Where the Italian Parties Stand on Immigration and Asylum

Italians will head to the polls today to vote for parliament in an election that is as anticipated by the rest of the world as it seems dreaded by Italians. The election will be the first test of a new election law meant to provide for more proportional representation, which combines “first past the post” (or “winner takes all”) voting for 36% of seats with proportional representation for the rest. This, in combination with a high number of undecided voters, has made the results very difficult to even guess at.

Another feature of the new law is special rules for pre-formed coalitions. The threshold for an individual party to enter parliament is 3%, while pre-formed coalitions must reach 10% of the vote. While higher, the threshold favors small parties who link up with others to form a super-group, who may not have made it into parliament on their own.

The main person to take advantage of the new arrangement is a familiar figure hoping for a comeback: Silvio Berlusconi, who is technically barred from serving as prime minister until 2019 due to charges stemming from his last term. His center-right/ far right Forza Italia coalition is edging others out in the polls, followed by the populist Five Star Movement (running as a stand-alone party), whose political platform was unusually created and voted for online.

The ideas Italian parties present on migration mainly do not deviate much from the rest of Europe. The main difference is that the harsh idea of mass deportations for undocumented individuals, while impractical and likely illegal, have a better than usual chance of moving out of the far-right fringe and into mainstream discourse because of their presence on the program of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia as well as its composing parties.

We’ve taken a look at the programs of the top parties to see what could await migration policy in Italy.


The Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle

Beppe Grillo

Five Star’s candidate for prime minister, former comedian Beppe Grillo. (Image http://bit.ly/2tjxe5A via Giovanni Favia on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))

“Stop the Business of Immigration”

  • An end to the Dublin regulation and automatic redistribution of people seeking asylum via quota to other European countries.

  • Cut back on corruption in the territorial commissions in charge of asylum processes

  • Up aid and ban weapons sales to the global south.

Five Star’s jointly written program on immigration is harshly critical of past parties’ handling of the migration issue, saying that it has been used to distract from the responsibility of the state, blame the EU as a wicked “stepmother”, and treat immigrants as the other, “a social enemy to be fought.” In the meantime, they describe an overwhelmed asylum system, where a backlog means asylum claims take an average of 18 months to process and EU funds to help end up being dispersed in obscure ways, “permeable to infiltration by organized crime.” Against this backdrop the movement prescribes a mixed-bag of solutions, highlighting calls for more transparency in Italy and more solidarity from Europe.

They propose that evaluation of asylum claims be handled by embassies in the countries of origin and transit, with help from the EU, UNHCR, and IOM. They call for obligatory and automatic distribution of asylum seekers to various member states, and to override the Dublin system to allow this to happen. In addition, they would install multiple bilateral agreements with other countries to help smooth the possibility for people to return to their countries voluntarily if their asylum claims are rejected (“voluntary repatriation.”). The weakness of such a plan is that it will require the EU to take action- something a domestic party would only have nominal influence over.

They suggest that territorial commissions (CIE) in charge of asylum processes should receive more employees so they can carry out their work more effectively. Also, asylum interviews should be videotaped. Making these commissions work more effectively will reduce the pull of organized crime, Five Star says, but it should also be standard to install timely reporting measures on funds, and to publish budgets publicly to further cut down corruption and enhance transparency.

Finally, Five Star wants to stop the sale of weapons to conflict zones, and amp up efforts to reach Italy’s commitments for foreign development aid: 7% of the GDP.


Democratic Party (Partito Democratico)

Matteo Renzi

Matteo Renzio, former prime minister and leader of the center-left Democratic Party (Image via Flickr http://bit.ly/2CXPHE9 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

“There is no better answer than the facts.”

  • An end to the Dublin regulation and automatic redistribution of people seeking asylum via quota to other European countries.

  • Withhold aid from EU member states that do not participate in redistribution schemes

  • Expand citizenship rights for children born and raised in Italy

The Democratic Party is the party currently holding power, that was thrown into disarray when former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stepped down following a failed constitutional reform. Typically for incumbents, their electoral platform seeks to highlight what they have already achieved in tandem with staking out what they will do next. They are running in a pre-formed coalition with Civica Popolare, Insieme (center left/ Greens) and Più Europa (a pro-European party.)

When it comes to migration, the PD sets very high, even frightening, stakes (perhaps aiming to counter the fearful rhetoric on the right). They note that concerns about immigration are not necessarily driven by racism but the current situation is nevertheless driven by fake news and xenophobia and can lead to “bloody” consequences, as has been seen in the past in Nazi Germany, wartime Yugoslavia and Italy itself under dictator Benito Mussolini. However, for fears and misinformation “there is no better answer than the facts.” Migration must be managed, not stopped.

The PD notes that arrivals to Italy are down (33%) and that with the so-called Minniti agreement struck between Rome’s Interior Minister and the UN-backed government in Libya they have created “humanitarian corridors” that allow verified refugees to travel risk-free to Europe, while sending non-refugees back. (However, this agreement has been heavily criticized, particularly for confining people to conditions in Libya that range from unsanitary to deadly.) This plan would continue, combined with a long-awaited reform of the Dublin regulation and implementation of an automatic redistribution scheme, wherein people arriving to seek asylum would be sent to other countries throughout Europe to have their claims processed (a so-called “quota system”.) As noted above, the weakness with these policies is that they are highly reliant on agreement from the other member states, and remain highly controversial (especially among the Visegrad group.) One proposal stands out though: the PD says they would advocate “solidarity” in Europe by withholding Italian aid from states that refuse to help manage migration. Its not clear whether they can do this, but such an idea has been proposed before, notably by Germany’s Martin Schulz.

In short, the PD would continue in the same direction: advocating for a higher European share in managing migration flows to Italy, relying on a shaky repatriation agreement with Libya, and following their obligations to process asylum claims of those who make it to Italy.

Additionally, the PD wants to approve a new citizenship law that would grant a right to citizenship for children born and raised in Italy.


Italian Force (Forza Italia)

Antonio Tajani

Antonio Tajani, former European Parliament president and Forza Italia’s candidate for prime minister. (Image via EPP on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2tgHYBl CC by 2.0)

“Restore Control”

  • Marshall Plan for Africa

  • End landings on Italian shores (to “zero”)

  • Mass deportations of people with undocumented status using bilateral agreements with home countries

The Forza Italia coalition is the Silvio Berlusconi backed pre-formed coalition containing far and center-right parties. In their one-page program on immigration, they keep it brief and a more than a little fuzzy.

Since Berlusconi left office and the “Left” has been in control, there have been “biblical waves” of immigration, they say. (While immigration to Italy has certainly increased in the last years, the idea that this is related to Berlusconi’s departure is spurious to say the least.) In order to bring an end to this situation, Forza offers a brief package. First, they would support a so-called “Marshall Plan for Africa,” referring to mass investment that would give sufficient resources to North African governments that would somehow result in lower immigration. (It would appear this idea is gaining European traction: the same idea has been floated Austria’s center-left Social Democratic SPÖ as well as by Germany’s center-right Christian Democrats CDU.)

Second, they would block migrant departures and bring illegal landings to zero (they do not elaborate how.) Third, they would immediately repatriate illegal migrants using bilateral agreements with the individuals’ home countries. And fourth, they would develop a plan for real and sustainable integration. Again, they don’t elaborate further. But this general program is in line with other European center-left parties with the exception of one point: the highly impractical and partially unlawful idea of arranging mass deportations.


Northern League (Lega Nord)

Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Northern League (Image via flickr, http://bit.ly/2oGojWL (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

 “Africa doesn’t fit in Italy”

  • Build new regional identification and expulsion centers (CIE) and transfer more powers over immigration to the municipal level

  • Mandatory detention of migrants for first six months, longer for individuals lacking identification papers

  • Simplify possibility of revoking refugee status and deny status to individuals destined to require high levels of state assistance

  • Mass deportations of people with undocumented status using bilateral agreements with home countries

  • Make process for acquiring citizenship more difficult and subjective.

