Germany’s refugee crisis is getting worse

Amy X Wang reports: When Germany announced in August that it would waive United Nations rules and allow Syrian migrants to apply for asylum regardless of how they got there, officials knew to expect a flood of people. Hopeful families were already surging into the country from all over the Middle East, an area crippled by social strife and political chaos. Authorities predicted the arrival of more than 800,000 refugees to the country by the end of 2015, and they tried to prepare accordingly.

But Germany is now sagging under the weight. Its cities and towns cannot easily accommodate all the refugees. An official from the Berlin Refugee Council called the issue an “organizational problem” rather than a financial one: Authorities don’t have the resources—or the time—to quickly provide registration, funds, secure accommodation, health services, and identification to all the refugees, 200,000 of whom arrived in September alone.

German police and politicians are frustrated. Exhausted migrants who traveled hundreds of miles to escape civil war only to be held in weeks-long waiting lines are even more so. And adding to Germany’s existing logistical problems now is another: The impending arrival of a freezing, harsh winter. [Continue reading…]

BBC News reports: Hamburg has become the first German city to pass a law allowing the seizure of empty commercial properties in order to house migrants.

The influx of migrants has put pressure on the authorities of the northern city to find accommodation. Some migrants are sleeping rough outdoors.

Hamburg’s law takes effect next week.

In a separate development, prosecutors filed charges of inciting racial hatred against a co-founder of the anti-Islamic Pegida movement.

The prosecutors in the eastern city of Dresden said they acted after Lutz Bachmann had on Facebook described asylum seekers “trash” and “animals”. [Continue reading…]


Mother Angela: Merkel’s refugee policy divides Europe

Der Spiegel reports: We can do it. That’s the message Chancellor Angela Merkel has been giving her country ever since she pledged in late August to provide refuge to anyone coming from Syria in addition to others seeking protection from violence and warfare. The initial euphoria in the country was significant, with tens of thousands of everyday Germans joining the army of helpers to try and cope with the huge influx of needy refugees.

But there have since been signs that the initial elation is fading. The most obvious, of course, was Berlin’s reintroduction of border controls on the German frontier with Austria a little over a week ago. But there have been others as well: Frustration in German states about insufficient federal assistance; grumbling within Merkel’s party about her open door policy; and conflicts with the Social Democrats within Merkel’s governing coalition.

Indeed, Germany is struggling to maintain its composure and to ward off panic despite all the rising doubts.

Can it be done? [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: After weeks of indecision, the European Union voted on Tuesday to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers among member states, a plan meant to display unity in the face of the largest movement of refugees on the Continent since World War II.

Instead, the decision — forced through by a majority vote, over the bitter objections of four eastern members — did as much to underline the bloc’s widening divisions, even over a modest step that barely addresses the crisis.

Nearly half a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe this year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a number that is only expected to rise. [Continue reading…]


UN funding shortfalls and cuts in refugee aid fuel exodus to Europe

The New York Times reports: One of the prime reasons for the wave of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers washing into Europe is the deterioration of the conditions that Syrians face in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, a worsening largely caused by sharp falls in international funding from United Nations countries, officials and analysts say.

That shortfall in funding, in contrast with the greater resources provided by Europe, is prompting some to make the hazardous journey who might otherwise remain where they are. The United Nations Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, which groups a number of humanitarian agencies and covers development aid for the countries bordering Syria, had by the end of August received just 37 percent of the $4.5 billion appeal for needed funds this year.

António Guterres, the high commissioner for refugees, recently said that his agency’s budget this year would be 10 percent smaller than in 2014, and that it could not keep up with the drastic increase in need from the long Syrian conflict, which includes shelter, water, sanitation, food, medical assistance and education. The United Nations refugee agency’s funding for Syria this year is only at 43 percent of budgeted requirements. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Najim Rahim says that when he looks around his neighborhood in the northern city of Kunduz now, “I feel lonely.”

His friend Ahmad Ulomi, who worked in the photo shop down the street, gave up his photography studies and left with five family members, striking out across the Iranian desert on the way to Europe. The shop’s owner, Khalid Ghaznawi, who was Mr. Ulomi’s teacher, decided to follow him with his family of eight, and he put his business up for sale. Mr. Rahim’s friend Atiqullah, who ran the local grocery shop, closed it and also left for Iran with his wife. Another neighbor, Feroz Ahmad, dropped out of college and last week called from Turkey to say he was on his way to Europe.

