packages I and II, there are a number of demands that must be met so that they can live here in dignity. These include sufficient health care, the facilitation of family reunion and the elimination of the residency obligation. At the European level, creating safe and legal paths for immigration to offer protection, stopping the fight against refugees labelled as a fight against smugglers and ending unlawful pushbacks are the order of the day. The Dublin Regulation, according to which the first country in which asylum seekers enter EU territory is responsible for their procedure, must be repealed, and richer EU countries further north must take on more responsibilities. It cannot be that Greece with its high debt has to bear the brunt of admitting refugees. All in all, Germany and the EU – in keeping with their role in the world – must admit more refugees and migrants and create legal and safe access paths for this purpose.

Including the domestic expenditures for refugees in the official development cooperation funds as a proportion of the gross national income (GNI) should be ruled out for Germany as for other OECD countries. While domestic expenditures for refugees are very important and should be increased, they do not contribute to the social and economic development in the partner countries of development cooperation.

With respect to development cooperation, Germany and other donor countries must refrain from conditioning funds by linking payments to a quid pro quo e.g. on border protection and migration control. Cooperation on migration policy with dictatorial regimes that systematically violate human rights must be ruled out. Quite generally, the policy of shifting the external borders and the criminalisation of migration are to be refrained from. Profound interventions in countries of the global South that cause structural changes and are declared as development cooperation or use development cooperation as leverage but mainly serve the economic interests of donor countries and international corporations must not occur.

Instead of arms exports and military interventions that prioritise self-interest, contributions must be made to end wars and persecution. People fleeing from war, violent conflicts or persecution because of their “race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group” are entitled to refuge and protection within the meaning of the 1951 Refugee Convention. As important and worthy of protection the 1951 Refugee Convention and the right to asylum are, they need to be complemented by international norms regulating migration outside of war and political persecution. The legal status of climate refugees, for example, or the opportunities offered by circular migration should be considered in this context. But also the question of compensating the countries of the South, which have been contributing to alleviating the lack of skilled workers in the North for decades through the so-called brain drain, should be raised anew.

Concerning climate change and environmental destruction, the countries of the global North with their mode of production and way of life have a particular responsibility to work towards limiting environmental destruction and resource use and to support those countries and people who suffer most severely from the consequences. Moreover, to combat poverty and inequality a just tax system must be introduced that offers global solutions beyond national regulations in order to thwart tax flight and avoidance so that more tax money can be used for public services.

The threat to public services is also the reason why the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) be-tween the EU and the ACP countries must be ended immediately. Blackmailing the poorest countries by threatening to cease development cooperation if they do not open up their markets to European products, services and investments, as was recently practiced towards Kenya, is inacceptable.[5] Moreover, the misguided agricultural policies of Germany and the EU must be ended, and the land rights of small farmers in the global South must be safeguarded in order to prevent land grabbing, water and resource theft. At the same time, they must be protected from dumped products from the global North.

To put it positively, we need alternatives to the dominant profit- and growth-oriented economy, such as further developing cooperative ideas, implementing international social and labour standards and contemplating how public services can be expanded beyond all borders and ensured e.g. through an International Health Fund, as medico international has been demanding for many years. The German government is called upon to actively participate in creating a global social infrastructure that guarantees all people, everywhere, access to education, health and other essential common goods. The German Minister for Development, Müller, who acknowledged that it would be erroneous to assume that Germany could permanently realise its prosperity at the expense of others, should be taken seriously. The demand for global redistribution put forward by Minister Müller on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in 2015 needs to be transformed into concrete policies in order to make progress in eliminating the root causes of migration.


[1] Cf. European Union (2015). Concerning the implementation of these measures for “better migration management”, this EU paper on the Khartoum Process explicitly mentions the German governmental development organisation GIZ. The above-mentioned IOM and the UNHCR, which now see the 2030 Agenda as an opportunity for better control of migration, are also involved in these processes. For instan-ce, the IOM has recently opened an EU-funded office in Niger whose explicit task is to prevent people from continuing their journey towards North Africa and Europe. And for years the UNHCR has been supporting governments in countries such as Morocco and Turkey in perfecting their selection mechanisms for the purpose of distinguis-hing between “real refugees” and “illegal migrants”.

[2] Cf. Weber (2016).

[3] Cf. Humburg/Bommert (2015).

[4] The Council for Migration is an alliance of more than a hundred researchers who critically accompany the migration and integration policy of the German government.

[5] Cf. Zierhut (2015).


European Union (2015): The European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Stability and Addressing the Root Causes of Irregular Migration and Displaced Persons in Africa. Brussels [Link].

Humburg, Anja/Bommert, Wilfried (2015): Unter falscher Flagge? Entwicklungspolitik der New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition – Warum das Bündnis zwischen G8-Regierungen und Konzernen den Kleinbauern Afrikas kein Glück bringen kann. IWE Dossier. Berlin [Link].

Weber, Annette (2016): Presentation at the conference: „Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn: Auslagerung und Regionalisierung von Migrationskontrolle und Fluchtbewegungen“ on February 23, 2016 in Berlin. Frankfurt/Main [Link].

Zierhut, Jochen (2015): Erpressung durch die EU? Umstrittenes Handelsabkommen EPA. Nairobi/Hamburg [Link].

Published: 14. August 2017

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