Refugee Debate The Shrillest Are Gaining the Upper Hand

Opponents of Angela Merkel's refugee policies act as if the country were on the verge of collapse. Their tone is so shrill it has created a climate in which people just shrug their shoulders as the government takes steps to dramatically curb asylum-seekers' rights.

Stop inciting and start helping, reads the sign at this recent pro-refugee rally in Mannheim, Germany.

Stop inciting and start helping, reads the sign at this recent pro-refugee rally in Mannheim, Germany.

A Commentary by

Quiet has returned in Sumte. Last autumn, journalists from around the world suddenly descended on the village of 100 residents in the state of Lower Saxony, when it was reported the tiny town would have to take in 1,000 refugees. Even the New York Times dispatched a reporter. Half of those migrants have now arrived in Sumte, but in sharp contrast to the doomsday predictions of refugee opponents, the response by locals here has been temperate. "We're handling everything very well," Mayor Grit Richter recently said in a newspaper interview.

Quiet has also returned to Passau. On some days in 2015, as many as 8,000 refugees arrived each day in the city at the German-Austrian border -- more than in any other place in Germany. The respected weekly Die Zeit described it as a "German Lampedusa," referring to the Italian island that had previously been a magnet for boat refugees. Despite this, Mayor Jürgen Dupper affirms: "Of course we can handle it."

One hears little about the asylum debate these days from places like Sumte or Passau. The same holds true of Eichstätt in Bavaria, where the city and volunteers have joined forces to organize refugee integration, or in cities like Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden, where thousands of people continue to volunteer to help refugees, sorting donated clothing at asylum-seeker hostels and offering German-language courses for new arrivals.

And yet, it's the Cassandras who continue to dominate the debate. They complain of breaking points that have allegedly been crossed and warn, as German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk did last fall, that there "is no moral obligation for self-destruction." Conservative Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer joined the chorus by warning of a "collapse" of the state.

Drowning Out Voices of Reason

It is true that there is considerable room for improvement in the handling of the refugee crisis. People are continuing to die along the European Union's external borders (though that is not something that those who claim to be concerned about the refugee crisis are particularly concerned about), the planned distribution of refugees across Europe has failed and, yes, some of the migrants are criminals.

But it is also true that refugee integration has been a success story in many parts of Germany. For a long time, the German government ignored the refugee issue and, despite knowning it was necessary, failed to create an infrastructure for handling new arrivals. Ultimately, however, Germany's civil society did an impressive job of making up for the state's shortcomings.

Nevertheless, those in Germany who oppose the refugees continue to act as though the country is on the verge of collapse. They're acting as cheerleaders for Germany's downfall, and their cacophony has grown so loud that they have drowned out any voices of humanity, pragmatism or reason in the public debate.

Indeed, the conservative Christian Social Union from Bavaria, the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Islamophobic PEGIDA movement and their ilk have pushed the refugee discourse so far to the right that the German majority simply shrugged when parliament recently pushed through the most drastic revision of asylum rights in the land since the early 1990s.

Even as Chancellor Merkel publicly announced, "We can handle this," her government in recent months has been pulling the emergency brakes, declaring a number of countries to be "safe countries of origin" -- thus eliminating the right of such nationals to apply for asylum in Germany -- expanding residence restrictions that limit the movement of refugees in the country and imposing restrictions requiring asylum-seekers to remain in camps or initial reception facilities until their applications are processed. The government is also moving to restrict the right of the reunification of families. All these steps have a singular aim: to deter refugees from coming to Germany.

Despite this, Merkel's asylum policies are still considered to be generous, even on the left side of the political spectrum. This is partly attributable to the vocabulary adopted by Merkel. In contrast to the conservative wing of her party, she does not speak of an "upper ceiling" on the number of refugees that can come to Germany.

Last summer's refugee movement mobilized more people than almost any other event in recent German memory. And the people who provided a helping hand then are still out there today giving their support. It's not a small group of people either -- but their voices are getting drowned out at the moment. That's why those who support more liberal asylum policies need to get out there to make sure their voices are heard. They need to get networked and to clearly articulate their positions. The nay-sayers and doomsday proclaimers cannot be allowed a monopoly in this debate.