All of that happened in the past two weeks as people in Kunduz are rushing to seize what many see as a last chance to make it to Europe, just as others are doing throughout Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Thousands of migrants poured into Austria on Saturday after being bounced around countries overwhelmed by their arrival and insistent that they keep moving.

Hungary — which had taken the most draconian and visible measures to turn back the exodus, notably the construction of a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia — partly caved Friday evening. It grudgingly allowed at least 11,000 migrants to enter from Croatia, and then sent them by bus and train to processing centers along its border with Austria.

The Austrian authorities said that about 10,000 people entered the country on Saturday, from Slovenia and Hungary. [Continue reading…]


The roots of German openness

Dominique Moisi writes: “Germany, Germany,” shout thousands of refugees, faced with the obvious bad will of Hungary’s political authorities, in front of Budapest’s Keleti railway station. They are dreaming of Germany – not any European country, but specifically Germany – the way, more than a century ago, Europe’s poor, fleeing misery – and, in some cases, pogroms – dreamed of America.

This represents a dramatic shift from the past. What a contrast between the photo, taken less than 80 years ago in the Warsaw Ghetto, of a small Jewish child with raised arms and fearful eyes, and one taken a few days ago in Munich of a smiling refugee boy, his head protected by a policeman’s hat. For the first child, Germany meant certain death; for the second, it offers hope for a better life.

And Germany does not represent just an abstract hope; the country is welcoming more migrants than any of its European counterparts, with Chancellor Angela Merkel having announced that the country will take at least 800,000 asylum-seekers this year. How can a country move so rapidly from darkness to light?

No one can deny the role of schools, civic and business leaders, and, of course, external forces in bringing about this change. But nor should one underestimate the importance of political leadership. [Continue reading…]


Open and shut: How Germany plays politics with its borders

By Holger Nehring, University of Stirling

Was it just a dream? Only last week, Germany made it clear that all refugees were welcome, and chancellor Angela Merkel became the Mother Teresa of European politics.

The country was able to bask in the glory of being an example of the good European – only months after Merkel had been chided for her politics of austerity towards Greece and after she had, to much criticism worldwide, told a young Palestinian girl that “we cannot take everyone in”.

But barely a week after the hearty welcome, the country closed its borders with Austria, the route by which the majority of refugees were arriving. Police forces and helpers in Bavaria were simply unable to cope with the massive influx of people – more than 20,000 refugees had arrived in Munich alone over the course of the weekend, more than UK prime minister David Cameron said his country was prepared to take in over the next five years.

[Read more…]


EU nations pull welcome mats for migrants, imposing new restrictions

The Washington Post reports: European nations once friendly to refugees abruptly yanked their welcome mats Thursday, as Germany considered slashing its benefits and Croatia announced it was closing most of its road links with Serbia “until further notice.”

The German measures would overhaul asylum codes to stem the massive flow of migrants into Europe, scaling back the generous policies that have made Germany a beacon for desperate war refugees and economic migrants pouring out of the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

In a 128-page draft law produced by the German Interior Ministry and obtained by The Washington Post, the government would speed asylum procedures, cut cash benefits, hasten deportations and punish those with false claims and phony paperwork. [Continue reading…]


Refugees still set on Germany despite border controls

Der Spiegel reports: Evrim, a refugee from the ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo, has wrapped herself in a wool blanket, her red sweatshirt no longer offering sufficient protection against the cold. The young woman with dyed-blonde hair would rather spend the night in front of Vienna’s Westbahnhof Station than sleep in an emergency shelter. She is planning on taking the very first train to Germany the next morning.

“We heard that Germany has closed the border,” Evrim says. But she doesn’t really want to believe it. She heard the news from Mohammed, who is also from Aleppo and is part of the group of 15 Kurds from Syria she is traveling with. The group coalesced on the refugee trail, which leads from Turkey across the Western Balkans to Hungary and beyond. Mohammed, for his part, heard the news from a British journalist who had interviewed the group in the early evening right after they crossed into Austria from Hungary. “Maybe he misunderstood (the journalist),” Evrim says.

But he wasn’t mistaken. On Sunday evening, Germany introduced temporary border controls along its frontier with Austria in response to the massive numbers of refugees that have been making their way to Germany in recent weeks. Officials from Germany’s 16 states sounded the alarm back on Thursday, warning that refugee hostels were full and that they could no longer process the huge numbers of newcomers.

