A five-point plan for dealing with the refugee crisis: there are no small solutions to big problems


Europe and Germany cannot be an island of contentment, because cross-border crises do not simply disappear by building walls, looking away and failing to act. This is the lesson to be learned from 2015: crises on the financial markets and in Greece, Ebola, Charlie Hebdo and Islamic terror at the heart of Europe, global data espionage penetrating as far as the German Federal Chancellery, the suffering and misery of the refugees. Cross-border crises call for a consistently higher level of international and global co-operation. This is something we need to adapt to: with solution strategies, investments, personnel, innovations in ministries. 2015 is not a year of exceptional crisis, to be followed by calmer circumstances. Comprehensive globalisation means that we need to learn to come to terms with its boomerang effects if prosperity, democracy and security are to have a future.

The refugee crisis requires an all-embracing approach, a five-point plan. Initiatives need to be put into place promptly in five areas in order to slow down escalation, save human lives and our European concept of humanism and ensure security in Europe and in our neighbourhoods. None of the initiatives required is simple, all of them require perseverance, significant application of resources and bold political reforms.

Reinvent the Near and Middle East

Firstly, Europe, in co-operation with the USA and working together with Russia, Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Egypt and Tunisia, should push for a process of long-term stabilisation and reform of the MENA region. Just as Europe was rebuilt after the Second World War and Latin America fundamentally reformed after the military dictatorships of the 1970s/80s, the Near and Middle East needs to “reinvent” itself. A multilateral conference on the “Future of the Near and Middle East” would be a first step. There are no quick solutions; which is why work needs to begin promptly. Pragmatic visionaries are called for, like the recently deceased Egon Bahr (minister of Willy Brandt and the architect of the German Ostpolitik, policy of dètente which aimed at overcoming the cold war), who despite – or due to – the situations in Syria, Iraq, Libya or Yemen develop a multilateral process in order to consistently address the problems of failing states, war, Islamic terror and refugees. This will call for unusual alliances and initiatives.

Global Initiative – Solution for 60 million refugees

Secondly, the Director of the Overseas Development Institute, Kevin Watkins, has quite rightly called on the UN, EU, G7 and G20 to find fair and humanitarian solutions for 60 million refugees worldwide, the number of which will likely increase drastically when international climate policy fails. It is shameful enough that we Europeans only address this problem after a small portion of these uprooted people head for Europe. Countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or Pakistan, Uganda, Chad are dealing with far vaster numbers of refugees (per inhabitant) than in Europe, and require large-scale support. How can multilaterally-protected security zones be created for refugees? How can refugee camps be established that avoid the loss of hope and prospects – and with them the endless cycle of apathy and violence? How can the burden be shared fairly with regard to future climate refugees, e.g. from the Pacific island states and African countries threatened by drought?

Doing our homework in Europe: Integration policy

Thirdly, here in Germany and Europe we need to do our homework to enable the humane reception and integration of refugees. This concerns refugee policy and migration policy in the broader sense, incorporating financial, institutional, labour market, social and education policy challenges, but above all moral challenges. Countries, federal states, municipalities and civil societies are all called upon to ensure that the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War does not culminate in the humanitarian bankruptcy of Europe. Widely differing topics need to be addressed: what form can circularly migration take in order to promote the employment of people in Germany and their subsequent reintegration in their stabilised home countries? What should European co-operation look like if the popularity of a Europe as conceived by Viktor Orban is to be minimised? How can refugees of war be comprehensively protected and humane paths established for people hoping for a better economic future in Germany and Europe? How can own interests (in workers, in targeted immigration to cushion the effects of demographic transition) and the interests of refugees and immigrants be balanced?

Tackling causes of flight

Fourthly, the causes of flight need to be tackled. Refugees come from war zones and failed states, countries with desolate social and economic prospects or dictatorships in which human rights are infringed. None of these problems can be resolved quickly, yet development policy, clever diplomacy and security policy, international jurisdiction for the pursuit of breaches of human rights by government representatives, militias, terrorists can be effective and provide prospects for future development and improved living conditions. This requires money, time and creativity. There is no alternative to increasing involvement in crisis states. German and European Africa policy needs to be realigned and extended. Europe needs to significantly increase its activities in the Balkan states. An effective climate policy is preventive refugee policy.

Education: Learning to become world citizens

Fifthly, there is a need for a long-term education policy. The coming generations need to learn how to live in an open, more heterogeneous migration society. This includes knowledge of Islam, which in Germany still scarcely exists after 40 years of Turkish immigration, similarly the handling of unavoidable conflicts in social stress situations, tolerance and the obligation of all citizens to observe democracy and human rights. In addition, education policy must also prepare people to acknowledge that a high degree of global co-operation is an essential prerequisite for peace and prosperity in a closely-linked world. At the end of the 18th century, in the Age of Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant was already warning that it is not enough to be good citizens of a nation, people need to be citizens of the world too. In the 21st century this acknowledgement should not only be a moral compass, but a guarantee that the international community does not sink into a mire of uncontrollable conflicts and crises.


Dirk Messner is Director of the German Development Institute in Bonn, Germany.

This article was originally published in German on Zeit Online.



Dirk Messner

Dirk Messner is Director of the German Development Institute in Bonn, Germany.

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