By Dr. Katherine Harris:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has lost control of her country’s refugee crisis. Nevertheless, she wants to put forward a tough stance on immigration and guarantee success at the polls once again. In essence, she is trying to buy her way out.
Germany has been the target country for refugees and migrants seeking asylum, mostly from war-torn Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This influx poses an unsustainable burden for the country. Failure to get a grip on the problem is even more serious because it is well-understood that the inflow of refugees is likely to continue.
The continuation of Willkommenskultur (welcome culture) is fueling concerns among many Germans that their country is being overrun by migrants with cultures that are vastly different from their own.
According to the German federal government, last year the arrivals of almost 1.1 million asylum seekers, is the highest ever recorded in Germany. On top of this number, Germany received several thousand refugees through humanitarian aid organizations. This has resulted in a net immigration of 1.14 million refugees and migrants in 2016. To put this in perspective, in 2015, Europe took in 1.3.million refugees.
Chancellor Merkel, who seeks to win back conservative votes before the elections in September underestimated how difficult it would be to integrate migrants on such a grand scale, and this has plunged Germany into a Kulturkampf (culture war) as a result.
This massive influx has dominated the political and social debate, and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) already lost 2 regional elections, including one in her hometown and one in Berlin. Merkel said the result in Berlin was a “bitter” one, that she accepted responsibility for her party’s poor performance and that she needed to do more to explain her policies on migrants.
Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, sounded a warning for Merkel. “People will see this as the start of the ‘Kanzlerdämmerung’ (twilight of the Chancellor),” he said. “If a lot of CDU members start seeing this defeat as Merkel’s fault, and members of parliament start seeing her as a danger for the party and their own jobs, the whole situation could escalate out of control.
Reality has set in, Chancellor Merkel is no longer vehemently defending her ‘open-arms’ policy, and has apparently reversed course. Merkel, who is trailing in the polls in her bid for a fourth term, is said to be setting aside 90 million euros ($95.7 million) in taxpayers’ money for a fund which will pay migrants to withdraw their asylum applications and leave Germany voluntarily.
Furthermore, she proposes a financial incentive of 1200 Euros ($1268) to those who withdraw their applications for asylum and go home. “Voluntary departure represents a better way than deportation,” according to Thomas de Maizière, the German interior minister.
Anti-immigration and far-right groups have criticized the decision, blaming the Chancellor for a series of ISIS-inspired terror attacks carried out by migrants in Germany last year, including the Christmas market massacre in Berlin.
As part of Chancellor Merkel’s plan, a number of ‘federal departure centers’ will also be established near airports to hold migrants before they are deported. Chancellor Merkel admitted that relying solely on migrants putting themselves forward for deportation would fail to tackle the huge backlog of rejected requests, and is ramping up the deportation process for an estimated 450,000 who have been denied asylum, but will not leave voluntarily. “We rely heavily on voluntary departures, but we know that voluntary departures will not take place if people know that there is never a mandatory return to their home country,” she said.
Will cash handouts worth millions of euros for migrants to leave Germany silence criticism of her ‘open-arms’ policy? The general consensus says it is too late.
Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is an OpsLens contributor, a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. She has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany.
Academically, Dr. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from The University of Maryland European Division, a Master of Arts in International Relations from Boston University, and a Doctorate in Education from Rowan University with an emphasis in leadership and higher education in a global context.