Few topics have been as divisive in Europe as the question of what to do with the flood of migrants arriving on the shores of the Mediterranean. But a moral solution is possible. DER SPIEGEL spoke with experts about how it can be found.
The residents living near Gleisdreieck, a broad field in Hamburg’s Bergedorf neighborhood, weren’t too concerned about the war in Syria, the dictatorship in Eritrea or the poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. They were more interested in the fate of the moor frogs in their neighborhood. In Stuttgart, it was the sand lizards, and in the Bavarian town of Eichenau, locals were concerned about the whiskered bat. The latter is under strict environmental protection and, like the other animals, was cited as a reason not to build a refugee hostel in the community. Two trees were to be cut down, and opponents of the shelter were worried that it might disturb the animals’ habitat — or perhaps, first and foremost, their own?
Even back then, in the spring of 2015, a time when masses of Germans were stepping up to the task of helping refugees, not all were fans of what came to be known as the country’s “welcoming culture” — especially not if they were directly affected by the refugees. “We can do it,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the time, referring to the masses of refugees entering the country. But in one poll in the fall of that year, over half the respondents said they were afraid of the sheer numbers of refugees coming. By the end of 2015, almost a million people had reached Germany.
These days, nobody talks about bats in Eichenau anymore. The refugee hostel has been open for almost three years, shaded by birches and pines on the edge of the municipality — and German society remains divided between those who want to isolate themselves and those who see open borders as a humanitarian imperative.
In the meantime, the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), a populist and xenophobic party, has been elected into Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag. AfD isn’t alone in agitating against immigrants, either. The Christian Social Union (CSU), the center-right Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) Bavarian sister party, has also disparaged people who assist refugees as the “anti-deportation industry” and has spoken of “asylum tourism.” Even parts of the far-left Left Party are stoking prejudice against foreigners. Over the summer, Chancellor Merkel’s government coalition even came close to collapsing over the refugee issue.
As the number of arrivals increased, so did the tensions, stoked by news about the events at the Cologne new year’s eve celebrations in 2015, when migrants abused and attacked women sexually at a public celebration, or the murder of a 14-year-old girl in Wiesbaden, who was allegedly raped and killed by an Iraqi asylum-seeker. The fact that the number of refugees in Germany has decreased considerably since 2015 has done little to defuse the tensions. Last year, 222,683 migrants applied for asylum in Germany, 70 percent fewer applications than the previous year.