Every dot on this map marks a refugee housing accommodation. You are now witnessing the death of Germany.
Refugee crisis: Germany creaks under strain of open door policy (theguardian.com)
The realities of shouldering Europe’s refugee crisis are coming home to Germany, amid daily reports of clashes in asylum seeker homes; bureaucrats overwhelmed by a backlog of registration claims and deep divisions within chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative ranks over how to manage the enormity of the challenge.
Just weeks after Merkel responded to the refugee crisis with the declaration: “Wir schaffen es – We can do it” – the euphoric mood has been replaced by a more sombre response with the realisation that the newcomers are here to stay, with all the consequences that entails.
School authorities are calling for at least 25,000 new teaching recruits to cope with the large numbers of new pupils, police officers are being brought out of retirement in their thousands, and the nation is being scoured for suitable accommodation as winter approaches.
“The welcome parties in Munich, Berlin and elsewhere were great,” said the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung in a recent editorial. “They showed a generous and open Germany of which we can be very proud, headed by a chancellor who seemed to surprise herself with her response, (and) tens of thousands of volunteers … but now we’re in the stark light of day which consists of overcrowded refugee centres and local authorities and police stretched to their limits.”
Arson attacks on refugee shelters continue on an almost daily basis. Reports of refugees being greeted at the doors of their new homes by neo-Nazis humming Third Reich songs or being pelted with banana skins are not uncommon. There are mounting concerns that elements of the far-right have found new oxygen in the crisis by tapping into ordinary people’s fears that Europe’s largest economy may be unable to cope with the decision to allow so many to take refuge within its borders.
Latest estimates, so far unconfirmed by the government, are that Germany might expect as many as 1.5 million refugees by the end of the year, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. There are no signs the numbers will let up in the near future, with one government minister warning this week that many women and children can be expected to follow the males who made up the majority of those making the journey first. Merkel’s decision last month to “open the doors”, particularly to Syrian refugees, has attracted growing criticism even within her own party as an estimated 10,000 people continue to arrive every day.
“Over two days that’s the same amount that the British prime minister, David Cameron, said Britain would take over a five-year period,” a television presenter recently pointed out in an almost throw-away remark. The issue will be central to talks between Merkel and Cameron when they meet at Chequers on Friday. On Wednesday, 34 local officials from Merkel’s Christian Democrats party wrote her a letter in which they voiced their concerns that her refugee policy had gone too far.
“The open borders policy we are now implementing is not in line with either European or German law, nor does it reflect the CDU’s programme,” they wrote.
None of the signatories holds a particularly significant position in the party. But their angry appeal amounts to the biggest party rebellion Merkel has ever faced. And the fact that they have voiced the anxieties of those on the frontline of this refugee crisis – the communities across Germany who say they are struggling to cope – will mean they can hardly be ignored.
The chancellor’s popularity ratings have taken an unusual hit, particularly in the former communist east where anti-immigrant sentiment is at its highest. But appearing on a television chat show on Wednesday night, Merkel insisted she would not try to limit the influx. “How should that work?” she asked the presenter. “You cannot just close the borders.”
Earlier in the day she told the European parliament that the EU needed to overhaul its rules on immigration. But concerns are being expressed across the political landscape, with many from the Greens and Social Democrats divided between their party principles – which they have to admit are in line with Merkel’s – and the daily reality of overstretched municipalities.
Refugees sit on the grass in front of a former hardware store turned into a refugee shelter in Hamburg, Germany. Photograph: Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa/Corbis
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