Living on the Edge: Germany and the Refugee Crisis
The European refugee crisis has occasioned a new era in German political thinking. In the face of the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's, Germany has been forced to make some very tough decisions. Chancellor Angela Merkel has already made policy amendments regarding refugees, and many more can be expected in the near future. What was previously seen as the promised land for asylum seekers, may very well be changing, and quickly so.
On New Years Eve around 1,000 men set fireworks off into a crowd then continued to assault women all over the city of Cologne. The official victim list is now up to 1,000, but there are only 30 identified suspects, 15 being asylum seekers. While Merkel has stood by her refugee policy in the face of criticism in the past, this has now forced her to take action.
Since August, Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire for her relaxed refugee policy. In September she raised the number of refugees Germany would take in to 1,000,000, up from 800,000. Conversely, Sweden and Denmark shut their doors on refugees by enacting a protectionist policy involving border checks.
The right-wing political activist group Pegida has taken issue with Merkel's policies, urging her to liken her policies to those of Sweden and Denmark. After the New Years attacks the radical right group became violent. Protestors marched through the streets with the slogan "Rape Refugees Not Welcome" displayed. Some of the demonstrators flung firecrackers and bottles at the police. Arrests were made and the police used water cannons to quell the violence. The police were heavily criticized, and the police chief, Wolfgang Abers, was relieved of his duties.
In response, Merkel has amended policies regarding criminal acts committed by asylum seekers. The current policy states that in order to be expelled, an asylum-seeker must be sentenced to three or more years in prison. Merkel has now decreed the law will be changed, and migrants that break the law will be deported.
This marks a significant turn in Germany's approach to asylum seekers. What was previously seen as the promised land for asylum seekers, very well may be changing enormously. Merkel's efforts are an attempt to calm the concerns of the German population.
The international community has been made somewhat fragile through this crisis. The attacks in Cologne not only devastated Germany, but also frightened the rest of the world. Other European countries are able to use the New Year's attacks as an example of what could happen. Due to the severity of the attacks, it is a hard point to refute.
Recently, Merkel has pushed NATO ships to patrol the Aegean Sea in order to help stop the illegal transit of refugees to Europe. Merkel's peers remain skeptical about her plans, with good reason. Her vision is not in line with the rest of Europe, so it's likely to fail.
Merkel's most recent actions, while they will probably be unsuccessful, are on the right path. Germany has been an easy target for criticism since the New Year's attacks, but calling on the international community to fight the refugee crisis is the right way to deal with it. Germany's open door policy was well-meaning but misled. Germany's stark desire to not return to the nationalist image of Nazi Germany has actually harmed them in the long run. Being so eager to care for the refugees fleeing the conditions in war torn areas, much of the necessary planning was neglected.
Germany's Scandinavian neighbors have put the pressure on them from all sides. From the right there has been pressure to act as Sweden and Norway have. From the left, Germany is being pressured to continue to welcome refugees in the face of the crisis. Unfortunately, the answer to the refugee crisis cannot be solved within the borders of Germany, or even Europe for that matter. Until the international community responds to the situation in Syria together, Germany will likely continue to serve as main the proprietor of refugee care. Criticism of Merkel's tactics is inevitable, though some approaches have been more extreme than others. Both media and German citizens have not restrained their opinions questioning whether or not she is the right individual for the job. Roughly sixty percent of Germany's population is skeptical about her ability to effectively fight the crisis. Since World War II, Germany has made a consistent effort to not allow any sort of nationalistic ego cloud their judgment. While Germany wishes to remain refugee friendly, the worst of this problem may not yet be behind them.
Merkel's troubles seem to merely be beginning. Through allowing a large influx of refugees, many feel that she has put the interests of the refugees above the security of Germany. Her policies have even divided her own party. Since the attacks criticism has steepened, demonstrations in Germany have become more tense and the questions about what to do have become far more pressing. In the coming months her decisions regarding refugee policy could be a landmark in Germany's foreign policy and relations.
Xavier Ward is an undergraduate at Beloit College studying International Relations and German.
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