The far-right Northern League is in a coalition with several other parties (Forza Italia) backed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, but they have their own electoral program centered on the localization of immigration management and easing deportation of undocumented people. Their policies, though sometimes mysterious in their aims, are clearer and more limited than the average far-right party, with strategies that appear to aim at making life in Italy uncomfortable for foreigners.

The League proposes that multiple new Identification and Expulsion Centers (“CIE”) are opened in different regions (currently there are four) to ensure faster expulsion. They would have migrants remain in detention for at least six months, and also note that detention would be mandatory for anyone lacking identification papers. Control over identification and expulsion, as well as over issuing residence permits, would be transferred to regional and municipal authorities, and data on such matters would be shared with the police.

The League wants insofar as possible to prevent people from seeking asylum in Italy. They would achieve this through the US of off-site reception centers in “safe countries” such as Libya and Tunisia, although they later note that Libya is a war and propose hosting a peace conference for the state parties, and suggest (mysteriously) enlisting the cooperation of Russia to secure agreements with different Libyan factions.

The League would make multiple new rules affecting individual people seeking asylum. For one, they would simplify the process for revoking refugee status and also expand the reasons for why it may be revoked to include crimes such as drug dealing and occupation of buildings. They would also enable the possibility of canceling benefits for individuals who fail to comply with rules in reception centers. Moreover, new budget constraints would ensure that individuals destined to be on 100% disability in Italy would not be admitted to the country. (This is likely an unlawful reason for excluding someone seeking asylum- the Refugee Convention allows for states to exclude refugees who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, but not based on their potential costs to the state. See Art. 1(F) of the Refugee Convention.)

Other people who have migrated to Italy would also be treated more toughly. Non-EU citizens would banned from receiving welfare benefits, and the possibility (which currently exists) for migrants to get identity cards in Italy would be revoked. The process for getting Italian citizenship would also be tougher, requiring a subjective evaluation of an applicant’s “overall integration” into Italy.

 


Sources and Further Reading
Law 3 November 2017, Official Gazette of Italy
Women Dominate Italy’s Army of Undecided Voters, Financial Times, March 2018
Immigration Program of the Five Star Movement [Italian] (PDF) Five Star Web Site
Taking Care of People – Theme of PD Program [Italian] Democratic Party Website
Italian PM Renzi Resigns After Election Defeat, The Guardian, December 2016
The European Union’s Immigration Agreement with Libya- Out of Sight Out of Mind? Delphine Nakache and Jessica Losier, E-International Relations, July 2017
Democratic Party Platform 2018 [Italian] Democratic Party Website
Electoral Program [Italian], Forza Italia
Forza Italia Brochure: Security [Italian] [PDF]
Electoral Program Lega Nord 2018 [PDF] [Italian]
Header Image “Italia” by Stefano Corso on Flickr: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2F7IWFN
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Can the Czech Runoff Election Impact the Country’s Stance on Migration?

On Friday and Saturday, voters will head to the polls in the Czech Republic for a presidential runoff vote between incumbent Miloš Zeman and his competitor, Jiří Drahoš. The polls are very close, with Czeska Televisa 24 / MF Dnes reporting a slight lead for Drahos with 47 percent of the vote to Zeman’s 43 percent, with ten percent still undecided.

In Czech, the president appoints the prime minister, making this vote more than a referendum on Zeman’s past performance. Waiting in the wings is billionaire populist and recently elected Prime Minister Andrej Babiš of the ANO (“Yes”) party, who has endorsed Zeman and expects his support if he wins in forming a government. A vote for Zeman then is a vote for Babiš, who is under investigation by Czech authorities for decades-old corruption charges related to EU subsidy fraud, charges which he denies. Whether this association is an advantage or a liability will only become clear this weekend.

As we have explained previously, the immigration debate in the Czech Republic is extremely tilted towards immigration restrictionist views, with nearly all parties and political figures united in their opposition to accepting asylum seekers as part of the EU’s proposed quota distribution system, and politicians making outspoken remarks against migrants from Muslim majority countries. Both Babis and Zeman have in the past made remarks characterizing people who migrate or seek asylum as dangerous threats to Czech citizens, with Zeman comparing Muslims in general to Nazis and warning of a “super-Holocaust” during an interview with the Guardian in 2016. Such violent rhetoric has been accompanied by a rise in hate speech and an antagonistic environment for minorities. (Given that there are very few accepted refugees in the country, threats and attacks have rather been aimed at minority groups such as Roma and groups who show support for refugees, according to Amnesty International.)  In addition, Zeman is an important figure in the Visegrad Group, the club of countries (with Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) that have strongly opposed EU distribution of people seeking asylum.

But where does his opponent Drahoš stand, and would a win for him be an opening for a change in the country’s stance on migration?

Drahoš, formerly the president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, lays out his stance on refugees on his website, where it is second on his list of “frequently asked questions“. He states, “As a scientist, I am used to finding solutions to problems and I believe that even the refugee crisis has its solution.” This would consist of the following steps, according to Drahoš:

  • Strengthen secret services to help identify people entering the EU and offer assistance to Italy,
  • Invest in measures to improve the living conditions in countries people are currently fleeing from,
  • Distinguish between “real” refugees and people who are seeking welfare benefits, who he ideally would not let in at all,
  • Terrorism is not a reason for excluding refugees and can be combatted, but we must fight against the erosion of our values and standards,
  • Migrants should be interviewed at European borders to determine whether they are willing to embrace European norms and values.

In short, Drahoš embraces a center-right stance on asylum, a view that on the surface has much in common with other mainstream parties in Europe, such as Mark Rutte’s VVD in the Netherlands. These proposals also largely match the solutions stated by the Visegrad group. The “V4” also calls for aid packages to incentivize people to stay in their home countries and for better distinction between what they refer to as “economic migrants” and refugees. Drahoš’ policy proposals fit squarely in, with the exception that he does not outright oppose quotas (at least here), but rather argues that forcing people to stay in a country they to which they did not intend to immigrate violates the principle of freedom of movement, a creative argument that somewhat avoids the question.

His proposals also enter familiar territory for the center-right immigration stance: ideas that sound tough but end up flirting with illegality or impossibility. For instance, pre-selecting between “real” refugees and others, “ideally” outside of the borders is an idea frequently floated but in violation of the ground principals of the 1951 Refugee Convention and other laws and treaties. Namely, individuals have a right to leave their own country, to enter a country to ask for asylum and to have their claims evaluated while they remain in the country. Sending them back to a country where they potentially face persecution or preventing them from entering before evaluating their claim risks violating binding international and European law. (We have pointed this out repeatedly in response to similar proposals by the Front National and the Tories.)

Further, conducting interviews to ascertain whether individuals adhere to “European values” is perhaps not illegal but highly unrealistic. What are “European values”? How is asking someone to adhere to European values different or better than holding them to follow the law? How can you square the requirement to hold a certain set of beliefs in order to enter with the European legal concept of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights article nine?

These policies differ from Zeman not so much in substance as in style. While Zeman has run a “non-campaign” and has not proposed concrete policies, he has made his opposition to migrants, and especially people from Muslim majority countries, well-known. In an interview with Večernje Novosti in 2017, he repeated his typical war-like language to describe migrants and Muslims more generally:

“…[I]t is said that in Africa, at least several million people are ready to migrate to Europe. Because they are mostly Muslims whose culture is incompatible with European culture, I do not believe in the ability to assimilate them. 

