By Shirin Yaseen
One door closes, another door opens. Middle Eastern refugees are now flooding Eastern European countries. When Hungary builds a fence to stop the migrants, they find another way through Croatia or Romania. The road is long, and their destination is Germany.
The country is expecting to receive about 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers this year, more than in all of Europe last year. Some European politicians were quick to criticize Germany, accusing it of violating European Union rules. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said “the problem is not a European problem, it is a German problem.”
Germany’s intentions can be interpreted in different ways.
Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading news magazine, described Chancellor Angela Merkel as a “compassionate pastor’s daughter from the eastern state of Brandenburg who is aware of the Christian element in her party’s agenda.” She could not turn her back on the crisis, and so she made the decision to embrace more migrants and integrate them into German society.
Merkel spent an afternoon taking selfies with some grateful refugees outside a refugee center in Berlin. They smiled, thrilled to be in a picture with one of the world’s most powerful leaders, after their long, dangerous journey. Also, there was relief in finally having made it to the safety of Germany.
Merkel knows, however, that her country cannot take in all the world’s refugees. The huge flow of refugees prompted Germany to set up border controls after a week of record arrivals and growing fears that the country would not be able to provide a bed for every migrant. The Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria thinks that “Germany’s migration policies are part of its efforts to overcome its past.” History explains it all, ‘it’s a way of redemption,’” he says.
Setting aside the emotional aspect of the crisis, migrants could be an answer for Europe’s largest economy, which needs to rejuvenate its graying workforce. Germany’s population is shrinking and aging at one of the fastest rates in Western Europe.
But some Germans think that Germany’s demographic predictions can be challenged. Dozens of German citizens took to the streets in the small mining town of Freital located just outside Dresden in the former East Germany. They were protesting against the flood of migrants. They demanded “a secure future for their children without the Islamic State reigning in Germany.”
One of the proposed solutions by the European Union was to distribute migrants across all the EU countries. The plan was approved last month, and the EU leaders voted to distribute 120,000 refugees among the member states. The decision was forced by a majority vote, with harsh objections from four Eastern European member countries. Nearly half a million refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Europe this year, and the number is only expected to rise. Some leaders expressed concern, fearing that this might open the doors to infiltration by Jihadists.
As the crisis unfolds, Germany is struggling with the challenge. Europe is divided, and the flow of refugees and asylum seekers has been a blow to the Schengen Treaty, which guarantees free movement among its member countries.
European Union leaders and envoys continue to debate the matter. Many questions have yet to be answered. In the meantime, the Syrian civil war continues to claim the lives of innocent men, women and children. Some are killed inside the war-torn country, others drown in the sea as they try to leave. It was the image of the body of a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach that finally turned the spotlight on this huge problem.
Freedom House Photograph: AP Photo/Darko Bandic