Bavarian Minister Talks European Refugee Crisis

Bavarian Minister for European and International Affairs Beate Merk emphasized the challenges of Europe’s current refugee crisis from the Bavarian perspective in the Mortara Center for International Affairs on Monday.

The Ministerial Roundtable was sponsored by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Georgetown Women in International Affairs and the BMW Center for German and European Studies.

Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security Melanne Verveer and BMW Center for German and European Studies Director Jeffrey Anderson co-hosted the event.

Verveer introduced Merk by highlighting her service in her home country, where in addition to serving as the Bavarian Minister for European and International Affairs since 2013, she is also a member of the Women’s Union in Bavaria Christian Social Union.

“Earlier she served as minister of justice in Bavaria and I think that it is probably worth repeating that Bavaria is the largest state in Germany and comprises one of the largest state economies in Europe,” Verveer said. “It is home to BMW, Siemens, Audi. Name a big company, and they are probably in Munich.”

During her remarks, Merk drew from her personal experiences witnessing the plight of refugees in Lebanon and other countries while also stressing the challenges of accommodating the 10,000 refugees who arrive in Germany every day. Last year, the total number of refugees in Germany reached 1.2 million.

“I always saw that the women, children and the elderly are the ones that suffer the most,” Merk said. “This is very difficult for us all. The threat of brutality, rape and exploitation for these people is a very serious matter.”

According to Merk, Germany created its current immigration policy based upon lessons from the wave of immigrants who arrived in the 1950s. She argued such policy is not based on realistic expectations and needs revision.

“We had a motto for our immigration policy, which means that we support somebody, but we also challenge them, we want something back,” Merk said. “We support them by offering them language courses, by providing vocation training and school education, but we expect them to learn the language, to accept our values and especially, which is very important to us, they have to accept the principle of equality of men and women.”

Merk said Germany distinguishes between those who flee from war and conflict, asylum seekers and economic migrants. Such distinctions need to be made in order to fully comprehend the long-term future for refugees in the region.

“Those who are fleeing because of persecution, because there are bombs destroying their houses are supposed to be helped by us through humanitarian assistance and we want to take care of them for as long as they need it, until they are able to return to their home countries and rebuild their lives,” Merk said.

Merk also said this does not extend to migrants just seeking better economic opportunities from regions such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, who have documented to also be seeking refuge in the region. Merk said such economic migrants should be returned to their places of origins.

“We have people who have been living in camps for four to five years, sometimes in very dire conditions, and the children have not had any schooling for example. We have to expect that they will be wanting to leave those camps and come to Germany,” Merk said.

Merk concluded by highlighting the multifaceted nature of the problem of migrants.

“The international community of nations must work to ensure that the war in Syria comes to an end,” Merk said. “On our part, we have to reduce incentives for those who are not war refugees. We also have to ensure that adjacent countries around Syria have the proper funding in order to provide nourishment, education for children and a better life for these refugees. Then we have to assist the countries where the economic migrants are coming from and ensure that governments are not taking the resources that we are giving.”

Maria Victoria Silva (SFS ’19), who attended the event, said she believes the minister presented a very accurate report on the migrant situation in Germany and appreciated the insight she brought to the issue.

“The Minister gave a very sincere report on the current situation in Germany and it was very refreshing to hear first hand what it is really like for the German government. I have been keeping up with the crisis since last year, but listening to her provided much more insight than anything that I could possibly have read,” Silva said.

Ingrid Glitz (SFS ’18) enjoyed the presentation, but said Merk should have also touched upon economic issues relating to the migrant crises.

“I appreciated her perspective on the refugee crisis but was a bit disappointed because I was looking forward to hear her talking about the Transatlantic Partnership and the TTIP negotiations. However, she chose to focus solely on the refugees.  I think that these topics are also crucial and wish I could have heard her discuss them in more detail,” Glitz said.

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