The Guardian has proclaimed that Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow over one million migrants enter the country was a “gamble” that “paid off”, but the piece glosses over or completely omits many of the negative effects the migrant crisis has had on German society and also contains at least one false claim.
The piece starts off with a success story, pointing to a Syrian refugee who finished at the top of his class, mastered the German language, and plans to study computer programming. While the story will likely appeal to those who believe Merkel made the right decision to open Germany’s borders five years ago, those with a slightly more skeptical take may view the anecdotal story as only one of many possible individual tales that the Guardian could have shared, many of which could have presented a far more negative picture.
For example, The Guardian did not choose to share a story about the 19-year-old Syrian refugee and ISIS supporter who has cost the German state €5 million and counting with the 24-hour police surveillance he requires in a small German town in the east of the country. The man, who has required a four-person police detail for the last three years to accompany him to the supermarket, still remains in the country despite his court-designated status as a severe terrorist threat.
The Guardian also did not tell the story of the 6-year-old child allegedly killed by a Syrian migrant participating in an illegal street race in Dresden last month. Illegal street racing is an increasingly common criminal act that one top prosecutor in Berlin describes as typical perpetrated by young migrant males.
Although the mass sexual assaults seen in Cologne on New Year’s Eve garnered the most headlines, the issue has not gone away, with similar stories adding up over the years. The Guardian could have told the individual stories of any migrants or victims involved in the various brutal rapes that have shaken the country, including a case involving ten migrant men convicted for gang raping a German woman or another case involving an Afghan migrant who was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl only to be released by a judge to rape an 13-year-old teenager a month later.
The British paper also did not tell the story of a woman who said she was brutally beaten by a Syrian refugee and left alone with damaging PTSD from what she describes as a life-changing encounter or the elderly German man senselessly beaten into a coma by a Somali refugee only to die alone 11 months later because his family was restricted from visiting him in the hospital due to coronavirus.
Those stories almost certainly would have cast at least some doubt on the whole idea that the gamble “paid off”, but the paper chose to go with the young Syrian programmer because that probably fit the given narrative.
Of course, migrants are not the only perpetrators of serious crimes in Germany, but the country has historically been one of the global leaders in a broad range of important metrics that have made it global magnet for migrants across the world, including its low crime rates.
Have migrants changed that?
The Guardian does address the migrant crime issue, but frames it within the broader claim that crime has gone down overall in Germany in recent years. What the paper doesn’t mention is that this drop in crime has occurred despite a rising proportion of migrant crime as of 2019. In other words, without Germany’s influx of migrants, crime would be seeing an even steeper crash.
For the most severe crimes, including murder, rape, and assault, migrants represent a highly disproportionate share of the country’s criminal suspects. For example, in the case of murder, 40 percent of suspects are listed as “migrants’ by the German Criminal Federal Police (BKA).
The Guardian points to data from 2014 to 2016, writing that most of the violent crimes involved happened in refugee shelters where they were mostly housed, however, Germany has since drastically reduced crowding in shelters and moved the vast majority of migrants to permanent housing with more privacy. Despite the move, migrants are still vastly overrepresented in violent crimes.
In Germany, some crime categories, such as sexual crimes, are actually rising due to migrants, echoing similar patterns seen in countries like Sweden.
In some areas of the country, the statistics are especially troubling, with police data showing that nearly half of all rape suspects in Berlin are migrants despite their small proportion of the population. It is also unclear how many of the other suspects in the other half are second- or third-generation men with a migrant background.
Terrorism and Germany’s migrant community
The Guardian’s piece also touches on the issue of terrorism and Germany’s growing migrant community, and does offer a fair assessment in some respects, but in many areas the piece does not offer a full picture of terrorism in Germany.
In one section of the article, the author claims that “after a spate of seven attacks with an Islamist motive in Germany in 2016, culminating with a truck driven into a Berlin Christmas market that December, the country has seen no further attacks for the last three years.”
This is false. Just this month, an Iraqi migrant hunted and rammed motorcyclists in Berlin, injuring six people in various attacks across the city, including on the Autobahn. After the vehicle attacks, Samrad D. got out of his vehicle, screamed “Allahu Akbar!”, and began praying on a mat. He also previously wrote about martyring himself in a vehicle attack in a Facebook post.
The Guardian does acknowledge that there have been a number of jihadist terrorist plots foiled since 2015, but according to Le Parisien, German police have also foiled a dozen planned vehicle attacks since December 2016, such as the one seen at Breitscheidtplatz Christmas market in 2016 that killed 12 people.