By the way, when you look at the history of Europe, it was actually a constant war with Muslims. And I think that Serbia has experienced it, among other things, in Kosovo’s field.” 

These comments don’t elucidate much in the way of policy recommendations and do not differentiate between migrants who are Muslim or citizens of Europe who are Muslim. In either case, he is suggesting that they do not belong because of their religious affiliation and should be viewed as a hostile enemy, as the Ottoman military forces were in Kosovo in 1389, but he does not promote any policy proposals to exclude them. It is rhetoric that promotes fear and enmity without directing it anywhere concrete- perhaps because policies that exclude or discriminate on the basis of religious belief violate numerous European laws and do not stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The fact is, even with a incomplete or unrealistic immigration policy, Drahoš presents an alternative to rhetoric that relies on fears from back in the Middle Ages. The policies he promotes do not suggest a major departure for the Czech Republic’s stance on refugees and migrants, but they do take a risk in actually spelling out ideas that can be subjected to debate. As the President of Czech does not legislate, his stance on the refugee issue is mainly symbolic. But for voters, its a question of a leader who sounds like other mainstream European leaders, or one who sounds like he is expecting all-out war against a religious minority.

 

Sources and Further Reading
The latest poll for the election favors Drahos, a tenth of voters still hesitate, [Czech] Czeska Televiza, Jan. 22, 2018
ANO supports Zeman for President, Babis for Prime Minister, [CzechNovinky (also linked to on official ANO website), Jan. 22, 2018
If I wanted to hide something, I would have stayed in the shadows, [Czech] Andrej Babis’ blog in iDnez.cz, Feb. 2016
Milos Zeman: the hardline Czech leader fanning hostility to refugees, The Guardian, Sept. 2016
Facebook has a problem with death threats in the Czech Republic, Vice News, Nov. 2017
Czech Republic 2016/2017, Amnesty International Report
Frequently Asked Questions, [Czech], JiriDrahos.cz (campaign website)
Guide to Article Nine: Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, [pdf] Council of Europe
Interview of the President of the Republic for Večernje Novosti, [Czech], Reprinted on the President’s website, http://www.zemanmilos.cz
Header image: Via Ivan Centes on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2neIdqB (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Rutte III” promises restrictive changes to Dutch asylum system

A record 209 days after their parliamentary elections, four Dutch parties have formed a coalition for a majority government that will lead by a single seat. Mark Rutte‘s center-right VVD, Democrats D66, Christian Democrats CDA, and the conservative Christian Union (CU) have hammered out a fragile accord that will lead the Netherlands into the so-called “Rutte III” era. Coalition talks initially included the environmental leftists Groenlinks, but talks broke down over a single issue: migration.

Now, thanks to a leaked version of the coalition agreement from AD.NL, we are able to see the consensus reached by the parties on migration and gain some insight into why Groenlinks may have found it so problematic. (Refresh your memory on the parties’ stances here.)

The coalition agreement sets out that the parties want to maintain a “recognizable Netherlands” that preserves and promotes Dutch traditions and customs. At the same time, the parties agree to introduce new limits and restrictions on immigration and asylum, and to pursue “a much stricter approach to Jihadism.” What will this look like in practice? Here are some highlights, found in the section about migration, asylum and integration (pages 50-55).

Make it more difficult for people who receive asylum to stay in the Netherlands

The parties would limit the number of times an applicant can apply for asylum or appeal a rejected asylum claim. Succesful applicants would be entitled to stay three, instead of the previous five years. After three years, authorities would seek to determine whether it would be possible for the person to return to the country they fled, and if not the person would be able to receive an additional two years protection. At five years, they would be eligible for an indefinite residence permit. By inserting a new hurdle at the three year mark, the government can possibly prevent more people who receive asylum from making it to a more permanent form of residency.

A two-track procedure for asylum claims

The agreement proposes that people seeking asylum from the Netherlands be divided into two groups during an initial evaluation. People who appear to have a good chance of receiving asylum would go to a smaller facility in the municipality they would eventually be housed in, and start right away on language classes. People who are deemed to have less chance will be housed in larger facilities, where their rejection will lead to immediate deportation.

Limit access to welfare for people seeking asylum and make integration mandatory

In order to ensure that people become “self-sufficient,” the agreement proposes that funds for healthcare, rent or welfare are no longer distributed directly to people who receive asylum themselves, but instead to the municipalities who shelter them to dole out, at least for the first two years. Following a test period, people may be able to enter the labour market exit this scenario.

People receiving protecting are expected to start language classes on day 1 and to eventually reach level B2 (formerly A2), and the state will pay for the courses. “Integration is a duty,” the parties write, and people who fail to integrate may lose their immigration status or fail to get a better status or more permanent residency. Aside from learning the Dutch language, integration also means respecting laws and equality, as well as finding employment.

Tougher crackdown on “jihadism”

An additional 13 million euros is allocated to counter-terrorism activities, especially, the agreement notes, for combatting “hate preachers.” The parties propose that new legislation is drafted to ensure that returnees to the Netherlands from conflict zones can be detained upon arrival to be investigated for their possible participation in acts of terrorism. In addition, the parties want more careful monitoring of asylum seekers to mark individuals as possible war criminals.

A shift to the right

If the leaked version becomes the official coalition agreement, it will clearly represent a shift to the right on migration policies in the Netherlands. VVD did not get its way on everything – for instance, they called for refugees to finance their own mandatory language classes- but in many ways this set of new policies is a win for those who oppose migration. It is clear that for Groenlinks this entire program was a no-go. They had called for equality between Dutch and asylum seekers on the job market, the right to state assistance for rejected asylum seekers, and other less restrictive policies. Left democrats D66 may have opposed some many of these changes, but had called during their campaign for smaller numbers of asylum seekers in order to focus on integration- and smaller numbers may well be the result of these policies once enacted.

 


Sources and Further Reading
Green Light for Coalition, (in Dutch), De Telegraaf , Oct. 2017
“Confidence in the Future” Governing Agreement [PDF] [in Dutch], Leaked by Ad.nl Oct. 2017
Dutch Coalition Agreement 2017- Migration & Integration (EN) [PDF] Poorly translated version of Migration Section
Header Image: Mark Rutte by Arno Mikkor on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2kMyfib (CC BY 2.0)

German Elections: Where do the parties stand on asylum, immigration and integration?

Germany’s Bundestag elections are quickly approaching and while many are presenting the outcome as a foregone win for the indefatigable Angela Merkel of the CDU, with nearly half of voters undecided it’s still possible that there are some surprises in store. The only thing that’s for sure? Hardly anyone has read through all the long and jargon-packed campaign platforms that parties have published to present their vision for their future.

Hardly anyone- except us! As usual, Migration Voter presents the run down, straight from the party platforms, of what parties are promising to change or keep the same in the areas of immigration, asylum and integration. We’ll delve in deeper to certain topics over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, we present here an overview of the specific policies proposed by the big six parties. You may think you already know where they stand- prepare to be surprised, as we were.

CDU/ CSU: 2015 won’t be repeated

Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) and Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union)

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Angela Merkel and Joachim Herrmann – Image via Markus Spiske on Flickr (http://bit.ly/2xAPlll) CC by 2.0

Main Proposals:

  • Prevent a repeat of 2015 by reaching deals with third countries to stop people seeking asylum from entering Europe, using the EU-Turkey deal as an example
  • Support a new immigration act that will allow qualified workers with a job contract to migrate to Germany under certain conditions
  • Strengthen external EU borders by providing additional support for external border agency Frontex, and continue to allow internal EU borders until a common EU asylum system has been defined
  • Oppose dual citizenship

There is surprisingly little in the way of direct policy proposals related to refugees and immigrants in the CDU and CSU’s joint platform. In a way that makes sense, since they have their name on most current policies. On the other hand, the program refers in many places to areas of dissatisfaction with Germany’s migration experience, offering reassuring statements that stop short of concrete policy proposals.

