The BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration held its eighth meeting on the premises of the German Bundestag in Berlin. Participants from Åland, the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Lithuania – represented by the BSPC President Valerijus Simulik -, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Nordic Council, Poland, Russia and Sweden attended the meeting. Chaired by Hans Wallmark, Sweden, Chairman of the Working Group, and welcomed by the Head of the German Bundestag’s delegation to the BSPC Johannes Schraps, the participants discussed expert presentations as well as the next meeting and the elaboration of the Final Report for the BSPC Annual Conference in Vilnius.
The overall theme of the meeting was unaccompanied minors alongside the topics Managing Migration, Border Control and Return as well as Sustainable Management of Migration and Integration Policies. The Working Group vividly discussed four expert presentations and agreed on the structure and main themes of the final report.
Prof Dr Stefan Thomas from the University of Applied Science, Potsdam, held a presentation with the title “Understanding and Supporting Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking and Refugee Children and Young People”. Prof Thomassaid that the exceptional migration flows during 2015 and 2016 had resulted in a lot of unaccompanied minors in Germany. These minors would stay in Germany for the next 50, 60 and 70 years, and it was therefore of utmost importance to find solutions for both migration and integration. Prof Thomas had conducted interviews with unaccompanied minors andpresented some of the main findings from his study. Primarily, this was that the institutional and legal circumstances of the German Youth Service system were highly standardised, and the standard of youth welfare was very high, but there was a lack of integration of the minors into social life in Germany. The findings of the current study indicated that integration into social life in Germany succeeded rather seldomly. The unaccompanied minors who had participated in the study experienced exclusion, discrimination and racism in their everyday lives. The minors were also at risk of inactivity since they did not have much to do apart from school. Contact with German peers and a welcoming culture in the country was essential for integration. Another aspect pointed out by Prof Thomaswas stress and pressure on the unaccompanied minors. Earlier traumas were relevant, but the study showed that most of the stress and pressure the minors were subject to concerned the situation in their current lives. Another finding of the study was that the minors were wishing for a job and an apartment, establishing an independent conduct of life. Prof Thomas concluded by saying that it was a common view that unaccompanied minors were in need of therapy to be able to deal with their traumas, but his study showed that the need and the wish for a job and an opportunity to stand on their own two feet were much stronger.
Ms Ulrike Schwarz, a legal expert at the National Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, held a presentation with the title “Understanding and Meeting the Legal Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking and Refugee Children and Young People”. The National Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (BumF) is a small NGO advocating for the rights of refugee children and young adults in Germany. Their projects are financed by the EU and are aimed at improving the reception conditions for unaccompanied minor refugees through training of professionals in the field of social work, family law and asylum. As Ms Schwarz explained, the most significant countries of origin for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Germany were Guinea, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Eritrea. These countries differed from the general statistics where Syria was the primary country of origin for asylum seekers in Germany.
Ms Schwarz noted that the general protection for unaccompanied minors was quite high in Germany, placing the interests of the child at the centre. The safety net protecting the minor consisted of a relationship triangle, where the Youth Welfare Office, the care person and the guardian/legal representative each were playing an essential part. The Youth Welfare Office supported the minor until the Family Court appointed a guardian. The YWO was also responsible for clearing the minor, a process which usually took about three months. During the clearing process, many aspects were assessed; health, education, personal development (physically as well as psychologically), possible caretaking facility, family ties, trafficking issues, asylum application and the question who should be the legal guardian. The clearing process was of great importance since that formed the basis for further applications, negotiations and hearings. The family court had to confirm that the legal requirements for guardianship did apply: The minor should be underage and unaccompanied. The court then appointed a guardian as part of its responsibility to monitor the guardianship and if necessary, end or change the guardianship.