According to French newspaper, since 2013, the number of Islamists in Germany considered dangerous has seen a fivefold increase and currently stands at 680. The number of Salafists has also doubled since 2013 and is estimated at around 11,000.
The piece also does not report on the time, effort and resources both police and the courts are directing to the issue. For example, the German Federal Public Prosecutor (GBA) announced that for 2019 that 400 of the total of 663 terrorist proceedings were related to Islamic terrorism, representing 60.3 percent of all cases, a finding that was also reflected in previous years. The GBA data also shows that Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis make up a significant number of these terrorist suspects.
In the first half of 2020, 151 cases have been pursued against Islamist terrorist suspects in Germany.
Far-right terrorism has certainly risen in tandem with the influx of migrants into Germany since 2015, but again, those practicing Islam make up a small proportion of Germany’s overall population, but yet, Islamic extremists plays a hugely outsized role in the country’s terrorism cases.
The German state is investing enormous resources, including actively monitoring terrorist threats, to ensure the next Islamic terrorist attack doesn’t happen, which means Germans are paying a serious price for Merkel’s open door refugee policy — it’s just sometimes hard to see just how high a price it is due to the competency of German law enforcement at stopping the various threats the country faces.
Germany’s social costs and financial costs for migration
The Guardian cites a number of statistics to support a narrative that integration efforts in Germany have paid off, such as the fact that “more than 10,000 people who arrived in Germany as refugees since 2015 have mastered the language sufficiently to enrol at a German university.”
It is a significant achievement to obtain proficiency in the German language, but 10,000 is still a minuscule number when talking about over a million refugees who arrived in Germany. Data from 2018 showed that nearly half of all migrants taking language tests for intermediate proficiency ended up failing, and that number was increasing. It is certainly no easy task to learn a foreign language, especially for older migrants who arrived in Germany, but when the prerequisite for many jobs is a strong grasp of German — even for low-skilled positions — it presents a major societal challenge for integration.
The Guardian also writes that “more than half of those who came are in work and pay taxes”, however, as recently as last year, the German Federal Employment Agency said that around three quarters of all Syrians of working age in Germany received Hartz IV, which are payments from Germany’s welfare system. Hartz IV is also given to those who earn so little that they cannot earn a living from their job alone.
According to Die Welt, 74.9 percent of Syrian refugees received transfer payments from the state, and the unemployment rate for Syrian citizens was 44.2 percent in June of last year. Since 2015, Syrians have regularly made up the largest group of all new asylum seekers and refugees coming to Germany. Die Welt also adds that nearly 40 percent of all welfare recipients in Germany are foreigners.
Germany has also paid enormous costs for training, employing and integrating refugees. In 2018, the German government spent a record €23 billion on migrants, including rent subsidies, jobless payments, language lessons, and other benefits. That figure does not account for what individual states spent either, with Hamburg’s government releasing data showing it spent €5.35 billion on asylum seekers between 2015 and the end of 2019.
Other studies have also found different results than the employment figures cited by the Guardian, including one released by German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) about a year and a half ago, which found that 65 percent of the 7,500 migrants they interviewed were still out of work.
There is also the “invisible costs” of mass migration and the associated population increase. They take the form of more crowded kindergartens and schools, more teaching resources directed towards children who do not have German language skills, longer wait times at hospitals, more waste, and more vehicles on the road. In the case of property in Germany, Deutsche Bank cheers the fact that higher migration should help support Germany’s red-hot property market, but for young people trying to buy their first house and potentially start a family, buying a house is more out of reach than ever while rental prices continue to skyrocket.
There is also the less tangible effect multiculturalism has on the very cohesive society Germany has maintained for decades. Multiculturalism has not only brought positives like Middle Eastern food and cheaper labor, but has also led to a new reality in Germany, where issues like female genital mutilation now threatens thousands of women for the first time and growing clan crime ties up police resources. Such unique challenges add on to the general challenges any state faces as it tries to provide for its citizens and ensure a smooth running society.
Do Germans believe Merkel’s gamble truly ‘paid off’?
The question also arises, if Merkel’s gamble has paid off then why doesn’t she want it to “pay off” again? The Guardian writes:
Merkel never recanted her words of August 2015, as many even in her own party insisted she should. But she did ensure a situation like the one that followed won’t be repeated on German soil during her tenure.
Merkel’s efforts to ensure that a migrant wave such as the one seen in 2015 does not occur again appears to be tacit acknowledgment that Germans have little appetite for more migration.
