“Opposing the Politics of Isolationism”

An interview with Delara Burkhardt, who is fighting for a solidary European migration policy.

Image: Delara Burkhardt of Pressefoto / SPD

Delara Burkhardt is the Jusos (Young Socialists) Federal Deputy Chairperson and in charge of international policy. She will be running as a SPD candidate at the European elections. Delara Burkhardt is advocating for a migration policy of solidarity and wants to fight the shift to the right currently happening in Europe. We spoke to her about her positions and goals.

FES: All over Europe, people are showing solidarity and a willingness to help towards refugees. According to a study conducted  by the Federal Government, around 19 percent of people over the age of 16 are active in refugee aid in Germany alone. How did you personally experience the welcome culture of the past few years?

Delara Burkhardt: For me, the welcome culture could best be described as a kind of emotional roller coaster. There were and are so many volunteers, who welcomed refugees and supported their first steps. For example, my own mother, who herself fled to Germany from Iran 30 years ago with her family, wanted to volunteer with Freundeskreis Flüchtlinge (Friends of Refugees) in Ahrensburg as a language guide. But she was told that there were already way too many volunteers who spoke Farsi. So, everybody tried to bring something to the table according to their abilities.

At the Juso Federal Board, we tried to support the volunteers as well, because the great need for their service was also the result of state inactivity. So, volunteers in refugee work often filled the void that the state was actually meant to organize, and often, they were left to bear the responsibility alone.

For this reason, we composed application templates for communal parliaments that were then brought to decision-making committees by Juso branches. The applications were for practical things, such as wifi hotspots in refugee accommodation centers, job training measures, decentralized accommodation and the coordination of volunteer work in the local community.

However, the enormous willingness to help was overshadowed and accompanied by burgeoning racism and attacks on refugee accommodation centers, something that was manifested in the rise of the AfD.

Regarding EU refugee and migration policy, the level of political disagreement between EU member states is higher than ever. Some call for more European solidarity and communitarization, while others prefer a more flexible type of solidarity and voluntary cooperation. What kind of solidarity does the EU need, in order to still be able to call it a shared European project?

In my opinion, the term “flexible solidarity” is wrong in itself. For me, solidarity means unconditional assistance., the only condition is this promise: If someone is in distress and therefore in need of solidarity, they will receive help – without compensation or warranty. To just extract oneself from the community of solidarity, whenever and with no reason, is a contradiction of this principle.

Therefore, a kind of European solidarity would be the goal. For instance, a solidary distribution key for the reception of refugees could ensure that states at Europe's external borders are not left alone anymore. In addition, all European countries should agree upon a joint strategy on the basis of European founding principles, such as the respect for human dignity and human rights.

The opposition coming from the Visegrad states, Italy and the conservative wing of the European Parliament is strong when it comes to European solutions for refugee and migration policy. For which projects do you see room for compromise? Where do you draw the line?

In some cases, the opposition comes from a place of frustration, as countries like Italy were left alone all too long and now have had enough. I think it would be a huge step forward if it were acknowledged on the European level that we are having discussions on whether to let people drown in the Mediterranean, or whether to deliver them into inhumane conditions and violence at the so-called European hotspots without granting them a clear perspective for their future. These people should not be made into political pawns, but rather, they should receive help if they need it. I am ashamed that people are drowning miserably, right at the doorstep of a community that is vocal about human rights – and that nobody is doing anything to stop the dying. Under international law, rescue is an obligation; the same goes for maritime law and EU human rights law. But something else, something much deeper requires rescue as well: Human decency.

For this reason, I strongly feel that a European Sea Rescue Program based on the example Mare Nostrum is non-negotiable. And as long as civilian sea rescue efforts fill the gap that actuallay should be filled by EU member states, it should be decriminalized and supported. Because all it does is reminding us of the rules that we ourselves created for our community of values. When it comes to questions of allocation, compromises can surely be reached, it's just a question of policy.

A study conducted by the Technische Universität Dresden shows that right-wing populist parties profit from the high importance migration and forced migration have in they eyes of the public. At the same time, these parties are instrumentalizing the topic by stirring up mistrust of “foreigners” and spreading fear. We will most likely see this play out before the European election as well. How can democratic parties fight against this?

By finally regaining control over the narrative! Salvini, Kurz and Co. do not care about solving existing grievances; they want to push through their own power phantasies. In 2019, I will fight for a Europe that will not let right-wing paroles dictate its agenda, but that is oriented by its founding principles: Respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights. And there are some smart suggestions, for instance Gesine Schwan's Solidarische Städte (Cities of Solidarity).

This is a direct answer to the blocade mentality: If more and more nation states within the EU are led by right-wing populist governments, we need to form progressive alliances in order to fight this politics of isolationism. Meanwhile, cities and municipalities all over Europe have spoken up and offered to take in refugees and have declared themselves safe havens – even in Poland, which is governed by the right-wing PiS party. These communities should finally be allowed to actually do this and take in refugees. In return, a European fund should support them to get their infrastructure, education system and public services ready for the future.

Spotlight Migration and COVID-19

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