The temporary border controls — which could last as long as two weeks, according to Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, who spoke on public radio on Monday morning — are intended to give Germany a chance to catch its breath while at the same time ratcheting up the pressure on other European Union member states to accept a quota system for the distribution of asylum recipients across the bloc. EU interior ministers are meeting on Monday to try to find a solution. [Continue reading…]


Escape from Yarmouk: A family’s journey to Germany from hell on Earth in Syria

Vice News reports: As the train packed with refugees left Budapest’s Keleti station in the direction of Austria, only one family remained on the platform. “We couldn’t buy tickets because we don’t have any money, armed thieves took everything from us,” said Tarek al-Hajj Khalil, a Palestinian from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria.

The 19-year-old refugee sat flanked by his five sisters: Nour, 18, Reem, 17, Rama, 16, Raneem, 15, Bayan, 4, and her twin brother Aamer. The group arrived the night before after being released from a Hungarian detention facility, and looked to continue onward to Germany, where they hope to receive asylum.

“Everything is broken from the trip,” Tarek said as he banged away at a Samsung phone with a cracked screen and missing battery cover.

He tried desperately to reach his brother Mustafa, who had crossed into Austria three days earlier with their mother. The family became separated after they were robbed on the Serbia-Hungary border. Thieves took nearly $5,000 in cash, and now the family had only $1,000 left hidden on one of Tarek’s sisters. A smuggler demanded exactly that much to drive his mother and brother Mustafa to Budapest after they crossed into Hungary. [Continue reading…]


Islamists in Germany trying to recruit young refugees

AFP reports: Muslim radicals in Germany are trying to recruit some of the growing numbers of asylum seekers reaching the country, according to intelligence services quoted by the German news agency DPA.

The Islamic extremists “are trying to approach the young unaccompanied refugees, who arrive in our country without their families and are particularly looking for contacts and support,” a spokesman for the intelligence service in the southern state of Bavaria told DPA.

He said many of the youths are approached around reception centres but also at Munich railway station where many of the asylum seekers have arrived from Hungary and Austria in recent days.

The Islamic extremists “want to take advantage of the insecurity and distress of the refugees,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Germany to take half a million refugees as Greek isles overwhelmed

AFP reports: Germany said it could take half a million refugees annually over several years as Greek islands struggled Tuesday to process a huge backlog of migrants desperate to travel to western Europe.

Reflecting deepening concern, the European Union’s president warned the EU faced a years-long refugee crisis, while the UN urged countries worldwide to help tackle the problem.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged greater flexibility in EU migrant quotas as her deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, said Berlin “could surely deal with something in the order of half a million (refugees) for several years.” [Continue reading…]


Germany’s open-door policy in migrant crisis casts nation in a new light

The Los Angeles Times reports: German officials say they are prepared to accept as many as 800,000 asylum seekers this year, a number equal to 1% of the population. The government announced Monday that it would set aside $6.7 billion next year to deal with the influx.

France and Britain also said Monday that they would increase the number of refugees they would accept.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that his country would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees within the next five years, and French President Francois Hollande pledged to admit 24,000 asylum seekers in the next two years. [Continue reading…]


Neo-Nazi arsonists: German officials concerned by growing far-right networks

Der Spiegel reports: It was April 16 when around 100 right-wing extremists marched through the small town of Nauen in the eastern German state of Brandenburg. Their message: “Nein zum Heim!” or “No to the Hostel!” They carried posters and German flags along with them. “Nauen Will Stay White!” read one. “Take Action!” read another.

One day later, employees of Mikado, a local youth center, found that the tires of the center’s minibus had been slashed. There was a note under the windshield wiper reading: “Dear asylum friends, Tröglitz is here too.” The reference was to an arson attack on a refugee shelter not two weeks before in the town of Tröglitz in the eastern state of Saxony.

Skip ahead to Monday night a week ago when a planned asylum hostel — to be established inside a high school gymnasium — was gutted by flames in Nauen, just outside Berlin. The fire occurred just a short time before the first refugees were scheduled to move in. On the Tuesday evening after the fire, a group of 300 assembled for a vigil amid the biting stench of the rubble. Local politician Roger Lewandowski, of the conservative Christian Democrats, pledged that town residents wouldn’t be cowed by the attack. “If you shrink in the face of such attacks, gymnasiums and hostels will soon be burning everywhere.”


