Gerald Knaus was born in Austria in 1971, studied in Rome, Bologna and Oxford, and worked for NGOs, the UN and universities for many years. In 1999 he founded the “European Stability Initiative” (ESI). The think tank is mainly known for migration concepts. Knaus advises the German government and is considered the mastermind behind the Turkey-EU agreement.
Mr. Knaus, you have been following the situation on the Greek islands for years. How should Europe respond to the tragedy in Moria?
We can no longer be naive and hope for miracles. First, we need a quick solution to a humanitarian problem. The potential for further suffering and violence on Lesvos is very great. We know that there are also great tensions among the local population. At the same time, of course, we also need a policy that goes beyond the short-term response. Here too we must be realistic, because not all EU countries will support such a policy.
Home Affairs Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) is ready to take in 150 refugee minors from Moria. Is that enough?
No of course not. It is important to help refugee minors. But human dignity applies to everyone, including adults. We cannot calm our conscience by helping a small number and using the others as a scourge for deterrence. Not only is this immoral and illegal, it is also unwise. This policy has failed in the last two days and will continue to fail. We face a manageable problem: in the last six months, about 600 people have arrived on the Greek islands. It’s not about tens of thousands like in 2015.
Seehofer has so far insisted on a unified EU approach in refugee policy. Do you see an opportunity for that?
No not at all. There are governments in the EU who openly say they do not disturb the situation in the Greek islands. You think that’s the right policy and now want to leave people behind on the islands. But how long should this take? Clearly, they cannot be deported as there cannot be fair asylum procedures in this chaos. There is no reason to leave them there other than the relentless deterrence message.
Gerald Knaus, President of the ESI in Berlin Photo: dpa / Francesco Scarpa / European Stability Initiative
Could there be a coalition of willing people hosting thousands of refugees?
Such a coalition could exist. In addition to Germany, these are countries such as Luxembourg and Finland and the French should also be relocated. There are currently discussions in other countries. Such a coalition would not be a failure for Europe either. Visionary new policies have always been preceded by coalitions. That was the case with Schengen and with the euro, even when it started with the Coal and Steel Community. It is not new for a group of states to show that it is possible to solve one problem better and the other the example.
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Opponents of admitting refugees fear that this will lead to an attractive effect, namely more refugees.
That depends on the implementation. Between the summer of 2016 and September 2017, 20,000 vulnerable people were dispersed from mainland Greece. At the time there was no pulling effect. The Greek government could now be offered to quickly house people on the mainland to make way immediately. But there are Greek politicians who consider a deterrence policy necessary, as there is no longer an agreement with Turkey. So Europe should approach Turkey again. The three and a half million refugees in Turkey are also increasingly affected by the crisis. The EU must indicate that it will continue to provide money for the coming years if Turkey approves a new Turkey-EU statement. That would also reassure the Greek government.
They predicted the imminent collapse in Lesvos as early as January.
In the past six months, every fundamental right of the Refugee and Human Rights Convention has been violated. There are illegal pushbacks on land and sea borders, including in the Balkans. Europe is currently behaving as Donald Trump would envision at the US-Mexico border. That is a moral defeat.
What is at stake for the EU when it comes to refugee policy?
If conventions, laws and standards do not apply, it is a problem not only for those affected, but also for the rule of law and the credibility of the EU. If fundamental rights are simply suspended at the borders, what protects us from the same thing happening with other fundamental rights?