As hundreds of asylum seekers continue to enter Germany each day, the country faces more and more challenges. The question is, how well is Germany coping with the migrant crisis within its borders?
Cut-off date: 1 December 2015
He was sick of waking up in the middle of the night to music blasting from someone else’s cell phone. He could no longer bear living with a hundred others in a crowded gymnasium. He hated being unable to work and the resultant boredom. Most of all, he was frustrated by the uncertainty of whether his family would be able to join him and fearful for their safety.
“I would rather die in my homeland than stay here,” Murad Kulli told Der Tagesspiegel before he left.
When Kulli phoned to tell his family he was returning home, they understood. They agreed with him because they, too, didn’t think they’d have a future where he was. Last month, he set off in the same direction he had come from – back towards Iraq.
Kulli was an asylum seeker in Germany.
When he first arrived, he settled in the city of Hanover. That was in March this year. In August, he was still waiting to be interviewed about his asylum application. When he left, a date still hadn’t been set. But he could no longer wait.
Murad Kulli’s story illustrates how the migrant influx is putting considerable pressure on Germany’s public services. Due to the backlog of unprocessed asylum applications at the German Refugee Ministry, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers have been left in limbo.
This is just one of many challenges Germany must now face. Months after Angela Merkel introduced an open-door refugee policy for those fleeing the Syrian conflict, asylum seekers are still arriving in Germany. This is despite the fact that the German Chancellor has tightened immigration rules in recent weeks. The question is, how well is Germany coping with the migrant crisis within its borders?
Fifteen years ago, Stephen Castles wrote in his book Ethnicity and Globalization that in periods of economic growth, Germany had not found it difficult to absorb millions of immigrants. Between 1989 and 1992, altogether about two million people entered Germany.
Why, then, shouldn’t the nation be able to manage it now?
Some German politicians, Merkel included, believe it’s possible. Others don’t. According to junior politician Conrad Clemens, there are two key aspects to the situation. The Managing Director of Youth Union – the youth organization of Germany’s CDU and CSU centre-right parties – said in a phone interview: “In one way we support the current government.”1
On the other hand, with regards to “drawing a line” at taking in more refugees, Clemens said he disagreed with his party’s leadership and that Youth Union was pushing for quotas to be set.
Junior politician Stefan Brauneis, however, sees the question of limiting refugee intake differently. In a phone interview, the Vice Chairperson of the Young Socialists – the youth organization of Germany’s centre-left SPD party – said: “Germany should be open to migration.”2
“It is our responsibility to make sure human rights are accessible,” Brauneis said. “It is our obligation,” he said, to make sure people aren’t risking their lives. “It’s a human right to apply for asylum; you can’t block it.”
While Clemens and Brauneis disagree on the issue of quotas, both believe that the best way for Germany to deal with the crisis is to find a European solution.
And Germany’s Minister of Integration agrees with them.
“Quotas could have a relief effect if they are large enough and the other European member states participate,” Aydan Oezoguz told the Frankfurter Allgemeine on 25 November.
Some German citizens have had enough of politicians talking about the crisis instead of solving it. Anna Lubiser, a resident of Hamburg, decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I’m a bit frustrated with politics,”3 Lubiser admitted in a phone interview. “I thought, if they don’t do anything, I’m going to do it myself.”
Critical of Germany’s asylum laws and the way the government was organizing accommodation for refugees, Lubiser began subletting a flat to a refugee in September through an organization called Refugees Welcome.
“The problem is that although the government pays the rent for the flat, refugees have no chance of renting or finding these flats for themselves,” Lubiser explained.
Not only could the housing situation for refugees in Germany be improved, so could the system for registering the newcomers.
Wolfgang Klages, former police officer and Press Spokesperson for the police in Braunschweig, maintains that more volunteers are needed to help with the registration of refugees.4 “The biggest challenge and concern for the police is the unbridled intake of asylum seekers,” Klages said.
