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On Refugees, A Dissenting Voice In Germany Sees Hypocrisy

Humanitarian, demographic and economic reasons have been cited by much of the German establishment for welcoming migrants. But what's the real end game?

Syrian refugees arriving in Germany
Syrian refugees arriving in Germany
Henryk M. Broder

BERLIN — "Refugees are (people) just like you and me," says Lutheran theologian Margot Kässmann. "Refugees are not a burden but embody a huge chance," especially for smaller cities, says Oliver Junk, mayor of Goslar. Germany Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble says that responding to the migrant crisis, the national budget will not be overstretched: "We can handle the recent developments," he assures us.

If all this is true then what are people talking about? Are there really problems surrounding refugees that need to be dealt with, or are we just imagining them? Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is of the opinion that communication is key in this situation and that European solidarity will have to be "spelled out" to some. "Agreeing on fair levels of refugee take-in across Europe is part of that."

But that alone is not enough for Angela Merkel. "It is our duty to ensure that peace will become a reality again in affected regions. But it is also important, based on our own historical experience, to give protection and help to these people, whose lives are threatened."

A military question

If it really were "our duty" to ensure that "peace will become a reality again in affected regions" then the Federal Armed Forces should be sent forth. But not to "conquer the hearts of the people" as they did in Afghanistan, but to end the bloodshed in Syria by force of arms.

Seeing as the Armed Forces are not able to do so, and the Bundestag would never authorize such a mandate, we will just have to concentrate on giving "protection and help to these people, whose lives are threatened." That is, if they haven't drowned in the Mediterranean or suffocated inside a truck.

If the chancellor really meant what she said, she would have instructed her minister of defense to erect tent camps at the Greek-Macedonian and Macedonian-Serbian borders to provide the refugees with the most necessary of items, such as food, medication and a temporary roof over their heads.

But it would be much more effective if the Armed Forces established an air bridge to Germany. Because, despite all this talk about "distributing refugees fairly across Europe," Germany will have to bear the brunt of the burden that is the refugee crisis. You cannot redirect the masses of refugees coming to Europe, just as it is impossible to change the course of a river after the winter thaw.

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At the Macedonia/Serbia border — Photo: Juanlu y Jessica engerundi

And what do they even mean by "fair distribution"? Fair for whom? At least 18 of the 28 European Union member states do not want to take in refugees. They do not feel compelled to do so, neither legally nor morally. How is Steinmeier going to force them to? Is he thinking of sending the cavalry in? The refugees for their part did not give up everything and risk their lives to wind up being deported to Bulgaria or Romania. They know exactly why they prefer Germany, Sweden, Austria or the Netherlands. And you cannot hold it against them.

Conversely, you shouldn't overestimate the welcome given to refugees in ethnically homogenous countries. The Polish are very hospitable but only towards "guests." They do not have cosmopolitan experiences like other parts of Europe, and cultivate their traditions in quite an old-fashioned manner.

Debates, such as the ones held in Germany, about integration, headscarf-wearing female teachers or Islam lessons in schools are just as unthinkable in Poland as gay marriage rights would be. The Baltic States are of a similar disposition. If someone had told these states prior to being accepted into the EU that they would have to radically alter their national and cultural identity in order to be accepted into the European Club, they probably would have preferred to stay outside.

Germany, however, sees this as its opportunity to rehabilitate itself, morally and economically. A kind of live cell therapy for society and the economy. You have plenty of references being made to "our own historical experience" on the one hand, which is supported by odd comparisons such as "but we took in millions of displaced people from the East!"

At the same time, you have others with a cost-benefit attitude that is as calculating as the policies of the companies that move their production to countries with low-wage economies. The only difference in this case is that it is not the jobs that are exported but the employees that are imported.

"The migratory intentions of people ... could be used to channel them into a regular immigration and integration program for the German job market," says the Green Party spokesperson for integration and migration, Katrin Göring-Eckardt. "The economy demands more qualified employees and we rely on 300,000 to 500,000 immigrants per year to secure our prosperity."

A new kind of colonialism

What she is "spelling out" is the flipside to the right-wing argument that foreigners are taking away jobs from Germans. If we weren't "reliant" on immigrants "to secure our prosperity and pensions," as former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder recently wrote, we wouldn't even give a second thought as to whether refugees should stay in their home countries or come to us. Isn't that in itself a form of colonialism with a humane façade?

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel also views the refugees as an "opportunity for our country." Because "we are a country that in the years to come will lose a lot of workers due to the fact that we, thank God, live longer but also have fewer children." And it is this demographic gap that the refugees are supposed to fill.

It is possible that this scheme will pay off. It is possible that Germany will become a multicultural, multiethnical country in which language, origin and skin color don't matter. Unfortunately, however, politically motivated population experiments tend to fail more often than not.

Which is why we shouldn't overestimate the helpfulness being displayed towards refugees. To organize "welcome" parties or hand out donated clothes is one thing. To accept permanent responsibility is another.

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