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glasspix 02/10/2016
1. Pyongyang calling
The above piece can only be described as a North Korean style propaganda manifest, that would have been rejected even by Putin's censors as overzealous. It seriously brings back memories of newsreels of Ceausescu visiting farms and tractor factories. I cannot fathom how someone can remove himself so far from facts and the most basic standards of journalistic independence, unless you are aiming for a CDU spokesperson's job Mr. Popp.
grzegorz_s¿oka 02/10/2016
2. haters?
Are you suggesting anything in the title? How do you know they are haters? Maybe they are those who love their fellow folks? have you spoken to them and asked for their reasons? Or are you just intolerant?
Harold Rogers 02/10/2016
3. Hippocracy
Max quickly condemns "the man in the street" with emotive words and he can be forgiven because of his age if he has no understanding of human history. If you are against something these days you have a "phobia" or you just don't understand or you have no humanity. Spiegel consistently underestimates the intelligence of the electorate and continues to maintain it's elitist attitudes whilst "cherry pickings" stories which suit their ideology and yet fail to report all the enormous problems and crimes that this mass unfettered immigration will cause. Pointing to ANY success from both sides of the debate at this stage is incredibly naïve and the author seems to be totally unaware of the inherent and long term disaster that Ms Merkel in her ivory tower has created. I wonder when Max turns 60 in 2046 will he reread his innocuous and naïve commentary on these times. True to the current lack of journalistic integrity rampant today....I think not.
johann84 02/10/2016
4. Seriously ?
First of all i would like to note based on the past articles written by Mr. Popp that he is situated on the very left side of the political spectrum, farther than him is just the wall. Secondly I am more and more disappointed how over the years Der Spiegel is continuously slipping from the centre to the left with Mr. Augstein, Mr. Lobo, Mr. Popp and Mr. Diez. Mr Popp is already talking after 6 months about "success stories" meanwhile as of now I can see just a bill of EUR 25 bn, that everybody without an ID can cross into Germany and claim asylum, that around 20% of the asylum seekers are illiterate and 70% are without any qualification. Also I find it quite ironic that Der Spiegel's reporters are trying to explain Eastern Europe's reluctance to take asylum seekers with the Eastern Europeans different cultural background which proved to be incompatible with the European values of "core Europe" BUT after 2 days of integration course the millions coming to us from the Arab world will make perfect citizens, right ?
Banana Monarchy 02/10/2016
Only an opportunist would see the stream of refugees or better illegal immigrants not as a threat to the country. The German press is pretty well known for being politically (too) correct, history is important but the current generations of Germans had nothing to do with what happened during the war. So when the press say that integration is a successtory in large parts of Germany they should come up with real figures. In neighbouring countries it is not a succes stroy at all and it would be pretty extraordinary that the situation in Germany would be very different than that of The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark or Norway, where 75% of all refugees do not have paid work after 15 years. The press and politicians often make up pretty bold claims. Syrians are highly educated. Really? 20% is unable to read or write, 35% has 6 years or less education and just 20% have a higher education according Syrian standards. They are unable to pass any English speaking test and almost all fail all mathematics tests. Another claim made by the press and politicians is that refugees are good for the economy and make GDP grow. John Maynard Keynes is turning in his grave, knowing that they cost between 23 and 33 thousand Euro's per person for the rest of their natural lives and will not contribute any substantial amounts to the states coffers. But than again, the press is telling that refugees are needed to replace the ageing population which is curious as a country does not need to grow their GDP this way. Old people die and an average income that is rising is more important than a rising GDP with lower wage averages. The press and the left wing parties are really shameless. Of course Germany will collapse under the weight of refugees. They are muslims. Muslims are not known for the equality of men and women, do not accept homosexuals and do not see all religions as equal. That is quite weird, because the left did fight for all those rights and a separation of church and state. So yes Germany will be back soon in the mid 1930's just before the war and the new warmongers will not be the real German population but the new Germans. Good luck twisting the facts.
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