Integrating Refugees Reduces Risks

Integrating Refugees Reduces Risks

Language training and job placement are key to integration

By Frank-J. Weise, Chairman of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees

The influx of refugees into the European Union, particularly into Germany, raises security concerns. This was reinforced by the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015. A sober look at the facts, however, puts things in perspective: Migration is not the cause of the increased terrorist threat in Europe.

Both migration and terrorism are the consequences of failing states and violent conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. These conflicts have complex political, ethnic and religious roots, and they take place right on our doorstep. The distance from Aleppo, Syria, to Passau, Germany, is just 3,000 kilometers — approximately the same distance between Athens, Greece, and Paris, France, or Marbella, Spain, and Berlin, Germany. And Benghazi, Libya, is closer to Athens than Munich is to Hamburg.

We should not forget that most refugees are victims of war, terror and persecution. They are running from terrorist groups in states that no longer control their territories. Because Europe is not far, they come here to find refuge under the rule of law. In the Geneva Convention on Refugees, all EU member states committed themselves to granting protection to refugees. Our readiness to live up to that standard will be the measure of our society.

The challenge lies in reconciling the refugees’ need for protection with our citizens’ need for security by establishing pragmatic rules, applying constitutional procedures and practicing intelligent management. So far, however, managing the flow of migrants has been difficult for Europe and Germany, not only because of the large number of refugees, but because of our structures and lack of transparency in our procedures. Therefore, European nations need to work together to improve registration processes and create mechanisms for an equitable distribution of refugees.

Germany implemented a new identity card for asylum applicants in December 2015. About 965,000 people applied for asylum status in Germany between January and November 2015. The new ID card helps track migrants. [GETTY IMAGES]

Germany implemented a new identity card for asylum applicants in December 2015. About 965,000 people applied for asylum status in Germany between January and November 2015. The new ID card helps track migrants. [GETTY IMAGES]

In Germany, the refugee registration system does not work properly. Different authorities collect the same data and the same information repeatedly without the ability to exchange it. Many refugees have not yet filed requests for asylum with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees or were not yet able to do so. This makes it difficult to know who has entered Germany, when they arrived, and where they are staying. This situation is the result of our legal regulations and inadequate structures and capacities. But we are finally taking a decisive step forward. Parliament has streamlined registration procedures and facilitated the exchange of data between authorities. Going forward, data will be fed into an interagency database, and refugees will receive documents as evidence of identity that contain essential information. This will lead to more transparency and make it easier to know who is staying where in Germany and which benefits they are receiving. These new regulations will soon be implemented.

This, however, will impact only the perceived security if it has any impact at all. Refugee management is no substitute for police and intelligence work. Even the most thorough hearings at the Office for Migration and Refugees cannot uncover terrorists — that would be an unrealistic expectation. Those intending to commit terrorist acts arrive in a country under false names, either with quality forged passports or authentic stolen passports, as was the case in the Paris attacks. The terrorists used Syrian passports and registered as refugees, although they were Belgian and French citizens. The prevention of such abuse is the responsibility of law enforcement and intelligence services.

But security goes far beyond police work. Mostly, we need to prevent the emergence of poorly integrated parallel societies in Europe and in Germany. Today’s failure to integrate refugees and immigrants provides the breeding ground for tomorrow’s terrorism. That is the most important lesson learned from the Paris attacks. After all, the terrorists were Belgian and French citizens.

Therefore, we need to integrate immigrants and long-term refugees into our society as quickly as possible. Jobs and education play a key role in the integration process. The Federal Employment Agency and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees cooperate with many local and federal state authorities. They offer language training, education and advanced training, job placement, and advice and support. Much needs to be done in a very short time. Labor market data indicate that the longer people are inactive, the harder it is to integrate them successfully. So we need to build a sustainable infrastructure right now. Time is of the essence.