Surely you have heard that in the summer of 2015 thousands of refugees were wandering by foot through Eastern European countries, causing a major disruption within the EU countries. They were not welcome in Eastern Europe and also didn’t want to stay there. Their goal was to move right through them in order to reach Germany, the UK and Sweden, most of all.
In the years before 2015, due to the “Arab spring”, the civil war in Syria and the terror of the Taliban in Afghanistan there had already been a constant stream of people coming into Europe. They were often wandering through several countries before paying human traffickers for an extremely dangerous passage on non-seaworthy ships from North Africa and Turkey to the islands off the coast of Italy and Greece. According to EU-law (Dublin Regulation), the first country a migrant enters is obligated to take care of the asylum process – a convenient regulation for the countries without external frontiers. Italy as well as Greece were overwhelmed with the amount of people they were supposed to identify and investigate. They were not holding them back if these migrants decided to disperse up north after having been transported to the mainland, often even secretly encouraging that to make room for the ever newly incoming people.
In her new year address on the 1st of January 2015, Angela Merkel issued what can be interpreted as an invitation to all people uprooted by war and crisis. Stressing that there had not been a greater number of refugees in the world since WWII she said that naturally, Germany wants to help and take in people who are seeking refuge there. Citing the demographic situation in Germany as one of the main challenges of the future she pointed out that everybody profits from immigration.
But there was something else that happened in 2014/15 and set in motion hundreds of thousands of people who had fled Syria to the neighboring countries. The World Food Program of the United Nations did not receive enough money from its member states to uphold the food aid that these people were depending on. Warnings by the UN about this dire situation went mostly unheeded. Because of this, in the first half of the year 2015 food aid for Syrians was shortened several times until the amount given out to each person was not sustainable anymore or even cut completely. People were left with the choice to either starve, go back to Syria or take the risk and try to get to Europe. The ones who had enough money left to pay human traffickers decided on the latter. New incoming refugees from Syria joined in. A chaotic situation ensued.
In August, Germany declared that the Dublin Regulation would be suspended for Syrian nationals. To international journalists, Merkel said that German thoroughness was great but that now would be the time of flexibility. She insisted that Europe would have to move on the question of refugees and would have to share responsibility for refugees seeking asylum. That way and purportedly without consulting with the other EU-states, Merkel opened the doors of the EU wide and far. To her own people she promised “Wir schaffen das” (We make it).
In the summer of 2015, ever greater numbers of migrants were coming through Turkey and Greece and further by foot through the Balkan countries. Thousands of people from the Balkan that had had no possibility to enter Germany legally before, were joining in. Nobody knew exactly how many people were on their way.
In the months before, irregular immigration had already been a lot higher than usual, but what happened now was unprecedented: on 4./5th of September, Germany decided to let all people enter the country who were waiting in Hungary for a way forward. With this action, Germany broke EU-law. Hungary let people pass, some kept on walking through Austria, many were put in trains with German cities as destinations. There, they were received by Germans with “Refugees welcome” flags and Teddy bears.
In 2015 alone more than 800.000 asylum seekers were reaching Germany. After this extreme year, the European countries closed their borders again to halt the migration route through the Balkan. In March of 2016 the EU made a deal with Turkey that granted Turkey money and visa-free entry into the EU for taking back people that were still coming through the country. By entering such a deal, the EU has made itself susceptible to the whims of a dictator.
Why is Germany so attractive?
As these migrants and refugees have passed multiple “secure” states on their passage it can’t just be security they were searching for. The EU as a whole has built a certain reputation for itself when it comes to irregular migration: there is the expectation that you are able to stay once you have reached it and there is also the expectation that you are taken care of economically. These expectations are prevalent and spread wide and far by a globalized and electronically connected world. Whatever people could not take with them on their flight, everybody always had a mobile phone which kept them informed and connected. There have even been stories that rumors had been pushed to and between migrants that once in Germany, everybody would get a house and a car for free. It would be very interesting to investigate the source of such rumors obviously planted as pull triggers.
Not only the migrants had their interests, of course also in Germany there were interests and motivations as has already been seen in the “invitation” by Angela Merkel. For once, German companies had been lamenting for years about growing difficulties to fill vacancies for jobs and were warning of the demographic outlook for the future. The situation in some industries and regions was and is bleak. Apparently, more and more Germans are not willing to work in certain areas like crafts, care for the elderly or transportation, to name just a few. Image and pay of those jobs are not enticing to Germans that have in growing numbers been striving for higher education and better paid jobs.
Public opinion towards refugees (and they were all called such in the press regardless of their background or motivation to come) was in most part favorable. People were devastated by the occurrences in the Syrian civil war and genuinely wanted to help. Tragedies of hundreds of people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea or other incidents of human trafficking gone horribly wrong (in one incident in Austria in 2014 alone, 71 Asian migrants died in a van that was left on its own devices in the heat with the people trapped inside). Every such catastrophe was tearing down the opposition of critical voices.