The CDU/CSU makes clear in their program that the refugee experience of 2015 will in no way be repeated– important, since the CDU’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the helm. To prevent a repeat, they pledge to keep the number of refugees “permanently low” and are in favor of Europe concluding further treaties with third countries to prevent migration across the Mediterranean- using the model of the EU-Turkey deal. They would also declare North African countries Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria safe countries of origin to enable faster returns of people from those countries. At the same time, they propose a “Marshall Plan” for Africa, an interesting idea that deserves more detail.

They briefly touch on a possible reform to the immigration law to make it possible for people with job offers to migrate to Germany (“Skilled Workers Immigration Act” ). This idea is trendy among other parties as well, but CDU/CSU fails to elaborate further on what such a policy would look like.

“Whatever their background, every single person in Germany is expected to abide by our laws. There will be no exceptions in this respect. Integration is beneficial to both sides and prevents the emergence of parallel societies.”

Their other mentions of immigrants are normative but lack concrete policy recommendations to back them up. For instance, they write that they expect all people in Germany to follow the Consitution, regardless of whether they have “migration background”. They want to prevent the emergence of “parallel societies” and multiculturalism, preferring instead German leading culture (Leitkultur) and regional or local cultures. . The platform fails to explain what German leading culture is. The reference to the preservation of regional or local cultures leaves the reader slightly confused. They think everyone should speak German, and respect the existence of Israel. It’s unclear, however, how such statements translate into policies- aside from a mention of opposition to dual citizenship.

In short, the CDU has kept it vague on the issue of immigration and asylum this time around, perhaps preferring to stand on their record, or hoping to change the subject to less controversial terrain.


SPD: European solidarity to handle migration

Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands)

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Martin Schulz- via SPD Saar on Flickr, (http://bit.ly/2esoYcI) (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Support sharing of asylum management across EU countries, i.e. people who arrive in the EU to seek asylum are distributed amongst member states. Countries who participate should receive financial support from the EU.
  • Create a new immigration law based on the Canadian model: a points-based system that will allow qualified individuals with a job offer to come to Germany if they meet certain requirements.
  • Permanent Residents should have the right to vote in local elections.

As we have previously discussed, the SPD’s program in relation to asylum and refugees is heavily tilted towards EU-wide solutions. This is a reasonable position given the EU-wide scale of the phenomenon but contains an inherent weakness for a domestic electoral platform in that it contains many positions which cannot be directly achieved by the party in power in Germany, only with the acquiescence of other EU member states.

That being said, the SPD also has some domestic policies in mind. First off, they would continue to support a “thorough and careful” asylum procedure. They would increase support for people who work in the field of integration and expand language courses, education, and training. They also support gender-appropriate housing solutions for women and the LGBT community.

The party says it prefers voluntary returns to forced deportations and wants to punish countries who do not accept people returning after their applications were rejected by, for instance, failing to issue visas to that country. In addition, they would end deportations to Afghanistan.

The SPD would propose a new employment-based immigration act for Germany, reflecting their view of a “modern, cosmopolitan Germany.” It would be modeled after the Canadian system, including a points system for qualified professionals who have a job offer.

Finally, the SPD would extend the right to vote to some non-German citizens: people with permanent residency would have the right to vote in local municipal elections. (Current German voting law dictates that EU citizens have the right to vote in local municipal elections, but only German citizens can vote on the state and national level. Thus, currently, all third-country nationals – any citizen of a country outside of the EU, are precluded from voting in any German election.)


FDP: Market-based Migration

Free DemocraticParty  (Freie Demokratische Partei)

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Christian Lindner- Image via Dirk Vorderstraße on Flickr http://bit.ly/2espl72 (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • The right of asylum should be available only in individual cases of persecution. People fleeing from conflict should be able to receive temporary protection only until the conflict or war is over – then they must return to their countries of origin.
  • Support the creation of a humanitarian visa after the Swiss model that would offer a person under a concrete, life-endangering threat the chance to come to Germany and avoid a dangerous journey.
  • Germany needs a new point-based immigration system
  • Dual citizenship should be allowed, up to a point

The FDP’s liberal approach to migration reflects its market-based priorities, while still allowing for asylum in clearly defined and limited cases.

While it describes the right to asylum as unassailable and opposes an “upper limit” to the numbers of people able to receive asylum, the FDP seeks to limit asylum through several proposals. First, asylum for people fleeing war should be temporary and individuals who receive protection must return as soon as the conflict has ended. Second, they would create a humanitarian visa after the “Swiss model,” according to which individuals under acute, specific threat of death could apply for a visa to come to Germany to seek asylum. (However, even for Switzerland, the chance of obtaining such a visa is incredibly small.)

“We Free Democrats want Germany to have an immigration law and finally a modern citizenship right from a single source – just like other successful immigration countries.”

In terms of migration, the FDP also calls for a new immigration system, which would allocate points based on language skills, education, and qualifications to allow people to immigrate to Germany. Under their system, refugees who meet the same level of qualifications could also apply. In addition, the FDP calls for easing bureaucracy by simplifying recognition of foreign accreditation and degrees, and to make English a working language in administrative offices– both of which would theoretically make life easier for newcomers hoping to enter the job market. Another help is that the FDP would abolish priority entrance for Germans over non-Germans to jobs and housing.

Finally, the party has specific ideas about integration. They think people with refugee status should receive individualized, “modular” integration courses suited to their specific needs and stage in the process. In addition, they propose that dual citizenship should be available, upon request, to people meeting certain conditions or by birth, up until the grandchildren of the original holder.


Die LINKE: Right to Stay for All

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Sarah Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch. Image via Die Linke on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2ew384o (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • A new ministry should be created for dealing with immigration and integration, and there should be a new ombudsman for refugee issues 
  • Anyone residing in Germany with an insecure residency status for over five years should get a right to remain
  •  End “Residenzpflicht”/residence requirement the obligation for people seeking asylum to remain in the same area for the duration of the asylum process (restriction on freedom of movement)
  • Oppose deportation in principle, and especially in certain circumstances (e.g, when a person would face a medical emergency, discrimination or homelessness in their home country)
  • Anyone born in Germany should have access to citizenship as well as the right to hold multiple nationalities
  • Permanent residents should be entitled to vote at all levels of election

Die LINKE (the Left) has a great deal to say about migration and asylum in their platform, and though much of it is simply supportive, as opposed to elaborating on a specific policy, we have drawn out some of the main policies.

Like the SPD and Greens, Die LINKE wants to fight the problems that cause people to flee their countries and offer safe pathways to Europe to prevent deaths at sea. They support fair trade and development of sending countries and reject the “dirty” Turkey deal and others proposed deals with third countries to prevent people from entering Europe.

“Good and affordable living space for everyone! To accommodate asylum seekers in emergency and mass shelters is inhuman, expensive and anti-integration.”

Unlike the other left-leaning parties however, Die LINKE unequivocally calls for an end to deportations and a right to stay (“Bleiberecht”) for all. Refugees should have access to the labor market after 3 months without limits on minimum wage, and should have access to decentralized social housing rather than mass shelters. Die LINKE would abolish the Residenzpflicht policy that restricts freedom of movement for people seeking asylum within a region or municipality. Those who have been in a precarious status for at most five years should receive a residence permit.

Die LINKE would also provide additional grounds to prevent deportation, such as gender-based grounds, allowance for people who were victims of right wing violence, and right to stay for people who would otherwise be forced into homelessness, medical emergency or discrimination in their home country. (This seems to be an explicit nod to Roma and Sinti from the Balkans, who have been subject to deportation in the past.) Die LINKE also supports establishing an ombudsman for refugee issues.

