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Alumni Event as Part of Europe Week

© Irish Defence Forces / flickr

“Fortress Europe: What options does Bremen have for action on asylum policy?” That was the title of a panel discussion organised by the alumni association together with the Bremen Council for Integration at the end of May during Bremen’s Europe Week. A hotly debated topic, and not only because of the many deaths in the Mediterranean. Thanks to our three speakers (all alumnae), our online talk (sponsored by DAAD) was a factual and highly informative discussion in front of a knowledgeable audience.

Providing an academic perspective on the issue, Dr Natascha Zaun described the legal and political frameworks of European asylum policy. Dr Zaun is an assistant professor at the London School of Economics and a Research Ambassador at the University of Bremen. Her key points: 86 percent of the world’s refugees live in developing countries. Europe, as a wealthy continent, can take in far more refugees. For refugees coming to certain countries (like Germany), the most relevant factors are pre-existing networks and language considerations, more so than human rights or social standards.

Panelist Heike Hentschel studied law at Uni Bremen. Today she is head of the Department of Residence and Asylum Law at the Office of the Bremen Senator for the Interior. In her talk, she made it clear how limited the smallest federal state’s options are in terms of asylum law. According to a nationwide distribution key, only one percent of those entitled to asylum in Germany are officially allocated to Bremen. However, through various offers of accommodation, most recently for refugees from the Moria camp in Greece, Bremen has consistently exceeded this percentage. Quoting Bremen Interior Senator Ulrich Mäurer, Ms Hentschel said: “It is important that from here, too, we send a clear signal of humanity to the outside world.”

The discussion’s civil society perspective came courtesy of our alumna Libuse Cerna. As chair of the Bremen Council for Integration, Ms. Cerna highlighted how numerous impressive initiatives are helping to integrate refugees into Bremen society. One consequence: several thousand Syrians in Bremen will soon be applying for citizenship. However, integration is a hard row to hoe. Or to put it in terms of a recent scientific study: integration is a process that is open-ended, conflict-prone…and ongoing.

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