“We must not panic now”

SPD deputy leader Ralf Stegner talks in Telepolis interview about Angela Merkel’s crisis policy, hopeless asylum procedures and looming distribution battles in Germany

Mr. Stegner, which three adjectives would you use to describe the refugee debate of the past few days??

Ralf Stegner: Shrill, populist, fear-mongering. What exactly causes fear?

Ralf Stegner: Any colleague who participates in the debate with regulars’ phrases, as the CSU does, is acting negligently. In tackling this difficult challenge, we must be careful neither to deny problems nor to engage in fear campaigns and prejudice. Rose-colored glasses won’t get us anywhere, but neither will alarmism. In short: Don’t tinder, but clarify and tackle the problem. So far, the federal government officially ames 800.000 to one million refugees for this year from. Recently, the authorities had already corrected the number upwards internally…

Ralf Stegner: I do not want to participate in speculations. There is no doubt that Germany can cope with a high number of refugees. We must not panic now. But?

Ralf Stegner: When we consider how quickly thousands of people crossed the border, it must be clear to everyone that this cannot go on forever. Police and administration as well as the many volunteers have reached their limits in some places. Enormous numbers of people help, but their powers are also limited. What follows from this?

Ralf Stegner: It is not enough just to describe all this. We now need a triad of measures to combat the causes of flight, European solutions and a sensible approach to the refugees who are already in the country and who are still coming to us. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bamf), the German authorities do not know the identity of more than a quarter of a million refugees in the country. In view of these figures, do you understand Horst Seehofer’s demand that the Chancellor declare that Germany’s absorption capacity has been exhausted??

Ralf Stegner: I advise prudence. There is just as little need for all-around slogans and doom and gloom as there is for appeasement. The individual right to seek asylum is in the Basic Law – and will remain so. It is neither adapted nor circumvented or hollowed out. Ralf Stegner is deputy federal chairman of the SPD, chairman of the SPD state parliamentary group and state chairman of the Schleswig-Holstein SPD. Yesterday he also gave a Twitter interview under #fragRalf. Image: SPD state association Schleswig-Holstein/Olaf Bathke

"The SPD stands by the basic right to asylum, nothing will be changed"

Does it bother you that similar voices can also be heard from your party?? Your party colleague Thomas Oppermann, for example, demands more from the Chancellor "Fuhrungskraft". She should acknowledge that Germany’s capabilities are "almost exhausted" are.

Ralf Stegner: The SPD stands by the basic right to asylum, nothing will be changed in this respect. It is nonsense to say that the SPD is moving closer to the CSU. We are not taking our cue from the right-wing populist Orban in Hungary. Mr. Seehofer, on the other hand, seems determined to follow his example. Where do you currently see the most urgent need for action?

Ralf Stegner: Asylum procedures take far too long. And one person is responsible for this: Thomas de Maizière. Take a look at our neighboring countries: the Netherlands, for example, process asylum applications within a few weeks – and we? In our country, such procedures take about five months on average, that can’t be right. I would remind you that we Social Democrats called for more staff at the BAMF a year ago. Unfortunately, little has happened so far. More than 275.000 unprocessed asylum applications have piled up in the Federal Office for Migration in the meantime. They will be examined by 550 decision-makers, whose number is to be doubled. Is that enough?

Ralf Stegner: I cannot judge that. One thing is clear: Mr. de Maizière must take more care – and not constantly make new proposals that we already know are either not in conformity with the treaty or not practicable. Were you surprised that Angela Merkel is now entrusting the overall coordination of the matter to Peter Altmaier, head of the Chancellor’s Office??

Ralf Stegner: At least this is not a commendation for the Minister of the Interior. I think it is right. If the fight against the causes of flight and the effort to develop a common humanitarian refugee policy in Europe were finally accompanied by a functioning nationwide coordination in Germany, that would be the right approach. In this historic situation, take up the challenge, combine all forces, provide practical help to countries and municipalities, significantly accelerate test procedures in a way that complies with the treaty, and tackle the problems in a concrete way. That is what is at stake now. If we speed up the procedures, we are also able to solve a large number of problems. What problems do you mean? On the one hand, the applicants found out immediately whether they were allowed to stay in Germany – they were thus able to gain a foothold in our country more quickly. On the other hand, the distribution of the people to the federal states was less complicated, the municipalities were relieved. Overall, we were able to provide better care for the refugees, some difficulties in housing were eliminated, and this also reduces conflicts that arise there. We were – finally – able to devote adequate attention to the important ie of integration. Because that is still to come for our society.

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