Die LINKE wants to abolish the current residence law and provide a path to legal residence and naturalization for all. People without legal residence would be granted residence and work permits, and people who have been legally residing in Germany for three years would be entitled to naturalization. In addition, all children born in Germany would be entitled to citizenship (and multiple citizenships), a model known as “birthright citizenship” (the US has such a policy.) This liberalization would also stretch to voting rights: Die LINKE supports voting rights for permanent residents at all levels of elections.

Another change they propose is to move the responsibility for migration and integration out of the Ministry of Interior and into a new federal agency. Under their plan, the federal government would also shoulder all costs associated with housing, healthcare and integration of refugees and migrants, to take financial pressure off of municipalities.

In addition, to ensure equal education for all, they would support an emergency training program for teachers, social workers, and language teachers.


AfD: (Some) Refugees Not Welcome

Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland)

AfD Bundesparteitag 23. April 2017 in Köln

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland (image: Olaf Kosinsky / kosinsky.eu)

Main Proposals:

  • Make it easier to deport people who have committed even minor crimes, and harder to get citizenship
  • Secure German borders and enable migration only of qualified people as required, guard borders with “safety systems” including fences
  • Only offer asylum to those who can prove their identity
  • Ban family reunification and any special privileges for people from Turkey, ban dual citizenship
  • Restrict religious freedom for Muslims

In their election manifesto, the AfD prioritizes two key themes regarding immigration and asylum: first, the prevention of crimes and terrorism by non-Germans, and second, the necessity of maintaining a “recognizable” Germany by preventing migration of Africans and “Arab Muslims”.

“The goal of the AfD is self-preservation, not self-destruction of our country and people.”

In terms of crime, they are of the opinion that non-Germans are disproportionately responsible for crime and terror in Germany. They, therefore, propose new regulations making it easier to deport people for even minor crimes. In addition, they want to prevent people who have ever committed crimes from becoming German citizens by abolishing the right to citizenship. They also propose removing citizenship from those people who commit crimes within ten years of being naturalized. They would also denationalize German citizens with connection to “criminal clans”, even if this would leave the person stateless, in violation of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which Germany has been a party to since 1977. (We discussed a similar proposal that Marine Le Pen made here).

The AfD frames their migration policy as an attempt to prevent a demographic inevitability. Noting that the populations of Africa and “Arab Muslims” are increasing while Europe suffers an aging population and declining birth rate, the platform suggests that the larger, poorer population of the Global South must inevitably migrate to the richer, more sparsely populated European countries, causing migration that will destabilize Germany and leave it “unrecognizable.” Thus, it is necessary to change migration policy as a means of “self-preservation.”

What they have in mind for this change is an array of restrictive or harsh policies towards immigration that at times contradict one another. For instance, they would secure the borders to be guarded by “safety systems” including fences but allow for migration of qualified workers as needed. Asylum would still be offered to those who can prove their identity using certain “legal and technical prerequisites” that they do not elaborate on. They propose that individuals seeking asylum are not brought to Europe in the first place but transferred to third countries “after the Australian model.” They also suggest a return to the 1949 German-law version of asylum (which ironically, other parties laud as liberal.)

Under migration, AfD also has the policy that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and calls for several policies which would restrict religious freedom, for instance, banning Islamic studies programs in German universities and banning burqas. However, these policies would apply to Germans and non-Germans alike, so it is unclear why they frame this as a migration issue.


Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen: Refugees and talented immigrants welcome

Union 90/ The Greens (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN)

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Katrin Göring-Eckardt und Cem Özdemir, Image via gruenenrw on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2vChjA5 (CC BY SA-2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Protect an absolute right to asylum and no returns to unsafe countries
  • Increase aid funding for foreign development and conflict prevention
  • Develop safe, legal routes for people seeking asylum to prevent deaths at sea
  • Acquisition of birthright citizenship for children born to at least one parent with a residence permit
  • Enable easier, less bureaucratic family reunification
  • Develop a “talent card” that enables qualified individuals to spend a year in Germany in order to look for employment

Although the Green party generally focuses on environmental and social justice issues, they appear to have spent a lot of time developing their proposals on migration and asylum and offer- whether or not you agree with them- one of the most completed plans for both.

The Green Refugee plan consists of four points. First, they aspire to address the root causes of migration and aim to increase development aid. Second, in order to prevent people risking their lives to flee, the Greens back solutions that will prevent people from taking dangerous routes to Europe, for example, a refugee resettlement program with cooperation from UNHCR, meaning individuals would have to obtain refugee status in their country of origin or third country prior to arriving in Germany. Another possible solution would be a humanitarian visa (like FDP suggested) to make it possible for people to legally travel to Europe to seek asylum. 

Third, fair and legal decisions on asylum applications must be made as quickly as possible. They say Germany’s administrative and municipal structure was not adequately prepared for the “humanitarian challenge” of 2015- yet they do not pose concrete ways to improve the situation.

And fourth, anyone who is able to stay must receive support in learning German, finding a job and an apartment- starting from day 1. In the case of those who cannot stay, the Greens support voluntary returns over deportations and absolutely oppose returning people to unsafe countries such as Afghanistan.

“The aging society and the skilled labor force show that Germany is dependent on immigration in the long term. However, the current law is too complicated and makes immigration more difficult.”

The Greens wants to update the immigration law via “The Green Immigration Act” to meet the demands of a country of immigration. They would introduce a “Talent card” (Talentkarte) which allows qualified professionals one year to search for work in Germany. A commission would determine how many cards are allocated, and which qualifications entitle one to a card, including German language skills, possession of insurance and other skills. They would also expand the number of student visas and make it easier to formally recognize foreign degrees and qualifications.

Finally, they would make family reunification easier and less bureaucratic, as they argue that a key to integration is feeling embedded in one’s family.


Sources and Further Reading
Bundestagwahl: Half of voters are undecided, Zeit Online, Aug. 23, 2017 [German]
All the 2017 party platforms in one place
For a Germany that is good to live in: Election Program for the CDU and CSU 2017, CDU [Deutsch, English summary, video version available]
It’s time for more justice: Election Program for the SPD 2017, SPD [Deutsch, video available]
A new way of thinking. FDP Election Program 2017, FDP [Deutsch, English summary available]
Humanitarian Visas, Swiss Refugee Council
Social. Just. Peace. For all. Die Linke Election Program 2017, Die Linke, [Deutsch,  summaries in English +12 other languages, video, GSL, Audio, Braille available.]
Program for Germany: AFD Election Program 2017, AFD, [Deutsch, Audio version available]
UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, OHCHR, 1961
The future is made of courage: Green Election Program 2017, Die Grüne, [Deutsch, Audio, GSL available]
Featured Image: German Bundestag by Lars Steffens on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2x4AsLf

Dutch coalition talks collapse over differences on immigration

Dutch coalition talks have come to a halt over disagreements on migration, infomateur Edith Schippers announced Monday.

The Dutch election took place over two months ago, but coalition talks are still underway, (which isn’t unusual for the Netherlands). At the time, we pointed out that it was going to be a tremendous uphill battle to make changes to asylum and immigration because of a few factors. First, the fact that the top parties all excluded the possibility of forming a coalition with Geert Wilders’ PPV party (which came in second, with 20 seats) meant that it would be necessary form a broad, and maybe unstable coalition. In this case, the center-right VVD, Christian conservatives CDA, environmental leftists GL and democratic liberals D66 have been attempting to negotiate an agreement- despite representing a broad spectrum of different political views. (Read our explainer of where the parties stand on migration and asylum here.)