Polling backs that sentiment up. One poll conducted this week by Augsburger Allgemeine asked Germans about Merkel’s famous 2015 phrase “Wir schaffen das,” which roughly translates to “We can do this” in English, with Merkel using the phrase to assure Germans that the country could manage a refugee influx from Syria. The poll found that “of more than 5,000 people surveyed, more than 50 percent thought her statement was rather or fully inaccurate, while 37 percent said it had turned out to be completely inaccurate.”
Other polls have shown that when the question of migration is broken down between EU and non-EU migration, Germans are not as welcoming as commonly portrayed. A major EU Barometer poll, for example, showed that Germans are more opposed to non-EU migration than supportive, with 48 percent saying they were against non-EU migration while 44 percent supported it, a finding that has not changed much since 2015. In 2017, a majority of Germans said they could not take in any more refugees and a major YouGov survey this year found that 63 percent of Germans did not trust their government on migration and 61 percent feel ‘insecure” about migration. Another 38 percent listed it as the top security threat the EU faces.
At the same time, as the Guardian reports, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party still never gained real traction in the country, and Merkel’s approval rating certainly remains strong, partly due to the government’s response to the coronavirus issue.
But it remains difficult to parse how much of the AfD’s lack of support has to do with Merkel and her policies and how much of it is related the country’s media, educational and political system’s anti-AfD sentiments.
Regardless of the reason behind the lack of support for the AfD, migration appears to be a top issue for many Germans, and yet only a small minority of the public appears to be able to support the country’s main immigration restrictionist party, unlike what has been seen in other countries like Denmark, France, Austria, and Italy.
Will Germany’s migrants integrate?
Much depends on how migrants continue to integrate into German society over the coming years. There is little doubt that situation has improved from 2015 in many regards, but there are still gravely worrying trends.
Even for Germany’s oldest and largest migrant community, the Turks, there are still stark cultural differences between Germans and even second- and third-generation ethnic Turks.
Many German Turks are eligible to vote in Turkish elections, with a record 50 percent of Germany’s eligible voters from the Turkish diaspora turning out in 2018. The results are worrying, with 421,845 German Turks voting in favor of Islamic hardliner Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, representing 64.8 percent of all Turks that voted in Germany. The Turkish autocrat received a higher percentage of votes than he received from Turkey’s own population.
Even more worrying is that Erdoğan received even stronger support in other countries. For example, 74.9 percent of Turkish voters in Belgium casting a ballot for Erdoğan.
Europe’s Turkish community is enthusiastically voting for a man that has implored his compatriots living in Europe to “go live in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses. Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.”
Erdoğan has openly said that democracy was only a tool to be used to usher in Islamic rule. The Guardian itself has labeled him a “dictator” and the NGOs the Guardian loves to cite, such as Human Rights Watch, have documented his autocratic rule, jailing and torturing of political opponents, academics, and secularists, attacks on the press, and the brutal armed conflict he has waged against Turkey’s Kurdish minority.
Nearly two out of every three Turks in Germany is voting for a man whose interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, said just this year that migration will “bring down Europe” and that “the governments in Europe will change, their economies will deteriorate, their stock markets will collapse” all due to Turkey’s threat of sending one million migrants to Greece’s borders.
If 64.8 percent of Turks are willing to vote for someone so opposed to the European values that most Germans say they hold dear, integration has been a failure.
That is not only the opinion of AfD voters, but in 2010, was also the opinion of Merkel herself. She said at the time that “multiculturalism has failed, utterly failed” and that the onus for integration was on people migrating to Germany. Merkel’s remarks came the same week that Horst Seehofer, who is now serving as the country’s interior minister, called for a halt of all Arab and Turkish migration to Germany. Merkel’s remarks in 2010 still remain difficult to reconcile with her decision just five years later and admit over a million migrants from the Middle East.
It is also worth taking a look at Germany’s neighbors to understand just how stark the problem of integration is in the Europe. In Denmark, 75 percent of Muslims want to ban criticism of Islam. Sweden has seen a serious uptick in crime, including hundreds of explosions over the last year, which have been tied to the country’s growing migrant population.
In France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population, a survey showed that nearly half of Muslims support sharia law in the country, indicating strong support within the Muslim community to do away with European values and many women’s rights. France also saw 36 percent of Muslims surveyed by Pew saying that suicide bombings could be justified in some instances in 2006, the last time the question was posed.
Just this week, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the target of an Islamic terrorist attack in 2015, published results that showed that 74 percent of Muslim youth consider their religious beliefs more important than the “values of the French Republic”.
With Pew Research estimating that Europe’s Muslim population could triple to 75 million in the next 30 years, with a significant increase potentially seen in Germany, it is far too early to declare whether Merkel’s decision truly paid off just five years out. After all, Germany will be dealing with her decision for decades to come.