“The registration centre in Braunschweig is designed to accommodate approximately 700 people. At the moment, they’re dealing with around 3700 people. This overcrowding can lead to violence among the applicants,” explained Klages.
In spite of this, Klages holds that there hasn’t been an increase in overall crime in Braunschweig. “Crime rates are generally declining,” Klages said.
Statistics from the German Refugee Ministry tell a different story. From January to the end of October this year, 576 crimes against refugee centres across Germany were recorded. By contrast, there were 198 crimes against refugee centres in Germany all of last year.
But Klages believes these statistics are misleading. “Thus far, there have been no attacks on refugee shelters in Braunschweig,” confirmed Klages.
The migrant crisis has meant an increase in volunteers of all types in Germany, from people at registration centres to those in the medical industry.
Doctors employed by the government to provide basic health care to migrants cannot manage the task all on their own, according to Ute Zurmuehl, Communications Manager at Doctors of the World Germany.
There has been a 50% increase of doctors at the NGO since September, Zurmuehl said in a phone interview.5 “We have many more doctors who want to help, who want to support and who do it without getting paid.”
For Zurmuehl, the challenge begins the moment the refugees cross the border into Germany. “The doctors say that they see people who are badly nourished and who have wounded feet,” explained Zurmuehl. Flu and diarrhea number among the most common illnesses.
But physical problems are not the primary source of distress for most migrants.
“There’s a much higher need for psychological support,” Zurmuehl said. One doctor told Zurmuehl of her guilt when she was unable to treat children complaining of stomach aches. “The doctor said they had a certain apathy about them,” said Zurmuehl, and that she could find no physical signs of illness. The children’s symptoms were painful, though psychosomatic.
Zurmuehl isn’t the only one who thinks counselling for refugees is critical. Magdalena Strauch is a teacher at Teach First Germany who thinks so, too. 80% of Strauch’s students are refugees between the ages of 12-18.
“With two of the students you can really tell that they’re undergoing trauma,”6 Strauch said in a Skype interview. One of Strauch’s students refuses to speak. Another one isn’t able to keep up in class and tries to demand attention by making “a huge fuss about everything.”
The noisy, cramped conditions in the refugee camp where some of her students live also concerns Strauch. “We went to their camp and we spoke to the social workers there because we wanted to make sure that they have a place where they can sit and do their homework,” said Strauch. “The mood was surprisingly positive but the social workers seemed stressed.”
Strauch also worries about the integration of her students into German society. Unlike other Teach First schools, at her school, students who speak German at native level aren’t grouped together with refugee students. This, Strauch said, makes it “really difficult” for refugee students to “mix with German-speaking youngsters so that they can be integrated more easily.”
Integrating the country’s newcomers is something Naika Foroutan believes should already be one of Germany’s top priorities. “The new Germany must be imagined from a post-migration perspective,” the professor at the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research told Der Spiegel on October 14. “Germany has changed, and it is now changing dramatically once again.”
Despite the hurdles, Foroutan remains optimistic. When asked whether she thought Germany could handle the migrant influx, she replied: “The question has long since become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
For her, what’s more important is what happens after basic provisions such as food, shelter and medical care have been provided. “That is when it will become clear whether the arrival of these people will be a burden or a success story.”
What’s also clear is that the story is far from over. Dreams of compassionate Germany are undoubtedly attractive. A shame, then, that they were unattainable for Murad Kulli and his family. Regardless of what decision is taken on the question of quotas, Germany is already struggling to live up to its Chancellor’s ideals.
1 Telephone interview: Berlin – Cardiff, 23/11/2015.
2 Telephone interview: Dresden – Cardiff, 1/12/2015.
3 Telephone interview: Hamburg – Cardiff, 17/11/2015.
4 Email correspondence: Braunschweig – Cardiff, 25/11/2015.
5 Telephone interview: Munich – Cardiff, 20/11/2015.
6 Skype interview: Hamburg – Cardiff, 28/10/2015.