The International Foundation for Better Governance AISBL

Refugees; Is Europe Full?

Can Europe's ability to integrate refugees into society keep pace with the numbers of immigrants it is currently absorbing? 

The refugee crisis and immigration have become big topics of debate for Germans, who go to polls for federal elections on 24 September of this year. Should these be treated as security issues, or rather as economic and humanitarian problems?

Throughout its history Europe has experienced waves of immigration, but the Arab Spring, the Civil War in Syria and the unstable dictatorships in Africa have led to levels of migration that Europe has not seen since the Second World War. How is Europe to cope with this situation?According to a recent survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation public opinion is shifting and 54% of Germans now say that Germany has reached the point where it can no longer take in refugees. 

The country took in around 890,000 refugees in 2015."Many feel that the maximum limit has been reached," says the report, "The readiness to take in more refugees has significantly fallen."The Bertelsmann Foundation's study also shows a clear division of opinion in attitudes towards refugees between east and west Germany. Around 65% of Germans in the west said they would welcome refugees, compared to just 33% in the east.At the same time, a recent report by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) finds that there has been an increase in crimes committed by refugees. According to the BKA, nearly 300,000 cases were registered in 2016 in which at least one immigrant was arrested on suspicion of committing a crime. Although the total number of incidents decreased in 2016, there was a clear increase in the number of crimes committed by refugees. 

According to the German Interior Ministry, politically motivated offences by foreigners rose by two-thirds last year, largely because of the conflict between Turkey and the outlawed PKK.Speaking to Deutsche Welle Christian Pfeiffer, criminologist and former justice minister of the state of Lower Saxony says that some groups more prone to criminal activity than others. "There are, for example, the North Africans, who, soon after they reach Germany, learn that they don't have any chance of staying here. They are then frustrated and angry and behave like we witnessed in New Year's Eve in Cologne [December 2015]," Pfeiffer says.

Whilst the majority of German people are generally welcoming towards refugees in principle, this is not true across the whole of society. The German Interior Ministry released data earlier this year that shows refugees and asylum seekers suffered nearly 10 attacks a day in 2016. According to police statistics, more than 3,500 anti-migrant attacks were carried out last year, resulting in 560 people injured, including 43 children.Whilst the German government strongly condemns the violence, nevertheless rising xenophobia has emerged as a key concern in Germany. 

The influx of migrants in recent years has been accompanied by divisions in society and attacks on asylum seekers in many eastern states such as Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.This is presenting the German police with increasing difficulties in managing local security issues arising from the divisions in society created by a peak in the arrival of refugees, and difficulties with their integration into the community. The German Federal Police has to finely balance priorities facing multiple challenges ranging from the need to tackle the security threat from jihadist terrorists, to police the threat of right wing crime against immigrants whilst also gearing up their IT capabilities to detect and prevent sophisticated cyber crime such as the recent failed attack on the Borussia Dortmund Football Team.

Speaking about these conflicting priorities to Deutsche Welle, Holger Münch, the President of Germany's Federal Criminal Police says, "We also see that among the immigrants, there were people and possibly still are, who are smuggled in by the IS. That is why we must make great efforts to identify them and arrest them on time. We have made such arrests recently. That shows that the network is also powerful."He went on to say that "We have also seen right-wing crimes on a large scale. That shows that we must take initiative in this area as well. We have to deal with it all at the same time."This puts the police under pressure and strain from different fronts. 

Some of the problems which have arisen include the fact that in some cities, such as Essen, Berlin and Duisburg, refugees have taken possession of disadvantaged neighbourhoods. In these enclaves, according to Rainer Wendt, President of the German Police Union, the local police would "hardly dare to stop a car", for fear that they would be surrounded and attacked.Mr Wendt added that the authors of these attacks openly challenge the authority of the state and express their contempt for German society. An example of such an enclave is the popular shopping and residential area, Duisburg-Marxloh, where the local police union has warned about the collapse of public order and "No-Go-Areas" where there have been attacks against police officers.

According to a report by the N24 TV channel: "The descent of the district is nightmarish. Now clans claim the streets for themselves". The situation has been made worse by the decision of the federal government to relocate immigrants to these already disadvantaged areas.Last September German police in Baden-Wuerttemberg set up a 'migrant crime team' aimed at combatting the rise in crimes involving asylum seekers. The team was set up in response to rising levels of migrant crime with officers specifically targeting offenders from North Africa, Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.

In March of this year a German police officer was badly injured following a riot started by drunken immigrants who vandalised their accommodation at at an asylum hostel in the town of Rees-Haldern, near the German-Dutch border.Immigration and the integration of refugees into the community are at the heart of this year's federal elections. Last weekend the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party held its congress, and chose a former member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and an economist to lead its campaign.

Currently polling only 10% in the current opinion polls, the AfD is moving further to the right in trying to position itself as a credible opposition party. They are campaigning on a ticket to overthrow the current Chancellor Angela Merkel so that "Germans can get their country back."With 4 months before the elections are due to be held, the most recent option polls show that the contest will be a two horse race between Angela Merkel's CDU currently with 35% and Martin Schulz's SPD with 30%. But there remain many unanswered questions about the direction that the German electorate wishes to take in respect of policies towards immigration and refugees, and this promises to be the key policy battleground in the months ahead.

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