Angela Merkel’s welcome mat
Refugees roil the German public with an election approaching
Only the hard-hearted would slam the door against a refugee. Their stories are heartbreaking and their courage in seeking a better life in a new home is remarkable. Nevertheless, refugees in uncontrolled number are a headache for everyone. Germany, held up as a nation with a big heart, is learning the cost of Angela Merkel’s big heart. More than a million refugees have arrived since 2015.
Nearly 3 of 4 refugees admitted will struggle to take care of themselves, the German Institute for Employment Research finds. A new survey suggests they’ll probably stay for years on the public dole. The institute finds that fewer than half arriving from Syria, the largest source of refugees, arrive with the equivalent of a high school diploma, and barely 1 in 5 have a college degree. Nearly half a million of them stand in the unemployment line, up by more than a hundred thousand from last year.
The good news is that the number of asylum seekers in Germany dropped by 600,000 in 2016. Aydan Ozoguz, commissioner for immigration, refugees and integration, tells London’s Financial Times that only a quarter to a third of the newcomers will enter the labor market over the next five years, “and for many others we will need up to 10 years [to get them settled].”
Syrians, fleeing an interminable civil war, are followed in number by Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Eritreans and Albanians. Together they’re a political headache for Chancellor Merkel, whose poll numbers have declined over the past year leading up to the federal elections in late September. She has had a generous hand in welcoming refugees and immigrants, and most of them are Muslims who find it difficult to adapt and adjust to the religious and political freedom and responsibilities in the West. Pollsters say absorbing the million or more migrants is the top concern of German voters.
The unprecedented number of refugees in 2015 created an enormous backlog of applications for residence — more than 430,000 currently are waiting for clearance now. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has cleared more cases than ever before, says Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, considerably more than twice as many in the year before. The number of government clerks has been quadrupled to clear the backlog.
“The [refugee office] is now out of the woods,” he says, “and with wind in its sails. Every month more decisions are made than applications received, so the backlog is being cleared.” More than 50,000 migrants voluntarily returned to their home countries last year, and another 25,000 were deported.
Mrs. Merkel, mindful of Germany’s record in the 20th century, wanted to play Lady Bountiful with her wide-open door, and during the height of the refugee wave, with hundreds drowning in the perilous passage in flimsy boats across the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, she was widely acclaimed. But the size of the refugee wave surpassed expectations, and public opinion shifted dramatically.
Her open-door policy was blamed for enabling terrorism arriving with the migrants, and when an Islamic migrant from Tunisia drove a truck into a popular Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and wounding 56 holiday shoppers, the incident galvanized public opinion. It forced a review of national security.