The world of Islamic literature is rich. But what is difficult is getting these people into the country. And not because they could not travel from their own countries, or because they didn’t want to, but because Europe won’t let them in. The hurdles to getting a visa have become so difficult that those holding the events often simply capitulate to the status quo, and the invitees don’t even try. That even affects those who have been spoken for by a European government.
Three authors from Morocco and Algeria who were invited to a conference in Marseille, Rethinking Europe, by Austria’s European Commissioner were given appointments to apply by the French embassy – several months after the conference was supposed to take place. Two of the authors simply gave up. The third author got in touch with us and we were able to help him, but only after direct intervention by the European Commissioner himself.
A young Syrian playwright from Beirut told me that the chicanery doesn’t end with the issuance of a visa or even after departure. He had to notify the embassy in Beirut of his return, as if his departure from Germany had never been recorded at the airport. If he had not done this, he might never have been able to return to Germany. In the meantime, Mohammed’s application for asylum has been recognised by Germany and he lives here now. After all, anybody who fears they may never be able to leave their homeland again, leaves for good as soon as they can – but that connection is one that our foreign policy doesn’t want to make.
There’s general suspicion of all those who apply for visas that they will all want to stay with us forever. People really seem to believe that most foreigners would somehow be more comfortable in Germany as migrants (that is, as strangers, not knowing the language, having no contacts and quite possibly being looked down upon) rather than being at home with their own family and friends, in an environment they are familiar with, even if their circumstances may be difficult.
Usually so-called economic migrants don’t want to come to Europe to worship at the altar of European wellbeing; they come so they may support those back at home. Their connection to their homeland is always there even though the system acts as though it is barely meaningful.
There are hardly any ways of getting here legally so those who want to work here are left with some terrible choices: stay away, or try to get in illegally. The problems posed by immigration is also the result of this ultra-restrictive policy on visas, one which doesn’t allow people to come and go– it doesn’t let them come here and work, while retaining their connections elsewhere, leaving them anchored in another land.
This policy on visas doesn’t build a bridge that can be crossed in either direction. Instead it establishes a life-endangering abyss that you only ever want to traverse once, and in one direction. This sense of panic that everyone who comes here once, will want to stay forever doesn’t just indicate the dark preconception we have that everything is better here with us, than anywhere else. It also diminishes our chances to use a more generous visa policy to reduce the pressure of immigration, in a fast and effective way, and with very little complication. No individual who has the opportunity to work in Germany for a few months and then return home would even consider the expensive and potentially suicidal journey over the Mediterranean with a people smuggler.
And all of this doesn’t even require any new legislation. It simply requires a paradigm shift at the German Foreign Office and an evolution in the minds of staff at German embassies.