The second issue was the fact that there were big gains for both pro- and anti-refugee parties. The three parties with the strongest results all took harsh stances on asylum policy, but the parties that made the biggest gains in seats campaigned on multiculturalism and openness to people seeking asylum. So it’s understandable that politicians might not be completely clear exactly where the public stands on immigration and asylum policy. This uncertainty, in combination with a coalition stretching across the center right to the left, was bound to create disharmony on the topic of migration and asylum. And it looks like it has.

Health Minister Edith Schippers, acting as informateur, announced in a press conference that the negotiating factions were unable to overcome their differences on migration, among other topics. “The substantive differences proved too great,” Schippers said.

What differences were the final stumbling block? It could have been a number of specific issues, but we would be willing to bet that the largest differences were between VVD and GL. Remember, the VVD, led by current PM Mark Rutte, wrote in their platform that while refugees have a right to security, that right applies to their own region, and people who make it the Netherlands are more likely to be “economic migrants.” “Asylum applications in Europe are no longer needed.” This strict view varies totally from Groenlinks, who support working rights for people seeking asylum, minimum assistance for rejected asylum seekers, and a continuation of the practice of accepting asylum seekers to the Netherlands. CDA’s position is much like the VVD’s, and while D66 had a more liberal stance on asylum policy, they also concur that the Netherlands should accept smaller numbers of people. It’s reasonable to assume that Groenlinks was the barrier to an agreement, a view most of the press is concluding as well.

On twitter, GL leader Jesse Klaver wrote, “We have made every effort, but this formation attempt has failed. The differences were too great. And that is a great pity.” Geert Wilders also chimed in, tweeting, “As the second party of the Netherlands PVV is fully available.”

Now that its back to square one, will anyone take up Wilders on his offer? Or will we see Groen Links out, in favor of a minority government that is willing to back VVD’s tough asylum policy? There could still be a long way to go before we know what kind of government the Netherlands will have.

Sources and Further Reading
Election Explainer: Netherlands, MV
Dutch Election Results: Mixed Signals on Migration, MV
Where do the Dutch Parties Stand on Refugees?, MV
Press Conference: Edith Schippers on Formation Failure, RTL (video) (Dutch)
Jesse Klaver on twitter
Geert Wilders on twitter 
Dutch Must Restart Coalition Talks After Collapse on Immigration, Bloomberg, May 16.

Macron v. Le Pen on Immigration, Asylum and Integration

After lots of excitement in the final weeks leading up to the French election, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will proceed to the runoff, a result that was widely predicted and yet produced significant surprise when it actually came to be, given the current distrust in the accuracy of polls.

When it comes to immigration, the differences between the top two candidates are significant, although they are not as diametrically opposed to one another as, say, Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon. While Le Pen offers a vision of a dramatically altered immigration regime for France, Macron essentially makes some measured tweaks to the status quo, focused on making the country a more attractive immigration destination for certain types of people and making the asylum process more efficient. Let’s see where the candidates come down on some of the big questions surrounding immigration, asylum, and integration.

Immigration: Invite more students and skilled labor, or reduce across the board?

Le Pen’s overall approach to migration is restrictive, although she doesn’t eradicate it totally as she has suggested in some speeches. She promises to reduce legal immigration to a total of 10,000 people per year, and change the law to restrict family reunification and acquisition of citizenship through marriage or birth in France. She also wants to crack down on irregular as well as EU immigration by leaving the Schengen zone and reestablishing borders, while bolstering border forces and customs agents.

Macron does not get into many specifics about his intentions on all forms of legal immigration, leaving us to assume that he wants to maintain the law as it stands on issues like the acquisition of citizenship and family reunification. (In fact, he asserts that “fantasies” about family reunification are overblown: only 12,000 received family reunification visas in 2015, and of these the majority received them under international rather than domestic legal commitments.)

Instead, Macron focuses on students and other types of “knowledge” migration. He would introduce new types of visas for professionals, scientists, and creators while streamlining existing procedures to make it easier for Masters students, artists, entrepreneurs and other highly qualified people to come to France.  Once they get there, he also wants to make it easier for them to access the labor market.

Asylum: Incredibly restricted, or restricted?

Both Le Pen and Macron in some way want to bolster the existing asylum regime to make it faster (and easier to deport people who do not receive asylum.) Le Pen would recruit 6,000 new border officers over five years, alter the asylum system to only take place in French consulates but not on French territory, and expel everyone else. (As we have noted, as stated these two last points likely violate French domestic and international obligations.)

Macron advocates for a “dignified” system that is nevertheless “inflexible” with people who are not entitled to remain. This inflexibility is reflected in a much faster decision process: decisions on asylum applications should be reached in 8 weeks (it currently averages around 11 months) and judgments on appeals should take 6-8 weeks. In this same proposal, Macron implies (without stating outright) that he prefers people seeking asylum to remain in detention to help speed up the process.

Having the applicants on site greatly reduces the processing time (removal of unavailability and sickness, which involves one quarter of the cases, removal of travel costs) and eliminates the time and notification disputes.

This notion could be problematic under European and international law, so here we need a little detour to briefly discuss the legality of mass detention of people seeking asylum.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) lays out in their Detention Guidelines, detention is an extraordinary measure that must be proscribed by law and justified by some legitimate purpose, not merely for convenience in speeding up asylum application proceedings.

Detention can only be exceptionally resorted to for a legitimate purpose. Without such a purpose, detention will be considered arbitrary, even if entry was illegal.

The Council of Europe concurs, saying in a recommendation on the subject of detention that people seeking asylum, although non-citizens, are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights: “no one shall be deprived of his liberty save in exceptional cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law, as stipulated by Article 5.1.b. and f. of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

A recent case at the European Court of Justice (2016) reiterates these principles and applies them directly to EU member states like France, narrowing the scope of justification for the detention of people seeking asylum to cases where the individual him or herself (and not just his or her status) presents a danger to public order or national security. Below, part of the Court’s ruling from JN v. Staatssecretaris voor Veiligheid en Justitie:

“…keeping an applicant in detention under point (e) of the first subparagraph of Article 8(3) of Directive 2013/33 is, in view of the requirement of necessity, justified on the ground of a threat to national security or public order only if the applicant’s individual conduct represents a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat, affecting a fundamental interest of society or the internal or external security of the Member State concerned.”

Detaining all people seeking asylum (including, presumably, children) so that their applications can be handled more quickly might infringe on international law, and Macron may be called upon to give a different justification for such a policy, or to restrict it to certain types of people (such as, e.g., people considered flight risks or threats to public security.)

Integration: Everybody just speak French

One place where Le Pen and Macron both concur is on the need of newcomers and nationals to learn French. Macron would encourage this by giving every newcomer to France the “entitlement” to learn French to the level of B1. In practical terms though, this isn’t so much a right as a requirement, since he proposes making this language acquisition a condition of a residence permit.

Le Pen rejects the concepts of multiculturalism and prefers the standard of “assimilation” over integration. To this end, she wants to strengthen ties with French-speaking communities across the world, ensure that French is spoken in universities, and “ensure primary schools spend half their teaching time on teaching spoken and written French.”

An imbalance in the candidates’ focus

In sum, the major difference between Le Pen and Macron is their focus. Le Pen has made restricting immigration and asylum one of the cornerstones of her campaign, while Macron is far more focused on economic and social considerations. Will his lack of focus cost him at the polls? Or will French people reject the kinds of radical, across the board changes that Le Pen is running on? We will find out in two weeks.

