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IMMIGRATION

Thousands of protesters call on Germany and EU to accept refugees after Moira fire

People took to the streets across Germany to call on governments in Europe to help refugees affected by the major fire at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Thousands of protesters call on Germany and EU to accept refugees after Moira fire
People social distancing during a protest for refugees in Leipzig on Wednesday evening. Photo: DPA

According to the police, around 3,000 people marched in Berlin, more than 1,200 in Hamburg and 300 in Frankfurt am Main. There were also rallies in Leipzig and other cities across the country.

They demanded the immediate evacuation of all camps on the Greek islands and for EU countries to accept refugees.

Carrying posters that said: “Evacuate Moria” and “Shame on you EU”, speakers at the demos said European leaders should have acted even before the fire happened because of the unsuitable conditions.

Seabridge and the International League for Human Rights, two of the organisations to call for the rallies, said individual states had to lead the way because a European-wide solution was not in sight.

Greece's Lesbos island was plunged into crisis Wednesday after thousands of asylum seekers were left homeless from a huge fire that gutted the country's largest and most notorious migrant facility, Moria camp.

The civil protection agency declared a four-month emergency for the island of 85,000 people and Germany urged EU states to take in the camp's survivors.

German officials said the country was ready to help but called for the support of all EU member states.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called it a “humanitarian disaster”.

“With the European Commission and other EU member states that are ready to help, we need to quickly clarify how we can help Greece,” Maas, whose country holds the presidency of the bloc, said on Twitter.

“That includes the distribution of refugees among those in the EU who are willing to take them in,” he added.

The Moria camp, built to hold fewer than 2,800 people but was home to around 12,000, has been routinely slammed by rights groups and the UN refugee agency for a lack of sanitation and overcrowding.

From January to the end of August, five people were stabbed in more than 15 attacks, according to camp officials.

Can Europe share responsibility?

The question on how the bloc should share out its refugee responsibilities has once again gained urgency on the political agenda.

READ ALSO:

The European Commission is due to come up with a proposal by the end of September on a new pact on migration and asylum.

Germany on Wednesday pushed for urgent reform of the EU's migration policies, with its minister for Europe telling AFP it was all the more crucial to act quickly following the fire.

“We urgently need a common refugee intake programme among as many EU countries as possible and finally a common asylum and migration policy for the EU,” Michael Roth said.

“Protecting Europe means defending human rights. Germany and the European Union must quickly help the refugees, and Greece now needs our support and solidarity,” stressed the minister, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the bloc.

Countries divided on refugees and migrants

The arrival of huge numbers of refugees in 2015 was a defining moment that put European solidarity to the test.

Fearing a humanitarian disaster, Chancellor Angela Merkel kept the country's doors open, allowing in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, a policy the far-right seized on at that time to get a foothold in parliament.

READ ALSO: Five years on: How well did Germany manage the refugee crisis

In 2016, the bloc struck a deal with Turkey for Ankara to take back migrants in exchange for financial assistance and political concessions.

With public opinion bitterly divided in Germany, Merkel's government began taking a harder line and dissuading new arrivals.

But with the bloc unable to decide on a common policy, the migration issue flares each time asylum seekers are rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean as they seek to reach European shores.

Germany, France, Italy and Malta agreed last September on a temporary mechanism, on a voluntary basis, for the distribution of migrants rescued at sea.

So far however, only a few countries such as Portugal, Luxembourg and Ireland have joined the initiative.

READ ALSO: Did welcoming refugees usher in Merkel's final act?

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IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

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