Between 2015 and 2016, over a million refugees have found their way into Germany. They have been fleeing from uninhabitable warzones: mainly in the Middle East. The boom in migrants began in 2015, with Germany opening its borders to over a million asylum seekers, most of whom are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then a strong and stable leader of not only Germany but the whole of Europe, announced an open borders policy in regards to the influx of migrants seeking refuge. In 2015 and 2016, over 2.5 million people applied for asylum in the European Union, and over one million were granted asylum in Germany. In contrast, only approximately 170,000 refugees have filed for asylum in 2017, compared to 657,855 in 2016, according to the UN Refugee Agency. So why the drastic decline in applicants?
Firstly, it is important to understand the asylum application process. In order for someone to be allowed to file for refugee status, they need to be within the borders of the country from which they want to seek asylum. Once they are in the country, even through illegal means, they have the right to be asylum seekers and enjoy certain protection. However, at any point before entering the country, they can still be arrested and sent back to their home country. The decline in number of applicants implies that fewer people could actually penetrate the borders of EU countries due to greater surveillance. The question becomes why are German politicians pressurized to push for greater border surveillance?
As migrants flooded the German borders, they brought with them new cultures, which gave rise to unabashed xenophobia in parts of the nation of refuge. The economic impacts are also notable with Germany spending 21.7 billion euros in 2016, equivalent to $25,754,862,000 in USD, to fund the crisis. Anti-refugee sentiment has swelled and German alt-right groups have gained traction in the wake of overblown media reports of refugee criminality and violence.
The German city of Salzigitter became the first city to ban new refugees, citing pressure on government services and schools. Two more German cities are scheduled to follow their example and impose a prohibition on new asylum seekers. Germans feel that many refugees are not integrating well into their societies and are a drain on their resources. They feel the government was not adequately prepared for such an influx and thus, the refugees reap government benefits that may not be reaching the original inhabitants. While the number of refugees has fallen dramatically in 2017, the sentiment towards the flooding of migrants from 2015 remains.
This has sparked some resentment and hate crimes targeted mostly against Muslim asylees. There has also been a surge of attacks against refugees and refugee centers. On November 28 2017, the discord hit a peak, with a pro-refugee German politician getting stabbed in the neck by an angry German citizen who felt the government had abandoned him in favor of asylum seekers. This incident comes after a wave of political change that paved the way for members
the far-right Alternative for Germany to have a seat at the table in German parliament for the first time ever.
The results of this election serve to highlight the growing polarization of the German people. In a heated political climate, there have been talks of not only capping the number of refugees, but deporting those rejected for asylum back to their original country. Critics, particularly from the Green party, argued that these countries are not safe enough to send criminal offenders back, calling the mere proposition “irresponsible.”
Though many are deeply grateful to have escaped their bleak situations in their war torn home countries, many refugees still struggle to assimilate into their new German societies. This is made more difficult, no doubt, by a swell in xenophobic attitudes from Germans who feel their democracy and identity is being threatened by the mass immigration. Germany’s efforts have been praised by the UN, but there is still a long way to go. Many families are still separated from their families as a result of a 2016 regulation that slowed the process of family reunification. Either way, Germany’s open border policy in 2015 is to be credited for saving millions of lives and giving opportunities that refugees would likely otherwise not have.