Source: The Washington Times
By Austin Davis – Special to The Washington Times
BERLIN — Popular anger at her refugee policies cost German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long-dominant conservative bloc dearly in September’s elections.
Now that Ms. Merkel has formed a government after nearly six months of rocky negotiations, it faces the monumental task of dealing with her handiwork: integrating the more than 1 million mostly Muslim refugees who have entered Germany since the chancellor opened the country’s borders in 2015.
Many say it will be a first — and possibly decisive — test for Berlin’s latest “grand coalition” government, combining Ms. Merkel’s weakened Christian Democrats with the similarly weakened center-left Social Democrats while poll numbers rise for the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party.
With President Trump and a number of anti-immigration voices within the European Union sharply critical of Ms. Merkel’s 2015 decision, how she deals with the challenge of assimilating the immigrants will likely be felt far beyond Germany’s borders.
“There might be a huge cost if [the immigrants] stay a long time and don’t integrate,” said Thomas Bauer, head of Germany’s Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, which advises the government. “If they stay several years, have access to the labor market and speak the German language, among other things, the costs are driven down.”
But a preferential asylum system, high barriers of entry to the German labor market and politicians wary of a public backlash are proving to be daunting hurdles to integration.
“There are many of us who came here with little to no education” seeking a better future, said Layla, 38, an Afghan refugee who has been in Germany for about a year. She only just started German-language classes at Yaar, an education and community center for Afghan refugees in Berlin. “I’m constantly under pressure, and that makes it harder to become a part of society.”
Ms. Merkel’s government got off to a rocky start on the immigration issue last week when Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a member of the Christian Social Union, the chancellor’s more conservative, Bavaria-based partner, told the Bild newspaper that Islam does not belong in Germany and that he was devising tougher immigration policies that include quicker deportations and designating more countries as “safe” to take back would-be asylum-seekers.
It was a direct challenge to Ms. Merkel, who has tried to straddle the line between dealing with the huge influx of Muslim refugees and the popular unease and divisions within her government on what line to take.
“There are now 4 million Muslims living in Germany, and they practice their religion here,” the chancellor told reporters Friday. “These Muslims belong to Germany, as does their religion — Islam.”