The fire in Nauen was the 27th at a German refugee hostel since 2012 — and the fifth within a single week. [Continue reading…]


Did Bush and Cheney consider launching a nuclear strike on Afghanistan after 9/11?

Der Spiegel interviewed Michael Steiner, a German career diplomat who was Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s foreign policy advisor in 2001:

SPIEGEL: What was it like in the days following the [al Qaeda] attacks?

Steiner: Condoleezza Rice was George W. Bush’s security advisor at the time. I actually had quite a good relationship with her. But after Sept. 11, the entire administration positively dug in. We no longer had access to Rice, much less to the president. It wasn’t just our experience, but also that of the French and British as well. Of course that made us enormously worried.


Steiner: Because we thought that the Americans would overreact in response to the initial shock. For the US, it was a shocking experience to be attacked on their own soil.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean, overreact? Were you afraid that Bush would attack Afghanistan with nuclear weapons?

Steiner: The Americans said at the time that all options were on the table. When I visited Condoleezza Rice in the White House a few days later, I realized that it was more than just a figure of speech.

SPIEGEL: The Americans had developed concrete plans for the use of nuclear weapons in Afghanistan?

Steiner: They really had thought through all scenarios. The papers had been written. [Continue reading…]


Finding a refugee in my basement was a wake-up call to the crisis

Bernie Duffy writes: ur neighbourhood in the western suburbs of Hamburg was built during the Nazi era. Short, uniform red-brick buildings, covered in lush ivy, stand in neat rows perpendicular to a quiet leafy street. My girlfriend and I, from Scotland and Ireland respectively, love it here. The neighbours are largely foreigners too and there is a great sense of community.

One unusual feature of our street is the basement complex that connects the buildings. During the war, this labyrinth of tunnels was used for air raids. Blast-proof metal doors are still in place and have to be opened with huge levers, like on a ship.

Hamburg is a tolerant, cosmopolitan city. It has been relatively welcoming to refugees (compared to some other German cities). The biggest humanitarian crisis to hit Europe since the war is happening, and everyone here is acutely aware of it. At Hamburg’s main train station, hundreds of migrants arrive every day, and can be seen standing around in groups, looking confused and not knowing where to go next. In response citizens are mobilising to provide support. Container-style villages have been popping up in some of the nicest neighbourhoods, to provide emergency housing for the sudden influx of people. As a freelance consultant, I visit many clients’ offices and in each I see a corner with donations piled high to send to the refugee centres.

Last Thursday morning I had an earlier than usual start. Dragging myself out of bed at 6am for an important meeting on the other side of the city, the refugee crisis was the last thing on my mind. Dressed and ready, I went to the cellar to fetch my bike. I was just about to pull it out of the storage room when there was a movement at the edge of my line of vision. I nearly hit my head on the low ceiling in fright, as there was a woman, scrambling to pick up her clothes from the floor. [Continue reading…]


Under the strain of refugees, which Germany will prevail? The dark or the bright?

Der Spiegel reports: Anger is in the air. Angela Merkel has come to Heidenau and the locals are lined up to see her. But it is anything but a friendly welcome: It is a crowd full of hate. Some call out: “Traitor to Your People!” Others yell “We Are the Pack,” a reference to Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel’s strong condemnation of right-wing, anti-refugee demonstrators.

It is the pride of idiots. After the chancellor disappears into the former building supplies store, where 400 refugees have found shelter, the residents of the small Saxony town begin talking about the outsiders who have become their temporary neighbors.

“Did you see the young men? Full of hormones and with nothing sensible to do. They can’t help but get dumb ideas,” says one tanned pensioner wearing a bike helmet. A woman nods and says she no longer allows her granddaughter to walk past the building supplies store alone.

A policeman with foreign features is standing in front of the villagers wearing a firearm and a baton, but his face is friendly. Eventually, he joins the discussion. “I was born in Germany in 1980, but my parents are from Afghanistan,” he says. “They came to escape the war with the Russians.” His German is flawless. The emblem of the Lower Saxony police force is displayed prominently on his breast. The Saxons around him listen closely. And are amazed.

“My father was a teacher in Afghanistan and my mother worked in the technical field,” the policeman says. “But of course they could no longer practice their professions here.” The young man speaks calmly, but insistently, looking at the people behind the police barricade directly in the eyes. He declines to give his name — not out of fear, but because he doesn’t want to speak of his political viewpoints while in uniform. The man with the Afghan parents has completely internalized Germany’s civil servant principles.

