German parliament rows over UN Migration Compact

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has demanded that Germany follow the US example and withdraw from the UN Migration Compact. Other parties welcomed the chance to correct the far-right's interpretations of the agreement.

Germany's parliament held a rambunctious debate on Thursday about the United Nations Global Compact for Migration, after the Alternative for Germany (AfD) brought a motion calling for Germany to withdraw from the agreement, following the US and Australia among others.

Furious interventions, angry accusations and scornful laughter rang through the Bundestag chamber throughout the morning as the various parliamentary groups argued about a pact that represents the first global attempt to set out parameters for managing migration.

"Millions of people from crisis-stricken regions around the world are being encouraged to get on the road," said AfD leader Alexander Gauland. "Leftist dreamers and globalist elites want to secretly turn our country from a nation state into a settlement area."

Though the motion was swiftly rejected once the debate was over, the AfD considered it a victory to get it on the agenda at all, since the German government is under no obligation to ask for the parliament's approval to ratify the non-legally binding compact.

Read more: What is the Global Migration Compact?

The AfD's main issue

This sense of secrecy proved to be the AfD's main line of attack. "Just a declaration of intention, hardly worth talking about, that's why it wasn't necessary to inform the public in advance," said Gauland, whose party supporters have spent weeks claiming that the fact that the compact has not been a media issue is proof that the "mainstream" press is in league with the political establishment.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.

In fact, some MPs on Wednesday welcomed the chance to debate the agreement, and some came close to thanking the AfD for the opportunity to explain the compact in public and counter the far-right interpretation that the compact will attract even more migrants to Germany by guaranteeing access to social welfare systems.

Indeed, some members of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had raised the same point earlier in the week, complaining about government secrecy (especially on the part of the Social Democrat-led Foreign Ministry) and the fact that the compact did not distinguish between refugees and economic migrants.

"The motion by the AfD contains many false claims, but still it's good that we have it because it shows publicly and officially what conspiracy theorists and right-wing trolls are blowing through social media in this country," said Joachim Stamp, migration and integration minister in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

"It should have been the task of the government long ago to explain the migration compact factually and publicly. You were silent for too long, and that allowed these conspiracy theories to start in the first place," said Stamp, a member of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP).

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Clearing up misinformation

Gauland did indeed misrepresent some points in the compact, and it was left to the CDU's Stephan Harbarth to point out that nothing in the agreement required a change in German law and that it expressly reaffirms every country's sovereign right to manage its own migration.

Sevim Dagdelen said the compact did not do enough to fight the causes of migration

Harbarth argued that international forces like migration could only be dealt with at an international level by multilateral agreements. "We have to standardize the norms around the world," he told the house. "When there is talk of creating access to basic welfare and basic health care, then those are minimum standards that have already been implemented in Germany long ago – we have to try and make sure they are introduced in other parts of the world."

For this reason, the point of the compact was not to "encourage" migration, as Gauland claimed, but to limit the necessity for migration elsewhere. "That's why we will vote for this pact, in the interests of Germany, and those who vote against this pact are acting against the national interests of Germany," Harbarth said.

Meanwhile the Left party's Sevim Dagdelen had good grounds to criticize both the AfD and the government: she wondered why she was the only Bundestag member who took the opportunity to attend the UN's debates on the migration compact in New York. "So where were you with your criticism?" she asked the AfD. "And the foundation for this sordid campaign of fear by the AfD was laid by the government with its information policy," she claimed.

But Dagdelen complained that the UN compact was also flawed, because it did not address essential causes of migration: global free trade agreements that favor rich countries, and the arms industry.

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Business | 30.10.2018

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