Sources and Further Reading
Marine Le Pen’s 144 Presidential Commitments (English) (PDF)
Emmanuel Macron’s Immigration and Asylum Proposals (French)
Detention Guidelines. UNCHR, 2012.
Rec(2003)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures of detention of asylum seeker. Council of Europe, 2003.
J. N. v Staatssecretaris voor Veiligheid en Justitie Judgment, Court of Justice of the European Union, 2016.
Detention of Asylum Seekers: The First CJEU Judgment -Steve Peers on EU Law Analysis Blog.
Images: Macron via Ville de Nevers on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2plFT1E, (CC by NC-SA-2.0), Le Pen via Blandine Le Cain http://bit.ly/2qa7K4Q (CC by 2.0)

Will Fear of Refugees Become the Status Quo in Czech Politics?

By Christian Jorgensen

Cover image: Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Royal Way, Prague, Czech Republic

Per a poll by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) released earlier this spring, 61% of Czech citizens are against accepting any additional refugees into the Czech Republic. The same CVVM poll also showed that 73% of Czech citizens find refugees to be a major security threat to the Czech Republic, on par with the threat presented by ISIL.

A look at the actual numbers of people seeking asylum in the Czech Republic makes this popular fear somewhat surprising.  According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there were only 3,644 registered refugees in the Czech Republic, a mere 0.03% of the Czech population (10.52 million). Additionally, in 2016 only 64 refugees were either relocated or resettled in the Czech Republic and the country was estimated to have 1,475 asylum applications still open in 2016. (For comparison, Germany handled about 745,155 applications for asylum that year, and the small country of Malta handled 1,930). Adding together all the statistical numbers of refugees, the portion equals out to only 0.05% of the Czech population. So, with such small numbers, what is this fear based on?

Many may think that the estimated count of refugees currently in the country do not take into consideration the number of people crossing over the Czech border on their way to seek asylum in more popular destinations, such as Germany. However, the routes most often taken by people seeking asylum originating from Italy and Greece in most cases completely bypass the Czech Republic (see map, below). Unlike other members of the “Visegrad group” such as Hungary, the Czech Republic is not a very popular stopover country on the route across Europe.

Source:National Geographic

Are Czechs perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of even a relatively minor influx of people from other countries? A look at the statistics would say otherwise. In 2015 only 29,602 people immigrated to the country. Compare that number to the 25,684 Czech residents emigrating (i.e, leaving) in 2015  and a low birthrate of only 9.5 (per 1000, 203rd in the world) it is easy to see that Czech Republic is not having a population surplus problem (if anything, rather the opposite). Are Czech citizens being told otherwise?

The Czech government has been known to exaggerate the number of migrants coming to the Czech Republic via both politicians’ statements and in official government reports. Czech Deputy Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, said that taking any more refugees could lead to, “[T]he next day 15 or 20 thousand more will come to our doorstep.” He added that “we have thousands of non-registered people that threaten our citizens.” His argument that thousands of people are coming to the doors of the Czech Republic is very off from the official numbers mentioned earlier by the UNHCR and other migration agencies.

In fact, Czech has in the past been a country that produced great numbers seeking refuge. Following the end of the Second World War and the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, many fled what makes up modern Czech Republic. In 1945, 10,000 citizens fled the region, increasing to 50,000 Czechs following the communist takeover. In 1968, during what is now known as the Prague Spring or the Warsaw pact invasion, between 40,000 and 70,000 Czechs immediately fled the region to seek asylum in the West. As a people that have benefited greatly from the refugee and asylum system, it makes one wonder why they have such a negative view towards refugees.

So, if individuals seeking asylum are not crossing the border in great numbers, not being resettled in great numbers, and the country is not being overwhelmed with immigrants generally, then what really is behind this major fear of refugees in the Czech Republic?  An educated guess is that much of it has been created or reinforced by the rhetoric the Czech government has used since the refugee crisis began.

The ruling presidential party (Social Democratic Party) has been vocal about their fear of refugees both to the Czech people and abroad.  Press Secretary for President Miloš Zeman, Jiří Ovčáček said in 2016 that, “by [the Czech Republic] accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks.” In 2015 President Zeman, in his typical bellicose style, compared the refugee crisis to a tsunami that will kill him. Zeman continues to fan the flames to this groundless threat and has promoted the idea that Czech citizens should begin arming themselves to prevent a potential “Super Holocaust” as he believes the refugee crisis in Europe to be an organized invasion by Muslim terrorists, although Zeman has yet to provide any proof of such claims. All this fearful rhetoric by the Czech Presidential Office is interesting since Czech has never been the site of a terror or mass attack by refugees- or anyone else for that matter. (The closest thing was probably a fake “ISIS attack” staged by an anti-immigrant group in Prague in 2016).  The Czech Republic has even been listed as a country with a low risk of potential terrorist attacks by such governmental offices such as the British Home Office.

The threat of terror attacks is not the only fear being pushed by the Czech government in connection to refugees. Czech officials have also been known to promote the idea that accepting refugees will lead to the collapse of Czech society. Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said that by accepting more refugees by “the proposed [EU] quota it could lead to a collapse of society.” President Zeman offered little hope to promoting the belief migrants may benefit society, saying that, “the integration of Muslims is impossible.” All of this has been said without providing any evidence but can easily lead people to believe that people immigrating or seeking asylum in Czech can only harm society.

The members of Czech’s ruling government are at least partly responsible for the latest polling numbers showing fear of refugees and migrants. This is becoming an all too common method by many governments and parties in Europe, to create fear of migration by making groundless statements without providing any evidence.

With a presidential election coming up early next year let’s take a look at the context of fear of refugees among the presidential candidate platforms. Although it is a contentious issue within Czech society, it doesn’t seem to be one among the presidential campaigns. Of the eleven candidates still running campaigns the majority all seem to hold the same policy towards refugees: deter and reject. Only one candidate, Michal Horáček, takes a slightly more welcoming stance- and only slightly.  So if the majority of candidates are promoting a pessimistic view towards refugees and migrants; will the fear of migration be an issue candidates use to drive voters to the poll or will “anti-immigrant” become the status-quo in Czech politics? 

Further Reading and Sources
CVVM Poll (in Czech)
European Commission Asylum Statistics
European Commission Immigration/Emigration Statistics
Birth Rate Index (CIA)
UNHCR Statistics
Press Secretary Statement
1945 Statistics
1968 Statistics (second source)
Jiří Ovčáček Statements
Zeman Tsunami Statement
Super Holocaust Statement
British Home Office Security Ranking
Milan Chovanec Statement
Zeman Integration Statements
Michael Horacek Migration Platform
National Geographic Maps
Fake ISIS Attack in Prague

Cover image: Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Royal Way, Prague, Czech Republic

Le Pen’s Promises on Citizenship and Asylum: A Closer Look

By Christian Jorgensen

Leading French presidential candidate for the far-right Front National party Marine Le Pen is running on a platform that she says will “free France”, and she has made 144-commitments that she promises will do just that. There are three that revolve around the topics of citizenship and asylum that deserve a closer look into what their impact on migrants and policy could be.

Promise 28: To return to the original spirit of the right of asylum which, furthermore, will only be granted after the filing of an application in French Embassies or Consulates in the countries of origin, or bordering countries.

In promise 28 of her 144 Presidential Commitments, Le Pen advocates a “return to the original spirit of asylum.” Expanding on that, she hopes to change the refugee application process, to only accept asylum applications from outside of France: in French embassies or consulates in the countries of origin, or in bordering countries. Looking at the 1951 Refugee convention, of which France is founding member, and French domestic law, Le Pen’s “return” may not be as easy to implement as she and the Front National may think.

Foremost, the Refugee Convention builds on Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)which recognises the right of individuals to seek asylum from persecution. Building on this right, The Refugee Convention of 1951 defines a refugee thusly:

”As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The key point here that Le Pen should be aware of is that a refugee is an individual who has been forced to flee his or her country of origin and most likely cannot return home or is afraid to do so. Le Pen’s proposal to require asylum to be requested in countries of origin is completely contrary to what the law states about asylum.  If an individual is forced to flee out of fear for their life, it is very unlikely that they will be able to request asylum at a French embassy in their own country.

