Another Error on the Front Page of 'Die Zeit'
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Why is German Immigration Policy the Solution to Albania's Domestic Problems?

I have already pointed out that Elisabeth Raether's front-page article in this week's Die Zeit contains a factual error. But what about the rest of her argument?

Let me sumarize it. Raether points out that the Federal Migration Ministry has gotten 5,000 applications for asylum from Albanian migrants since July, and has not granted a single one. As we know by now, since Die Zeit apparently doesn't fact-check its articles, we can't really take this for granted, but let's assume it is accurate.

Raether notes that at the upcoming migration summit, Germany may declare Albania a 'secure country of origin,' which would make it easier to process asylum applications and deport those who have no grounds for asylum. She argues that this should not happen, because Albania has 'deficiencies in the rule of law', which after all explains why it has yet to be accepted into the EU. She argues that the 'biggest problem' for Albanian women is the Kanun, an orally-transmitted body of customary law that 'for simplicity's sake' can be called Albanian sharia. According to Raether, under Kanun law, women are treated as 'nothing more than a tube through which goods can be transported.' Important components of Kanun, she states, include 'blood revenge, forced marriage, and taking the law into your own hands'.

So far, Raether has not provided no citations to proof for any of these assertions.

She then moves on to state that Albania had no laws against domestic violence until 2012. This is false. But even under this (not-so-new) law, Raether claims, there are rarely consequences for wrongdoers, since women frequently withdraw their request for protective orders. The Albanian government does not adequately protect its citizens from human traffickers, and Albanian women are being forced into prostitution. So many female fetuses are being aborted that the sex ratio of society has seen lasting changes.

Still no proof for any of these assertions. Nor does she provide numbers to quantify how serious a problem human trafficking or domestic violence is in Albania.

Finally, Raether gives a source for these assertions: We should 'listen to Albanian women' applying for asylum. She claims that Belgium did so, and decided to revoke Albania's designation as a secure country of origin and even before that granted 17.2% of asylum applications. Germany already recognizes threats of violence from family members as a valid ground for asylum, but is not taking this responsibility seriously.

So that's the argument. Let me point out the problems with it.

First, uncorroborated first-person narratives from persons currently involved in a legal proceeding in which they have a strong incentive to exaggerate threats to them are not reliable evidence, period. Saying that immigration policy should be based on trusting these narratives is like saying that you should judge a criminal-justice system by how many prison inmates claim they are innocent.

Second, Raether says we can't consider Albania a safe country of origin because it's not in the EU yet. But of course there is no either-or here, virtually all countries in the world are in the category of neither EU members nor unsafe countries of origin. There are literally hundreds of reasons a country might not be a candidate for EU membership (infrastructure, fiscal policy, foreign policy) that have nothing to do with whether it's a safe place to live.

Raether says the main reason Albania isn't in the EU yet are problems with the rule of law. Although she doesn't cite any proof of this, it could well be true. The obvious response is that Albania should improve its performance in this regard. Should the European Commission help? Perhaps so. And in fact it is: By granting Albania € 320 million in assistance from 2014 to 2020 devoted to improving governance, democracy, and the rule of law.

€ 320 million.

And that's only half of the entire IPA (Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance) II EC spending package for Albania in 2014-2020, which has a total of € 650 million. And as the name indicates, IPA II is the successor to IPA I, another huge EC aid package which ran from 2007 to 2013.

Now is all of this money going to effective programs? Of course not, we all know there is some corruption and inefficiency in government aid packages. But € 320 million is a lot of money. And Albania has made significant progress in recent years. Of course, that progress is slow, and politicization and corruption of the public sector (pdf) are still big problems, as they are for most countries in that part of the world. And there is a distorted sex ratio (pdf) in Albania. And there are still some blood feuds in Albania, a favorite subject for the Western media.

But the key question is this: why is German immigration policy a good response to Albania's domestic deficiencies? The existence of an informal quasi-feudal code of conduct among a small proportion of Albanians is not Germany's problem. The weak prosecution of alleged domestic abuse in Albania (we're not told exactly how prevalent it is) is not Germany's problem. The preference of Albanians for male children is not Germany's problem. The continuing existence of corruption in Albanian domestic politics is not Germany's problem. These problems exist to some extent in dozens of countries all over the globe.

In fact, these problems exist in EU countries. A recent study documented domestic violence all over Europe (g) and identified what the authors consider to be inadequate legal protections for victims, including in Germany. In fact, Germany itself (g) does not have a special section of its criminal code directly addressing domestic violence. Germany, like Albania before 2007, prosecutes abusers under normal criminal-code provisions that apply to everyone, such as assault, insult, etc. Besides getting the date wrong, Raether never explains why Albania should be condemned for waiting too long to pass a law that Germany has yet to see the need for.

And in any case, the phenomenon of women withdrawing domestic-violence complaints and men getting off with light punishments is universal, also in many EU countries. This problem indicates a need for better enforcement methods. It does not indicate that the entire country is unsafe.

In any case, Albanian problems are all overwhelmingly internal to Albania, just as India's skewed sex ration is internal to India. If they are ever solved, it will be by cultural changes within Albania. The outside world can perhaps play a limited role in encouraging these changes. Which is precisely what the outside world is doing right now, by providing billions of euros in assistance and massive outside diplomatic pressure to Albania. I think that approach is likely to be a lot more effective than tinkering with Germany's immigration laws.

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