The Heidenau residents say nothing; their enmity goes silent for a short moment. For the first time all day. [Continue reading…]


Germany’s embrace of Syrian refugees exposes how little other countries have done

Joyce Karam writes: They’re calling her “Mama Merkel,” sending her love messages on twitter and showing gratitude unseen recently for a Syrian or Arab leader. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is being celebrated by many Syrians this week, for defying EU rules and showing compassion to a refugee population that’s been let down all too often in the last four years.

With more than four million refugees since 2011 and with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon reaching full capacity in hosting those fleeing the Syrian war, the international community is dragging its feet in the face of the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Discrimination, hate crimes, and sheer catastrophes in the Mediterranean are encountering Syrians escaping on foot or by water to European shores. Barbed wires, and refugee-profiling awaits across the continent while some countries like Poland and Slovakia have made no secret that they would only take Syrian Christian refugees.

Merkel might not be the most charismatic leader or orator on the global stage, but this week, Germany’s Chancellor has shown both the audacity and the empathy in addressing the Syrian refugee problem. On Tuesday, Berlin announced its intention to welcome all Syrian asylum seekers to stay in the country, disregarding Europe’s Dublin protocol and enraging the far right groups in the process.

Merkel called for restoring European values in tackling the humanitarian problem, for “sharing the burden” dismissing the far right attacks as “disgusting, how right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis are trying to preach dull hate messages.” Merkel also vowed ”there will be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people.” [Continue reading…]


Germany is the first European country to free Syrian refugees from a draconian bureaucratic ‘trap’

Quartz reports: Germany, which has a better track record than most European countries on sheltering refugees, has made a move to address one of the more lunatic aspects of the European immigration crisis. The country has said (link in German) it will stop sending away refugees of the five-year war in Syria, and instead process their asylum claims in Germany.

Why doesn’t that already happen? It’s the result of a 2003 piece of legislation that human rights organizations have long been describing as a “trap.”

The legislation is called the Dublin Protocol, and was designed to stop migrants traveling through Europe to countries with favorable regimes before claiming asylum. If people need asylum, the argument ran, they should be claiming it straight away — and the state in which they do so should remain responsible for processing it.

There is a huge problem with this logic, however, and many northern European countries have chosen to turn a blind eye to it: geography. Most people fleeing from the wars in Syria or Afghanistan, as well as those trying to get to Europe for economic reasons, come by land or by sea. The land route brings them through Turkey, which is not a member of the EU, to Greece and Bulgaria, which are.

The sea routes, which are much more perilous and have led to thousands of deaths this year alone, lead migrants to Greece, to Italy, or to the islands of Lampedusa and Malta. Without the funds or paperwork necessary, most asylum claimants aren’t able to fly into the airports of northern European countries. [Continue reading…]


Welcome to Germany: Locals step in to help refugees in need

Der Spiegel reports: The day has only just begun, but the phone in Anja Damerius’ office at the University of Siegen is already ringing off the hook. An elderly woman wants to read books to refugee children: “Yes, of course!” Damerius says into the receiver. “When are you available?” A family from the neighborhood wants to distribute food. “Come over.” Toys? “Please drop them off at the church, our garage is full.”

The masters student from North Rhine-Westphalia had actually planned on spending her semester break relaxing, sleeping in, meeting friends and doing a bit of partying. But instead, she’s been working on the campus from morning to evening, she says.

Damerius, 33, coordinates the program for 50 to 60 refugee children at the University of Siegen. She is one of a dozen volunteers at the university who are working with asylum seekers, known here as “guests.”

The regional government has placed approximately 200 asylum seekers in the university gymnasium. Initially, it was seen as a temporary solution, meant to provide shelter for a few days until space in the reception center opened up again. But by now, refugees have been living on the campus for almost a month — and nobody at the university is seriously expecting that the asylum seekers will be housed anywhere else by the time the semester starts in mid-October, despite official promises to the contrary. In fact, 17 additional refugees arrived just last week.

But hardly anyone in Siegen is complaining. The student union is organizing meals through the cafeteria; a student initiative has launched daily language courses, and almost 90 interpreters have been recruited; and, with the help of students, the city is organizing primary medical care.

Siegen University rector Holger Burckhart, who is also vice-president of the German Rectors’ Conference, says that given their status as public institutions, universities have a responsibility to help. “We are part of social life and can give something back to society here.” According to Burckhart, the students are getting a clearer sense of the scale of the world’s crises. [Continue reading…]