Federal and Local, German Sentiments about Refugees are Diverse

Hannah Matangos

Hannah Matangos was a research intern at AICGS for the spring semester of 2016.

German chancellor Angela Merkel met with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu last week to discuss the growing influx of migrants to Europe, as well as the ongoing conflict in Syria.  The leaders’ visit comes just after the European Union and Turkey agreed on a deal in which Ankara would receive €3 billion in aid for the 2.7 million refugees currently in Turkey. In exchange, Turkey agreed to better protect Europe’s borders by designating human smuggling as a form of organized crime, which would result in stricter punishments on smugglers.

Additionally, Turkey has agreed to grant work permits to Syrians as an incentive for them to stay in Turkey instead of continuing to travel into Western Europe.  Overall, both Germany and Turkey said they will undertake “joint efforts” in order to gain greater involvement from NATO in the refugee crisis.

Although Germany is feeling the strain of an influx of over 1 million migrants, the director of Germany’s Federal Employment Agency Detlef Scheele holds that the German labor market is capable of coping with the arrival of new migrants in purely quantitative terms.  Scheele said that the country can accommodate 350,000 migrants per year, based on the fact that 700,000 jobs are currently being created in Germany annually.

This is significant considering unemployment is at a record low and Germany still has an aging population with low fertility rates.  The aging workforce will likely put pressure on social welfare as people continue to grow older. Therefore, by incorporating migrants into the labor market, the country could benefit considering most migrants are in a younger cohort.

Despite Scheele’s understanding, across Germany citizens are feeling reluctance in light of the refugee crisis, and this year’s Karneval festivities were wracked by cancellations and controversial parade floats. German authorities are investigating at least two separate parade floats as inciting racial hatred.  One problematic float in the Bavarian town of Steinkirchen’s parade was fashioned as a military tank decorated with Nazi-inspired symbols and the words “Asylum Defense Force.” Karneval floats tend to be intensely political, though the German government has been strict in monitoring potential racism and xenophobia since crime against refugees has increased five times from last year.

However, Cologne saw an outpouring of compassion during Karneval, as longtime Cologne resident Heide Strauch brought together a group of local Germans and refugees from local shelters to partake in the annual festivities.  Having felt disheartened by the backlash against immigrants after the New Year’s sexual assaults, Strauch took the group of Germans and refugees to watch the parade from the Alter Markt.  The refugees swayed together with the crowd as locals belted German drinking songs.

“It’s the power of thoughts.  That means if I tell you that you are bad, at some point you will start to believe it,” said Strauch.  “It is very important that we fight against this…People can learn to say, ‘No, I’m good.’”

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.