In an event hosted by the OU German Club, Dr. Stefan Buchwald, a career diplomat who currently works at the German Information Center for the United States (based out of the German Embassy to the U.S.) discussed the immigration crisis of 2015 and 2016 and how this event impacted the most recent German election. By way of introduction, the immigration crisis has dramatically impacted German politics and the German state as a whole. It is an ongoing issue, but one that is steadily improving. I have already discussed some of the background to both the immigration crisis and the election in a previous post, so I’ll dive straight in to Dr. Buchwald’s analysis in this post.
First, it can be difficult for those of us in America to fully grasp the magnitude of the immigration crisis in Germany. To begin, although only having a landmass the size of Montana, Germany has a population of approximately 82 million. This is a much more densely populated area than virtually any large area in the United States. Additionally, over the period of time from 2015-2016, nearly 2 million refugees rushed to Germany seeking asylum; at the peak of this influx, 12,000 or more people entered Germany daily. Despite the magnitude of the crisis, Prime Minister Angela Merkel chose to keep the borders open for humanitarian reasons. As a result of this decision, the massive influx of refugees has caused a variety of difficulties for Germany. These difficulties are based around two primary issues: finding a place for the migrants to live and successfully integrating them into German society.
The first challenge, caring for the immigrants, was most challenging at the height of the crisis in 2016. During this time, when 12,000 or so immigrants entered the country daily, the German government, despite transporting immigrants all across the country, could barely find sufficient housing. But the migrants needed more than homes. They needed jobs to provide for themselves and other necessities. Caring for the refugees is an ongoing challenge for the German government; however, as the migrants become more self-sufficient and integrated into the German culture, this challenge becomes progressively less substantial.
The second issue, integrating the immigrants into society, has also been a significant challenge for the German government. When she allowed the migrants to continue entering Germany, Merkel acknowledged that there are “expectations” associated with immigration. Namely, that the migrants will learn German and obey German laws. In a word, they will integrate into German society. The German government has tried to make this transition easy, providing immigrants with classes to teach them the language and assisting them in finding jobs to help them develop autonomy. Although there have been distinct costs and difficulties associated with immigration, the immigrants have contributed significantly to German’s workforce, which, prior to the massive influx of immigrants, had been steadily aging.
Moving on to the German election, it is undeniable that the crisis shaped the outcome of the election. Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) experienced a dramatic boost in popularity because of the immigration crisis. Despite their meteoric rise, Dr. Buchwald expressed his hope that their popularity would be short-lived and they would fade to the background in future elections. He also asserted that they would gain more support the more that fear and the doctrine of isolationism is propagated throughout Germany. Additionally, Dr. Buchwald expressed his belief that AfD would not accomplish anything meaningful in the legislature, given that every other party represented in the Bundestag (the German parliament) is opposed to their ideals.
To conclude, the immigration crisis in Germany is a complex and multi-faceted issue that will undoubtedly have significant repercussions as time goes on. Despite the controversial nature of some of Chancellor Merkel’s decisions, the situation continues to improve as the German economy stabilizes and the state continues to integrate migrants. While the election was significantly impacted by the immigration crisis, Dr. Buchwald is hopeful that these changes will not be permanent. The German Immigration Crisis is not over – but the future ahead is bright for Germany.