Asylum Crisis: How Many Refugees Can Germany Handle?

By Jürgen Dahlkamp and Maximilian Popp

As Germany faces the highest number of refugee claimants in decades, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the European asylum system is broken. But fixing it will involve hard decisions.

Friedersdorf in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. It’s hard to grasp why 27-year-old Sina Alinia ended up here, in a shelter for asylum seekers. He’s a civil engineer, a highly respected profession in Germany, for which there is a great demand. There are 16,400 unfilled jobs for civil engineers in Germany. And yet here he is, in a shelter at the end of the street, at the end of all streets, separated from Bitterfeld by six kilometers and nothing but empty villages.

Alinia, an Iranian, has been waiting to find out about his asylum request for two and a half years. It’s almost like he was placed on a shelf and forgotten. His initial request was rejected and now the appeals process is underway. He hopes someone will finally give him something to do, something involving work. But because the immigration office wants him to remain in Saxony-Anhalt, and the employment agency doesn’t want him to compete with others for jobs here, nothing happens.

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Meanwhile, on an August morning at the Munich airport, 14 Egyptians arrive on the daily Lufthansa flight from Tbilisi. There were nine on yesterday’s flight. Egyptian asylum seekers always arrive on the plane from Tbilisi, Georgia, because Egyptians don’t need a visa for Georgia. And if they’re just changing planes here on their way back to Egypt, they don’t need one for Germany. But then instead of changing planes, they disembark. The German Federal Police calls them “transit jumpers.” There were close to 600 of them in Munich between May to August. It is the easiest way to enter the asylum system.

Europe’s current asylum policy, and its shortcomings, has become a major talking point since the recent tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa — where more than 300 refugees died on Oct. 3. Their boat sank as it was making its way, illegally, from Libya to Europe. Last Friday, dozens died when another ship, this time with more than 200 refugees on board, sank off the coast of Sicily.

It’s clear that this cannot continue, and yet it does. Although European Union interior ministers met in Luxembourg last Tuesday to discuss the problem, the EU’s Dublin Regulation — which stipulates that the country in which a refugee first enters the EU is where he or she must apply for asylum and stay — is likely to remain unchanged. So what solution, if any, is there for Europe’s growing refugee crisis? And how much asylum can Germany afford? How much does it want to?

Germany Confronts Its Conscience

For Germans, the issue is fraught with contradictions. There is the contradiction between the admirable concept of asylum, which emerged from the experiences of the Nazi era, and its everyday bureaucracy. Then there is the contradiction between the provisions of asylum laws, some of them tough, and how these laws are in fact applied, because they are not designed to accommodate the new realities. And there is also the contradiction between Germany’s new, welcoming culture — in which it insists that it does want more immigrants — and its unchanged policy of deterrence — which it employs to keep out those who would burden its social welfare system.


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