Germany’s welcome to migrants wears thin as Cologne launches more festivities

German CarnivalGermany is preparing for Carnival Festivities/Neuwiser, Flickr

by Claire de Galembert, ENS Cachan – Paris-Saclay

Willkommenskultur, or “culture of acceptance”, has been a major part of the German political discourse since summer 2015. It evokes a spirit of solidarity towards the large number of migrants who have sought asylum in the European Union over the past year.

This commitment, together with the work of many volunteers to supplement state support for new arrivals, seemed to finally lift the shadows of Germany’s past – and almost made the world forget that it had long refused to consider itself a country of migration. The generosity seemed all the more spectacular with many of its neighbours being less than welcoming to new arrivals.

But the Germany of 2016 has a Willkommenskultur hangover. The country is in shock after the events of New Year’s Eve in Cologne, a city that has long been a symbol of German multiculturalism. And now, as Cologne prepares for its annual carnival festivities, the city has doubled its police presence and increased video surveillance. A local girls’ school will close on the opening day of the carnival to protect its students.

This is unsurprising when we recall the events of New Year’s Eve in Cologne, at least those that seem proven: women who came to the centre to watch the festivities were attacked by groups of men under the influence of alcohol, some of the men were described as of “Arab or North African origin” and some of them were asylum seekers.

The extent of the crimes was either little noticed or little admitted by the police, who initially described the evening as relatively peaceful. This optimistic assessment was quickly refuted by the exponential increase in complaints. By January 18, the total number of alleged crimes stood at 766, nearly half of which were sexual in nature, including three rapes. The head of police was suspended over his handling of the attacks.

‘We can do it’?

Willkommenskutur portrayed citizens as being ready to roll up their sleeves and take on the social and economic costs of integration of newcomers – estimated to be €50 billion by 2017. But it was far from universally felt in Germany. The continuous flow of arrivals, the difficulty of housing and integrating more than a million refugees, and disagreements within the EU over sharing the burden stoked scepticism within society at large, and among mainstream political parties. Meanwhile, the Islamophobic movement Pegida launched attacks on immigrants, both on social media (including the #raperefugee Twitter hashtag) and in the streets.

At a December meeting of the ruling CDU party, Angela Merkel received a long standing ovation after her speech on the refugees crisis, reaffirming her leadership within the party. But this has not stemmed the tide of complaints. Her mantra “Schaffen wir das!” (“We can do it!”) seemed to many to be more of an incantation than an expression of collective will.

The Cologne attacks have weakened the moral consensus that had formed around the Chancellor. And they were a godsend to Merkel’s critics, including the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party. The events of New Year’s Eve fit perfectly with their preferred themes, particularly the link they draw between refugees and security, not to mention the difficulty of assimilating immigrants and the threat to Germany’s gender-equality standards.

Populist rhetoric

Beyond the rise of xenophobic violence, evidence of a shift in German attitudes is widespread. A regional mayor in Bavaria sent a group of immigrants by bus to Berlin to protest Germany’s asylum laws. In an interview, none other than former chancellor Gerhard Schröder asserted that Europe’s doors couldn’t be left open forever:

The capacity to take in, care for and integrate refugees in Germany is limited, not unlimited. Anything else is an illusion.

The unease has been felt even more strongly in other European countries. Germany’s willingness to meet the challenge of mass immigration through its Willkommenskultur has been unbearable for its neighbours. Many seized on the situation as evidence that they were right all along about the need to close Europe’s borders – and to call into question Merkel’s unilateral choice to open them. The prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, went so far as to say that “migrants cannot be integrated”.

Germany’s populist movements have their parallels elsewhere, from the National Front in France to Nigel Farage and UKIP in the UK and Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the United States. After the attacks, Trump went to Twitter in an attempt to link immigration and insecurity:

Ethical responsibility

But beyond the populists and xenophobes, signs are everywhere of a more difficult political climate. Not just the closing of borders, but also a hardening of tone – for example, a proposed law in Denmark would authorise the confiscation of refugees’ valuables. It’s a safe bet that the spreading appeal of anti-immigrant attitudes, once limited to the extreme right, will harm immigrants already living in Europe, especially Muslims.

The erosion of Willkommenskultur means Germany must leave behind the moral stance underpinning Angela Merkel’s position and return to the ethic of responsibility, as laid out in the work of German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber. This requires consideration not only of the economic capacity for absorbing such an immense wave of immigrants but also its social and political acceptability. Failing to do so risks aggravating the panic emerging in Germany and beyond.

