Europe grapples with how to help refugees fleeing conflict

GWEN IFILL: For more on the economic and humanitarian tensions sparked by the rising tide of migrants, we turn to Astrid Ziebarth, a migration fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, and Nancy Lindborg, the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace here in Washington. She previously served as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Welcome to you both.

Nancy Lindborg, why are we seeing this uptick? I think uptick is almost too small a word to describe this flood of migrants.

NANCY LINDBORG, U.S. Institute of Peace: Well, we are seeing an uptick. It's on pace to double from the number who entered Europe a year ago.

But we really need to remember that this is a small tip of a very large global crisis, where we're seeing 60 million people displaced from their homes over this past year. This is the largest ever. And you have people who are giving up hope. They are living in conditions of repression, poverty, conflict that isn't ending, and they are seeking a better life at great cost, at great danger for themselves and their families.

GWEN IFILL: Some people try to distinguish between people who are escaping conflict and people who are escaping economic pressure. Is there any distinction to be made?

NANCY LINDBORG: Well, I think there is a distinction. Clearly, legally, refugees are those who are fleeing persecution, conflict and danger. That 60 million is people who have been specifically displaced from their homes and are still either internally displaced or are already refugees.

The importance, however, is how these issues are so intermixed, where you have repressive, poor governance, and poverty that is so correlated with conflict.

GWEN IFILL: One thing leads to the other and leads to the other.


GWEN IFILL: Astrid Ziebarth, in Germany, Chancellor Merkel, among others, have said they will accept up to 800,000 of these migrants and find some way to take care of them. But 100,000 thousand arrived just last month. Is there a plan that's Germany-specific or Euro-specific that can begin to tackle this?

ASTRID ZIEBARTH, German Marshall Fund: Well, first of all, we have to have note that the 800,000 are a projection for the full year, and this was stated by our interior ministry, but it's not entirely transparent how those numbers come about, so we always have to be cautious about this, because the government — the authorities also switched their statistical system of how to account for it.

So, this is just a note as we go into numbers. What is to be noted is that Germany is able currently to take up that many migrants and refugees, but, as you also stated, we have to be cautious not to just see that those are refugees from Syria are fleeing conflict and violence, but almost 42 percent are also from the Western Balkans and their rate of recognition for asylum is less than 1 percent.

So this is something where the German government is trying to figure out how to speed up the processes for those who are fleeing persecution and violence, but also trying to figure out if those who are not, how they can be returned.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me stay with you for a moment, because there has been some backlash in Germany, not only Germany, but we saw some of this in Hungary, where people are beginning to say, we can't absorb all of this. Is that picking up speed, that attitude?

ASTRID ZIEBARTH: At the moment, I mean, with the number of 800,000 being put out there also in the public, it's remarkable that the public mood in Germany is still somewhat positive.

You have — the latest public opinion polls state that you have 60 percent of Germans who say that we can cope with this, and the interior minister also said, well, we can cope with this for a while, but if we can deal with such a high amount for a long run is the question. And here's where the German government also turns to the European level.

GWEN IFILL: Nancy Lindborg, you said this was the tip of an iceberg. So, theoretically, someone has figured out or tried to address how to handle this before.

There's something called a Dublin mechanism, which is the way that people try to absorb this. Explain what that is and whether that is working anymore.

NANCY LINDBORG: Well, the Dublin mechanism was simply an agreed-upon rule within the European Union that where you landed was the country in which you sought asylum. And that's what's being shifted right now.

The larger question is not just how, however, we deal with those who are arriving in Europe right now, but how do we address the continuing conflicts and repression that is pushing people out? Because you have a large pipeline of people who are displaced, but still within their borders. And as these conflicts remain unaddressed, there are many, many more who may be seeking refuge into the future.

GWEN IFILL: And, at some point, these nations — we have seen Iceland — a lot of people say they would open their homes to refugees. There are others. But at some point, a lot of nations are hanging back and you wonder whether the backlash will make this a problem on this end, as well as that end.


And I would also note that if you look at the Middle East, this was a region saturated with refugees even before the Syrian crisis. And since then, you have the countries in the immediate region like Turkey, and Lebanon, Jordan who have taken the majority of the four million Syrian refugees to date.

In Lebanon, one out of four people living there is Syrian, which is an almost unimaginable number to imagine happening in Europe or this country.

GWEN IFILL: Astrid Ziebarth, is there any discussion about imposing quotas on the number of people allowed in?

ASTRID ZIEBARTH: Well, yes, there has been discussion about quotas.

What is remarkable, that a year ago, no one at the European level or national level would have talked about quotas, but we're now seeing that the crisis has gotten so urgent that at first the European Commission introduced the discussion about quotas in the spring. And then they also proposed their action plan on migration.

It was met by fierce opposition because they wanted to have binding quotas. But then the other member states said, well, no, we don't want to have binding quotas. And here you had especially Eastern European countries that were against binding quotas. They were pushing for voluntary quotas, but anything that is voluntary is always hard to come on an agreement on that one.

So, we're now seeing again the discussion about quotas and it will be definitely on the table for the upcoming conference in September, when the interior ministers meet.

GWEN IFILL: Nancy Lindborg, is there any discussion at all about resettling any of these refugees or migrants in the United States?

NANCY LINDBORG: Well, the United States takes about 70,000 refugees every year. And, as a country, we have actually benefited tremendously from the vibrancy that many of these refugees bring.

Since 9/11, it's been a lot harder to bring in refugees from the Middle East. And I think the number from Syria thus far is around 1,000. I certainly hope that we can find our way to increase that, because we will probably benefit as a country, as well as giving a home and a future to so many people.

GWEN IFILL: Nancy Lindborg, president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Astrid Ziebarth of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin for us tonight, thank you very much.

NANCY LINDBORG: Thank you, Gwen.