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24 September 2015

Comment from Monika Hauser: Refugees in Germany – opportunity and responsibility

Currently we are seeing a widespread feeling of responsibility for the refugees and an enormous willingness to help them. Touched by the plight of these people fleeing war and despair, a majority of German people can no longer sit and watch but rather want to take action. Seen politically, the Western industrialised nations are jointly responsible for the politics of self-interest which have led to the destabilisation of whole regions with immeasurable destruction and traumatisation. The wave of refugees entering our country is a chance for the population in Germany to express its empathy, defining humanity as our new goal.

For months now it has been obvious that the European community of values is and was actually no more than an economic community of self-interest. It helped to keep despots with no regard for human rights in power as long as they were economically useful and wars have been deliberately provoked. Germany's government notably declared that saving the banks was "systemically important" and committed itself to an aggressive export policy. In general, it has become clear that this system does not consider people to be important - except as consumers.

Fortress Europe – a degrading concept

For years people have been fleeing from countries where endless bombing has destroyed both infrastructure and any hope for the future. The intention behind the Dublin Agreement was to keep these people at the outer borders of Europe. However, if we look more closely then we see that Germany, as the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, has a great obligation to these refugees. Today the German government is calling loudly for European solidarity - at a time when the refugees in their sheer desperation are no longer going to be kept anywhere by bureaucratic agreements and regulations. So where was this solidarity a while ago, with Spain, Italy and Greece? They urgently needed support to build up a functioning public administration and humane support structures to deal with the waves of refugees which had been increasing for years. This type of politics is jointly guilty when it comes to the deaths in the Mediterranean and the men, women and children suffocating in the backs of trucks on European roads. This type of politics drove and continues to drive people into the arms of people traffickers!

So of course now the Dublin Agreement has to be suspended and existing European asylum standards have to be applied and complied with. There is no way around a European quota system for the distribution of the refugees and a rapid, unbureaucratic reception procedure for war refugees. The order of the day must be to introduce a humanitarian visa and to enable refugees to take safe escape routes by ferry, rail and other humane means of transport.

Why women and girls are fleeing: domestic violence, rape, forced marriage and genital mutilation as specifically female reasons

Genuine preventive measures would include analysing the reasons for fleeing and implementing appropriate foreign, development and security policy in order to counter them. Above all, civil crisis prevention and conflict management needs to be given priority, with an end to military primacy. An analysis of the reasons for flight specific to women is not only urgently needed but also crucial if development and foreign policy is intended to promote peace. It also needs to be acknowledged that the majority of all refugee women and girls will again experience sexualised violence during their flight. Measures then need to be taken against this. Warning signals from the UN went unheard as it announced it could no longer supply refugees in the camps around Syria because the international community was not fulfilling its funding commitments. One consequence is that girls are being 'married off' ever earlier, as a desperate attempt to provide them some form of protection. It is intolerable that this violence against women then continues in Germany. In terribly overcrowded refugee accommodation, women and girls who have often already suffered multiple trauma are then subjected to further violence: sexual assaults, rape and forced prostitution. Unaccompanied female minors need their own protected spaces with qualified supervision. Further, the regulations restricting refugees to a particular area of residence often mean that women have hardly any opportunity to escape the violence. The few experienced counselling institutions are completely overworked - often because of funding cuts in recent years!

"Safe countries of origin" as a gesture of deterrence?

I think it is completely ignorant how derogatory the comments are from European politicians on economic migrants from the Balkans. In 2003, the European community of values stated in its Final Declaration of the EU Conference in Thessaloniki: "The EU reiterates its unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union." This refers to a vision of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and religious tolerance - in connection with economic aid, of course. However, these promises and this vision have been completely forgotten! Categorising these countries as "safe countries of origin" is pure gesture politics and will not deter people from their quest for true hope in their lives! A "Marshall Plan" for the whole region would help to ensure that the people can find work at home and it would also assist them to process the trauma they experienced during the wars.

Humane, trauma-sensitive approaches to refugees in the destination countries

Those who have come to us in Germany need to be given an outlook for the future. In addition to language lessons, access to education and access to work, this is unquestionably also needs to include trauma-sensitive counselling and support. Later admission of family dependents also needs to be made easier: the family is an important, supportive social network which can be a protective factor against long-term post-traumatic disorders. Restrictions on medical care for asylum seekers need to be lifted. This three-class healthcare system is not only disgraceful; it has also been scientifically demonstrated to be economically misguided.

Transforming helplessness and powerlessness into compassion and humane action

For many people who experienced World War II, the images of refugees are reactivating their own memories of helplessness, sheer despair and homelessness. It also applies to the younger generations who listened to tales of wartime experiences. To paraphrase Sabine Bode: Many times we have dealt with wartime violence intellectually, but we have not dealt with it emotionally. Does the current refugee drama provide us with the opportunity to do this?

Through their encounters with the stories of the people they are helping, many of the volunteers who are offering their help spontaneously and unbureaucratically might enter into an emotional connection with their own experiences of war and displacement. And perhaps this could even lead to further questions being asked which would cast light on the social grievances and shortcomings here in Germany. In the best case, a voice will become clearly audible calling for politics which treat human beings as "systemically important"!