How has it turned out?
The year 2020 marks the fifth year after “Wir schaffen das“. Germany has taken in more than two million immigrants since 2014 and expended around 150 billion Euros of taxpayer money. More than half of these people (around 60%) have been taken fully into the welfare system and receive payments to sustain them. The unemployment rate for all people from the most important refugee countries (apart from Syria these are Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia) was around 35 % a year ago. Only half of those working are doing so in qualified jobs.
There are around 250.000 people with no clear residence permit status, whose application for asylum has been denied, who also did not get acceptance as refugees but who are not leaving and are – in spite of politicians stating otherwise – not forced to leave. A whole industry of legal assistance for migrants has developed in Germany advising and coaching people how to push back or escape legal measures resulting in only around 20.000 deportations per year. If people are returned back to other EU-countries according to the Dublin Regulation, about a third of them come back to Germany instantly. Programs that give a sum of money to people who return to their home country voluntarily have only had modest success.
Of course there are risks in taking in so many people almost at once without a thorough vetting process. The people who came five years ago were mostly young Muslim males. It is clear that many threw away their passports, so their identities could never be clearly researched. Many lied about their age or even origin. When it became clear that only people from Syria would have an easy process establishing their status as refugees, others pretended to be Syrians. There have also been severe (though hopefully scarce) cases of fraud in that people have taken on several identities in different German cities and had themselves registered as a refugee in each of them. An immigration “industry” has developed that has given jobs to many Germans, also paid for mostly with taxpayer money.
Critics argue that the welfare system is based on the premise that the citizens pay into the system their whole working life, so they can expect benefits in case of incapacity to work, joblessness and retirement pay. Immigrants that have fled their home countries will need years until they have entered the job market and still longer will be the time that the money needed to sustain them breaks even with the taxes they pay.
A risk lies in that a lot of these people could have taken an extreme religious conviction, an unsuitable attitude towards women and an antisemitic outlook with them. Statistically, there have been more incidents of Islamic terror and also more criminality by migrants. Jews do not feel safe in all cities anymore. The German appointee for antisemitism (a recent job-creation in Germany) has warned Jews in May 2019 to not openly wear a Kippa in all parts of the country while stating that 90% of all antisemitic incidents are committed by the far right. There is a dispute about this however. As antisemitic incidents seem to be consistently filed under extreme right violence even if coming from Muslim immigrants, the numbers are muddled. When asked, Jews feel more under threat from Muslim immigrants than Neo-Nazis.
However, considering the chaos that has ensued in 2015 when so many people came all at once and apart from several outstanding and tragic cases of rape and murder we have to be thankful that not more has happened.
Another risk is the growing distrust of the population against the government. Many do have the feeling that an honest conversation about migration is not really possible in the public sphere, that dissenting opinions are labelled as far right without giving arguments to confront them. This feeling of distrust is fueled by the consent in the mainstream press to often not give the nationality or origin of perpetrators. However, when incidents are described that for instance involve street brawls using roof battens, people assume what they are not being told. It also happens that criminal incidents involving migrants are not reported or even tried to cover up by the police and the political sphere. Most famous for this is surely the new years eve of 2015/16 in Cologne and other cities when women were groped in mass and some even raped by mostly North African and Arabic men.
There is no clear path or vision that is given by the German government in how the country will move forward and deal with the problems that come naturally by taking in so many refugees from Arabic countries, if they are even acknowledged. Also, possible future plans for immigration into the country are not spelled out or even discussed in public. The only thing that Angela Merkel has made clear is that she does not want a repetition of 2015. We’ll see how that works out. There is a constant push by human rights organizations for taking in more irregular migrants without recognizing that this could be setting incentives for even more human trafficking.
Was has become visible is that the political forces in charge are willing to invest a lot of money and take great risks in the hope that migrants that are taken in one day integrate into the German job market and more so, integrate themselves in Germany.
A few days ago, the refugee camp Moria in the Greek island of Lesbos has burnt down, allegedly ignited by inhabitants themselves before quarantine measures against Covid-19 would have kicked in. The possible role of German NGOs in this arson will hopefully be examined in the future. NGOs and the German political parties left of center are clamoring for taking all or at least part of these 13.000 people in. The new motto that is put forward is “Wir haben Platz” (We have space). Critics who argue that this would equal rewarding extortion and would give unwanted signals that could lead to another situation beyond control are not taken seriously.
Don’t misunderstand me – Germany should always be a safe haven for refugees and also take in immigrants from all over the world on a legal basis as needed. In order to do that, Germany would have needed the self-confidence to set up a proper selection and vetting process for immigration applicants. Because of its Nazi-past this self-confidence has just not been there. But these circumstances are creating a present and future that is on the one hand not a safe haven for refugees as they could literally meet their possible torturers by chance on the streets of the city they live in (yes, it has happened) and on the other hand further estranges many Germans from their government as people get the feeling that a transformation of the country has begun that does not have their best interests at heart.