But the ethic of responsibility doesn’t obviate the need to come up with a balanced European response to immigration that remains true to the rule of law – otherwise, the populist rhetoric will continue to have a wide appeal. Between the pitfalls of being insufficiently attentive to the concerns of a growing percentage of the German population and giving in to the diktats of the extreme right, the way forward is a narrow one, but it exists.

The Conversation

Claire de Galembert, Sociologue CNRS, ENS Cachan – Paris-Saclay

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingya Muslims is producing a ready supply of slaves

by Penny Green, Professor of Law and Globalisation, Queen Mary University of London; Alicia de la Cour Venning, ‎Research Associate, International State Crime Initiative, Queen Mary University of London, and Thomas MacManus, Research Fellow, Queen Mary University of London

A historic general election is about to take place in Myanmar, and hopes for transition to full democracy remain high. But there are already worrying signs.

In Rakhine state, the hardline Arakan National Party looks set to win a landslide in the country formerly known as Burma. That could mean a drastic escalation in a pattern of discrimination and violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims – a crisis that many observers have decried as genocidal.

Rohingya Woman in the RainOn the eve of the elections, human rights groups are imploring the UN to investigate possible acts of genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, on which we at the International State Crime Initiative have just issued a report.

Continue reading

Impressions of a day at the Munich railway station

On Saturday I was in Munich, at the railway station. Many thousands refugees had been announced. As soon as I got off the train, I noticed policemen. Everywhere policemen. And then I saw them, the refugees. They were held separate with a rope and only registered volunteers, police and them had permission to enter that area.

CAM02427[1]

When I arrived there were around thirty refugees outside the arches. I asked what was going on inside the archway. “There they get water, food and a first medical check is carried out,” was the answer I was given.

I saw a policeman slapping a child by mistake. He just turned and the child was behind him. No reaction. I did not expect any reaction from the policeman. But I would have expected one from the child. But it was as if he was used to it. As if he cared about nothing.

I saw a very young child (maybe 2 years old) going bananas and shouting out loudly at seeing a dog. He wanted to step out the area and stroke the animal. The policeman immediately grabbed him and threw him back to the crowd. It was just a reaction to a dog. It was just a child.

I saw a mother sharing biscuits with her daughter, and taking one out of the daughter´s mouth. She was probably hungry. Otherwise why would you take your child´s food?

I saw a Syrian baby toddle toward me as I was offering a lollipop. The little girl could not open it. Maybe it was seeing it for the first time in her life. Her brother also had his difficulties and I offered to help him. As he had taken the paper in the mouth, he first cleaned the lollipop on his sweatshirt and then handed it over to me. He then nodded his head for thanking me.

I also saw volunteers spending their weekend helping the refugees. Actually, organisations are overwhelmed by people who are offering their time, money and material things. There has been a surprising solidarity wave in many parts of Germany. Munich and Bavaria belong to them. I have seen old people buying sweets and chocolates for Syrian, Egyptian, Pakistani and Afghan children as if they were their grandkids. I saw tons of water bottles, sweets, clothes and blankets waiting for being distributed. I saw children saying “Thank you” when given a sweet, people clapping their hands and welcoming refugees, wishing them good luck for their future.

I spoke with Khalid, a Syrian man who moved to Germany in 1982. He was waiting for his cousin. And he was also helping people, explaining them what was going on, what would happen in the coming days. “They are confused”, he told me, “they get diverse information and most of them do not speak nor understand English, so communication is very difficult.” I asked him if the refugees who were arriving there were the poorest ones, as I saw the majority with cellular phones, tablets and other technological tools. “No”, he answered, “the wealthiest ones have left the country years ago. These here are barely above the average. The poorest are still in Syria.” I also asked him what people expect from a life in Europe, or Germany. “Their expectations are very high”, Khalid stated, “they come here with the belief they will find a well- paid job. This is the first shock. The integration will also be difficult: European and Arabic mentalities are very different. So there might be many clashes during daily life. But first, they must understand how to make the first steps. This is why I am here today.”

CAM02425[1]

Then I met Jaad, another Syrian guy who had reached Munich on Friday. “Now we are waiting for our train to Hamburg, where friends of ours live. There I will create a new life for my family, InshAllah. I have got an MBA and hope to find a job as soon as I have learned German.” They look exhausted. The kids are dirty, tired and hungry. “It was not possible for us to stay in Syria any more. The war will not stop in the next months and conditions are getting worse.” While telling me his story, his son, who was sitting on my lap, ate a muffin. A whole muffin. That’s what I call health!

gmablogbios-bea