Ms Katrin Hirseland, head of research at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, held a presentation about “Managing Migration, Border Control and Return”. Ms Hirseland presented the main tasks of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees: the asylum procedure and the Dublin procedure, resettlement and humanitarian reception, migration, integration, voluntary return, internationals tasks, security issues, digitisation and research. The office implemented a new approach after 2015 because of a new legal basis. In June 2019 a new migration package was adopted in Germany – which would take effect in March of the current year 2020 – including stronger return policies and regulations for labour market integration of asylum seekers.
Ms Hirseland presented some statistics about immigrants in Germany, concluding that the leading immigrant group was EU-internal migration. Other significant groups consisted of international university students, family reunification and asylum applications. The central countries of origins were Romania, Poland and Bulgaria. The number of applicants had been very high around 2015-2016 but had decreased since then. In 2019, 166,000 people had sought asylum in Germany. About 38 % of them had obtained a positive response. Germany had implemented temporary border controls since 2015, intended to prevent illegal entries and enable early registration for asylum seekers.
Another aspect of migration policy was promoting returns. There were two types of returns: voluntary and forced returns. The challenge in return number was that they did not match the number of legal obligations to leave Germany. Forced returns had doubled since the beginning of the mass influx in 2014. One example of Germany tackling the return challenge was the Assisted Return Programme providing support to the migrants for travelling, medical assistance and accommodation. One of the conclusions of the work with a return policy was that financial incentives often were not the primary return motivation but could encourage people who were already thinking about returning.
The final presentation, “Sustainable Management of Migration and Integration Policies“, was held by Prof Dr Lars Castellucci, from the University of Applied Management Studies. Prof Castellucci is also an MP in the German Bundestag. Prof Castellucci presented several numbers to illustrate the migration flows today and in the past: In 2018, there were 258 million migrants in the world. 2.5 % of the population had been migrants in 1965 compared to 3.3 % of the world population today. The birth rate in Europe in total was 1.6, and 11 billion people were the estimated number of people in the world in the year 2100. According to Prof Castellucci, people earning more than 2,000 USD per year but less than 10,000 USD per year were most likely to migrate. People with this income had the financial ability to move but at the same time not enough money to live a decent life, thus fostering a wish to move to a better place with other opportunities. Prof Castellucci commented that we should not just let migration happen, not attempt to prevent it but instead try to handle it. Prof Castellucci also informed on the new migration law that was intended to allow skilled workers to come to Germany. Conceptually, it gave the country the opportunity to attract skilled workers from all around the globe and served as an addition to a previous act aimed only at highly qualified workers with high salaries. Further on, Prof Castellucci commented on the triple-win-effect. As an example, he brought up the issue of nurses from abroad. The idea was to attract such nurses only from countries that had a surplus of them, rather than stealing the skilled labour from nations where they were also needed. That, the professor pointed out, was not a win-win scenario but rather a lose-win case. He saw the triple-win model created by present German policy as an indication that it could be achieved: The migrants would win, with better living perspectives. The labour market and the country would win as the currently severe shortage of nurses would be resolved. The countries of origin would win through readmittances and by Germany respecting the needs of their labour markets. The professor voiced his opinion that this model should be applied to other sectors as well. That would require an organisation like the World Health Organisation to monitor these labour markets. As large as this issue was, he felt it was necessary to move from sector to sector with the aid of an institution that provided them with the requisite data enabling solutions that were good for the many and not the few.
Regarding asylum, the main issue is to enforce the laws that Germany has. He also stressed the importance of distinguishing between those in need and those able to return. Prof Castellucci addressed the question of integration, pointing to the importance of fundamental needs as food, shelter, education, but also getting in touch with other people.
The Working Group had a lively debate with the experts on the issues raised in the presentations and possible recommendations for action.
The Working Group confirmed that it would hold one more meeting on 27-28 April 2020 in Mariehamn. The meeting will focus on the details of the working group’s final report and further calls to action for the 29th annual conference of the BSPC in Vilnius.
Following the working group meeting, the BSPC Secretary Level prepared the Standing Committee meeting in Brussels on 2 March 2020.