Guest post by Pedro-Manuel López
In a summer in which an average of five refugees crossing the Bavarian-Austrian per day can cause a German government crisis and wrangling over European harbor access for half a dozen ships transporting rescued refugees leads to an emergency EU summit, it seems fitting to conceive new elite border patrol units, such as Austria’s newly formed “PUMA” quick response force.
The unit is the brainchild of the Austrian minister of the interior Herbert Kickl and comes on the heels of heated rhetoric surrounding what Kickl sees as a clear and imminent danger: a sizable wave of new refugees. To buttress this stance, Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl recently stated that the 2015 crisis could not be considered a fluke. “There are 60 million people with training trying to gain access to the [European] job market,” according to Kneissl. The Austrian foreign minister also sees the possibility of a domino effect between Germany and Austria, as well as Austria and Slovenia due to re-patriations or deportations. A fact most would also take into account is Austria’s strategic geographic location upstream from the Danube Delta, which has always had a defining influence on its development as a nation and its foreign policy. Yet the long view is not chic now. Austrian tabloids readily back the newer interpretation of these factors, writing glowingly of the government’s policies to stem the possible flow of thousands of refugees caught on the “West Balkan” route. Figures published on December 31, 2107 by www.reliefwebint.int showed that approx. 6500 refugees were counted at the end of 2017 in the Balkan countries other than Greece.
Given Austria’s placement on the map and the low numbers of refugees being recorded (a 44% drop in applicants to a projected 14000 by the end of 2018 – the lowest figure since 2011) the time seems ripe for a re-assessment and re-calibrating of how Europe grapples with refugees and asylum seekers. Professionals such as legal experts, physicians, translators & Interpreters, social workers, employment placement agencies, these are the components of a “specialized (work) force” that can counsel and properly assess refugees and asylum seekers. With the help of experienced organizations such as the UNHCR and the Red Cross, European, Middle Eastern and African countries can develop the kind of quick response force that helps create new job opportunities for both Europeans and those non- EU migrants intent on pursuing their futures here. Similar efforts have also led to improved foreign language skills in the United States; see social enclaves such as the Chinese-Latin American and US American communities in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles or New York.
However, what many private citizens may support in parts of the world such as Sudan or Somalia is inconceivable at home. Let European volunteers travel across the globe in telegenic khaki garb to help migrants in those parts of the world. Nevertheless, it is almost ludicrous to some that the same job-generating aid and organizations may be sorely needed within the borders of the EU, with or without the current hype. The title of the new International Federation of Red Cross report, points the way things could be headed “New Walled Order: How barriers to basic services turn migration into a humanitarian crisis.“ As Austria and Europe tighten the screws on migration throughout the Austrian EU presidency, they should also assess the ramifications this effort can lead to. In December 2017, CNN aired “what appeared to be a migrant slave auction in Libya, in which two sub-Saharan African men were sold to the highest bidder.” See also www.migrationpolicy.org .
Whether the first domino falls in Europe, with Europe’s aging demographics in mind, or at the borders of the EU, there will be repercussions for everyone from more restrictive migration. This is what political quantities such as Kickl, Seehofer or Salvini either choose to downplay with regard to their voters, or simply do not want to factor into their equations. It would be nice to know how much time Kickl, Seehofer and Salvini and their advisors have spent on the issues addressed by the IFRC such as, “proactively identifying and addressing factors that prevent migrants from accessing essential health services, and ensuring that domestic laws, policies, procedures and practices comply with existing obligations under international law, and address the protection and assistance needs of migrants.“
The Austrian skiing legend and Olympic champion Hermann Maier, now a successful hotelier, chimed in this weekend with an interview for the daily “Der Kurier.” “If the will is there, then ways should be found,” he stated with reference to the possibility of over 300 young refugees who are gainfully employed in the Austrian tourism sector being deported due to rejected asylum applications. Having worked as a construction worker before becoming famous, Maier knows, “it is important for young people to receive appropriate training and corresponding tasks. That alone is the precondition for successful integration.”