Going deeper one can look at France’s own constitutional law on the issue. French law dating back to the preamble to the constitution of 27 October 1947, “[a]ny man persecuted in virtue of his actions in favor of liberty may claim the right of asylum upon the territories of the Republic.” This was again strengthened in 1993 in a report by the Constitutional Council, “asylum is a [French] constitutional right for persons who qualify for it” (emphasis mine.) Furthermore, the Constitutional Council found that asylum applicants have the right to reside in France until their asylum request has been processed and decided upon, and those who qualify for asylum must be allowed to stay in France. Le Pen’s promise requiring asylum seekers to file their requests overseas contradicts not only international law but French constitutional law as well.

Additionally, there is some confusion in the language she chooses to use. In response to her claim “to return to the original spirit of asylum,” what does she exactly mean? In 1951, as the United Nations led by France and the other major world powers sat at the table, they drafted the 1951 Refugee Convention to create a set of rules that address the refugee issue that had been created by WWII. Thus, France along with the other UN leaders created the original spirit of asylum. This spirit was one that emphasized the principle of non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. One could argue that Le Pen’s plan to return to the original spirit is completely contrary to what the original spirit of what modern asylum law is, perhaps she would like to return to the days of cathedral sanctuary?

Through a legal lens it is highly unlikely that promise 28 will be able to be kept entirely, as there are many aspects of international and French law that Le Pen seems to disregard.

Promise 27 To abolish jus soli (right of the soil): it will only be possible to acquire French nationality by filiation or naturalisation, the conditions for which will be tightened. To abolish dual nationality for non-Europeans.

Le Pen has made her 27th commitment to completely change the system in which French nationality is acquired and change the rules for all individuals who currently hold dual-citizenship.  With the jus soli legislation of the current French Civil Code, French citizenship can be obtained by individuals born in France in four ways:

  1. At age 18 if individual has held French residency for five years since the age 11;
  2. Between the ages of 16 and 18 upon request by the child and if the individual has been a resident of France for at least 5 years since age 11
  3. Between the ages of 13 and 16 upon the request of the child’s parents and if the individual has been a resident of France for at least 5 years since age 8.
  4. Immediately at birth, if the child is stateless

Now, per Le Pen and the Front National leaders, they want to abolish all of it. First it should be noted that to keep this promise Le Pen would need to put forth an amendment to the current French Civil Code and get this approved by the French National Assembly. With the current makeup of the French National Assembly, which is controlled by the Socialists, it is very unlikely that such a measure would pass without much contention.

The real question is the legality of the denial of jus soli citizenship for those born in France who would otherwise be born stateless. Is this legal, considering that jus soli is a safeguard against statelessness? There is an international treaty, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness that may lead to Le Pen violating numerous areas of international law. It should first be noted that France has signed the 1961 convention but has yet to ratify it. However, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which is considered by many states and international bodies to be customary international law (see ICJ, Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Case), states that being a signatory alone, “creates an obligation to refrain, in good faith, from acts that would defeat the object and the purpose of the treaty.” Therefore, as a signatory to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, France is bound to not purposefully do anything that violates the 1961 convention, which eliminating jus soli citizenship at birth for stateless individuals arguably would. It could violate Article 1(1) and Article 1(4) of the 1961 convention. Article 1(1), the first and most important article, binds states to grant citizenship to persons, otherwise stateless, born in their territory.  This may be in any matter they seem fit within their national law, but a path to citizenship must be available to those stateless individuals born on their territory. Article 1(4) requires states to give nationality to a person, otherwise stateless, who is legally precluded from assuming his/her birth of nationality.  This could extend for example to individuals born to Jordanian national single mothers to receive French citizenship, since Jordanian citizenship cannot be maternally inherited.

The last part of Le Pen’s 27th promise is that dual-citizenship would be removed from all Non-European French-naturalized-citizens.  She explains further, this would allow naturalized French citizens with dual-citizenship in other EU countries and even non-EU European countries such as Russia to keep their dual-citizenship but would require naturalized French citizens such as French-Israelis or French-Americans to choose one citizenship over the other. The inclusion of Russia begs the question of who is implied by “European” in Le Pen’s definition. Russia is not in the EU, but is in the Council of Europe and continental Europe- as are Turkey and Azerbaijan. Would this mean that all Turkish and Azerbaijani dual-citizens would be able to keep their dual status as well?

Without clarification (if she, for instance, just means EU members plus Russia), Le Pen’s ad-hoc definition of European could arguably fall under UDHR Article 15 , which states that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality. (Although not a binding legal treaty, many provisions of UDHR have achieved status of international customary law, and this is one of them). The UN has addressed the issue of deprivation leading to statelessness and have found for it be in violation of international human rights law (UN HRC report).

Additionally, this is not something Le Pen can unilaterally enact. To keep this promise Le Pen would have to call on the National Assembly to add additional reasons for citizen deprivation, which is dictated by Article 25 of the French Civil Code and currently only allow for deprivation of citizenship because of criminal and treasonous acts against the French Republic and not because of the state or region where an individual has additional citizenship.

Promise 31 To combat jihadi networks: stripping of French nationality, expulsion and banning re-entry into the country for any person with dual nationality linked to a jihadi organisation. To apply Article 411-4 of the Penal Code on passing intelligence to the enemy and to place any individual with French nationality, with links to a foreign organisation promoting hostile activities or aggression against France and the French people, in preventive custody. To draw up a list of such organisations.

Promise 31 is one of the few similarities between Le Pen and current French President Francois Hollande, who earlier in 2016 tried to add a similar provision to French Nationality Law.  However, Le Pen would like to deprive French nationality to all individuals with connections to “Jihadi” organizations.  French Civil Code under Article 25 would allow for deprivation of citizenship for French citizens and dual nationals who carried out terrorist attacks, but it has only been acted on a few times and the courts are very reluctant to deprive individuals of their French citizenship. Based on the court’s history of deprivation Le Pen might have a much harder time with carrying out deprivation even further.  Currently, Article 25 states that an individual who has been sentenced for committing a crime against the state may constitute legal reason for deprivation of citizenship, however, this doesn’t extend to someone who is suspected of terrorist activity or suspected to have connections to terrorist organizations.  Le Pen would have to further define what she defines as a connection to such an organization.  Is it having cousins belonging to terrorist cell? Is it indirectly fundraising for an organization determined to be a terrorist organization, whether one consciously knows it? Additionally, does this only apply to Islamist terrorist organisations, as using the term jihad implies, and not apply to terrorist organizations on the far left, or right, or terrorist organizations with a Western Religious Ideology such as Catholic or Protestant Christianity?

There is another problem with Le Pen’s vague wording, in that depriving someone’s citizenship for ill-defined connection with an organization could violate the freedom of association and legal privacy of life promised by the French Constitution. For Le Pen to keep true to her promise in this regard, she and the Front National must make this promise a great deal more specific for it to have a chance of becoming French legal practice.

Conclusion
Overall vagueness, disregard for existing law, and feasibility all seem to be reoccurring issues with Le Pen’s promises on migration and citizenship. It is one thing to make policy promises and another to navigate the pathway to successful policy implementation and this is something Le Pen and Front National should keep in mind.

READ MORE
1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
French Civil Code
Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties
Ways to French Citizenship
More on VCLT and why it is customary international law
Marine Le Pen’s 144 Commitments (in English)
The Refugee Convention of 1951
Preamble to the Constitution of 27 October 1947
More on Statelessness
ICJ Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros
More on Le Pen and only dual-european nationals (video)
Image via Pietro Piupparco a flickr (cc By-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2nTYNKq