• Austria & Germany
  • The (Not So) Slow Murder of the Geneva Convention

  • Matthias Kötter | 22 Jan 16 | Posted under: Austria , Germany
  • The Reactionary Rebellion (read the essay by Walter Baier) is gaining steam in Austria and Germany and de-facto abolishing the Geneva convention on refugees, which sets a dangerous precedent for others in the region.

    On 20 January, the Austrian coalition government, led by Chancellor Faymann of the Social Democratic Party, announced a yearly cap on how many applications for asylum it will accept – from 37.500 this year down to 25.000 applications in 2019. This is in contrast to the actual number of applications in 2015, which was around 90.000 and the fact that only about half of these applications are successful. While Chancellor Faymann tried to play down the issue by labelling the 37.500 as a “guiding value” (trying to assure his party and voters that he is still "social democratic"), his Vice-Chancellor Mitterlehner (People’s Party) seemed to be talking about a very concrete, legally binding limit. Aside from the ethical depravity and the  unlawfulness of a cap on refugees, there is also the practical dimension that seems worrisome: capping migration can only mean a further militarization of European borders, can only mean more barbed wire fence, tear gas, etc.

    Meanwhile, the German government has apparently found a “solution” to the question how to prolong border controls (an improvised system to turn away at least a certain number of refugees at the border) for another three months and will do so until May. Only then will further prolongation be “more complicated” – but obviously worked towards, anyway.

    While the Austrian decision to institute the “asylum cap” provides members of the Merkel government with additional momentum to replicate the idea in Germany, another practice has come to light recently. The authorities in Germany’s two southern states, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg (surprisingly governed by a Green state-PM) are relieving refugees of their money. Safe for the measly sum of 300€, asylum seekers have to hand all their financial belongings to the state (a policy that Denmark and Switzerland are currently being heavily criticized for).

    In the meantime, Merkel and cohorts are continuing to pursue the strategy of “outsourcing” the “problem” to Turkey, which, itself, is being criticized for its handling of refugees (aside from other significant human rights violations that are now actively ignored by European leaders) – apparently it has deported people to war-torn Syria. Furthermore, refugees basically receive no legal status in the country. This provides the comfort of not having to deal with refugees in one’s own neighborhood and instead happily ignoring all the wrongs the people who are fleeing their homes have to endure when they reach Turkey. In a stunningly transparent way, Merkel and her friends made a cynical, inhumane horse-trade that the Austrian and German public has largely accepted as a legitimate political deal.

    Add to this that the general sentiment towards refugees has deteriorated even more since the of course condemnable, and instantly instrumentalized attacks in Cologne on New Years Eve, and a dangerous, worrisome trend seems to be emerging, not only in the German speaking parts of Europe. The alleged centre's socially liberal consensus is shifting towards a racist, reactionary consensus. In some instances, social democrats and greens are even outrivaling liberals and the usual suspects on the right in their rhetoric after Cologne. Leaders of Germany’s SPD, apparently in fear of losing votes to the New-Right AFD, have repeatedly called for more rigor when it comes to refugees and are adopting the language of “the boat is full”. German Vice-Chancellor Gabriel (SPD) recently proposed to cut development aid to those countries in Northern Africa that do not prevent refugees from attempting the journey to Europe. Green state-MP Kretschmann has publicly aligned himself with the policies of the Merkel government and stated that the law might not be sufficiently hard enough when it comes to deporting refugees who have been involved in criminal activity and have therefore lost their “Gastrecht”.

    The use of the term "Gastrecht" - translating to  “right to hospitality” - implies watering down the internationally recognized universal right to protection for refugees and duty to at least examine the status of each asylum seeker to a gesture of clemency or benevolence. Being a guest brings with it few rights and many obligations, it demands of refugees to fulfill conditions, behave a certain way, in order for them not losing their rights as a guest. The Geneva convention is being ignored.

    Conclusion

    The Austrian and German reaction to Cologne and the increase in refugee movements in general has been increasingly negligent of basic, humanist moral rights, as well as generally accepted, basic legal imperatives and rights.

    Capping the number of asylum seekers, if really put into practice, would be the end of any last remnants of the spirit of a welcoming Europe.

    Keeping border controls and horse-trading about refugee numbers at the European level not only undermines the European project of cooperation, but also hearkens back to darker, nationalist days and legitimizes institutionalized racism at the European level.

    “Outsourcing” migration to countries with a questionable human rights record like Turkey or some of the North African states means outsourcing people into violence, marginalization, poverty and oppression.

    Promoting such concepts as the “right to hospitality” and the notion that Europe can only take in a limited number of refugees out of benevolence undermines the universality of the Geneva refugee convention and ignores the fact that the rights and obligations under this convention are universal, legally binding for every state and have been accepted and defended as such by the EU’s member states for decades.

    Lastly, the abandonment of a strong stance against racism and for human rights by social democratic, green and liberal forces denotes a failure of, on the one hand, progressive forces coming together on a European or international level to speak with one, unambiguous voice during these democratically challenging times, and, on the other hand, points to divisions among the different left currents along the marker of migration.

    Sources:

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