Are refugees ruining Europe

Refugee Policy: Five Years After "We Can Do It!"

In Angela Merkel's entire long term as Chancellor, no sentence has been more defining than "We can do it". He should exude confidence in the face of a great self-imposed task. Within a few weeks tens of thousands of people had come to Germany, mainly via the Balkan route. Many were initially stuck in Hungary. Most came from Syria, others from North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan. Merkel let them enter, even if other EU countries would have been responsible for them; an asylum claim should only be examined later.

In the end, there were almost a million people who applied for asylum in 2015 alone. The then Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière admitted in mid-August this year on ARD that there had been "moments of loss of control". His successor, the then Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, CSU, even once called the 2015 situation a "rule of injustice".

In 2015, Merkel was not afraid to be photographed with refugees

In retrospect, the judgment of the political competition is very different. The Greens politician Irene Mihalic thinks: "It was right that the Chancellor did not close the borders at that time. The alternative to this would have been chaotic conditions in the heart of Europe with an incalculable potential for conflict." The SPD domestic politician Lars Castellucci, however, limits his general agreement: "It was wrong that our European partners were not sufficiently involved, that is causing us enormous difficulties to this day."

Gottfried Curio from the AfD, on the other hand, says: "It would have been realistic and responsible to adhere to the law ... If the people had been turned away from the start, fewer would have set out and fewer would have drowned in the Mediterranean."

Recognition and skepticism

Merkel infected a lot of people with her sentence "We can do it". There was great recognition abroad. The "New York Times" wrote on September 5 that Germany had "extended an open hand" to the refugees. Al-Jazeera reported that "Germany has opened its doors and borders to all those who seek refuge and a safe haven".

But from the start, skeptics believed that Germany would overdo itself. Others asked what exactly could be achieved and whether Germany should feel responsible for so many people from other cultures at all. Perhaps no other sentence by Merkel has recently divided the nation like "We can do it".

The magazine "Time" named Merkel "Person of the Year" in 2015

The SPD politician Castellucci, whose party supported Merkel's policy at the time as a junior partner, missed a statement by the Chancellor: "You should have ... absolutely had to say how we can do it and who has to do what. That would then have social issues Had to give discussions. That might have saved us from the fact that proponents and opponents of our policy are so irreconcilable and populists make their profit from it. "

2015 should "not be repeated"

The initial welcoming culture that Merkel propagated ended on New Year's Eve 2015/16 at the latest, when women were harassed by migrants in the area of ​​Cologne Central Station. There had been numerous xenophobic attacks on refugee shelters before that. Politically, the anti-asylum party AfD benefited from displeasure with Merkel's refugee policy. In many elections it recorded strong increases in votes and became the strongest opposition party after the 2017 federal election.

Election poster from 2017: The AfD has benefited enormously from the refugee crisis

Merkel has always stood by her decision from 2015, but declared at a CDU party congress in December 2016 that a situation like the one in late summer 2015 "cannot, should and must not happen again". To this end, the asylum policy was tightened. However, the number of asylum seekers fell from 2016 mainly because the countries along the Balkan route made this route more and more difficult.

Differences still visible

What about the integration of immigrants today? In terms of employment, migrants are still well below the average for the German population. Only just under half of the people who have immigrated to Germany since 2013 are gainfully employed, according to a study by the Institute for Employment Research from 2020. And the overall positive trend is being partially undone by the corona pandemic because many refugees are being made redundant according to the study.

Integration into the labor market is making slow progress

When it comes to crime, another indicator of integration, the Federal Criminal Police Office's "Situation Report on Crime in the Context of Immigration" shows that immigrants are overrepresented in murder, manslaughter, grievous bodily harm and rape - but also because there are a particularly large number of young men among them that are generally more common in these offenses. Another problem is that the state rarely succeeds in sending rejected asylum seekers back to their home countries.

For the CDU internal politician Patrick Sensburg it is important to differentiate: "For me, protection for refugees is primarily to be understood as 'temporary protection'. If you want to come here to live and work here permanently, other options are open to you if he has the necessary qualifications and recognizes our values. "

There is still a lot to be done

To this day, society is deeply divided on migration policy. Stable around 60 percent of Germans believe that the country can cope with the refugees well, 40 percent are convinced otherwise. The political scientist Herfried Münkler said that the year 2015 "exposed the line of division in German society" and radicalized politics: "The pull towards the political center that we saw earlier came to an end."

Society has become more colorful, especially since 2015

Has society made it five years after Merkel's famous sentence? The former interior minister de Maizière says today: "We have achieved a lot." His party friend Patrick Sensburg thinks that Germany "all in all coped well with the 2015 refugee crisis". Irene Mihalic from the Greens comes to the conclusion: "Integration does not happen overnight, and we will continue to deal with it at all levels. But I am convinced that migration is a great opportunity for Germany, especially with a view on the labor market and demographic development. "

Studies by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) see it similarly. Germany is therefore on the way to make it. However, the DIW is assuming that there will still be a lot of efforts that both the refugees and the host society will have to make.