Refugees in Germany

By Feichtinger, Hans | First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, February 2016 | Go to article overview

Refugees in Germany


Feichtinger, Hans, First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


As I am writing these lines at the end of November, the county and city of Passau (where I am from) is putting up more refugees than whole countries in Eastern Europe have agreed to accept. Winter is coming, so things must be done safely and well. I am proud of the charity and hospitality I see among the people, especially on the part of the Church. But the sheer number of refugees coming in through Austria-which seems eager to funnel them along as quickly as possible-has started to create problems. The statistics you get from the media and the stories from my sisters who live in Bavaria form a coherent picture: There are limits, and we are getting close to reaching them. It is very dangerous to drive by groups of people walking along the Autobahn after having been dumped there by their handlers. Finding suitable living quarters and accepting refugee children in schools have been ever more challenging.

Moreover, the recent attacks in Paris (and those which have been averted in Brussels, and probably in Hanover) pose new dimensions to the situation, even if some public and political voices keep denying that. Some of these attackers were "homegrown," but others came into Europe via refugee gateways. Threatening to blow up international soccer matches makes the thing come as close to Germans as it gets, not to mention the potential fallout of such an attack, which would dwarf the number of losses on 9/11. In this new post-attack condition, even religious superiors (in an open letter to the Bavarian premier) and a group of Catholics engaged in politics (writing to the chancellor) are divided about what needs to be done. This is significant as the two groups generally agree on matters of social policy.

The philanthropy of the Germans and of their chancellor is not the only motive for Germany's generous acceptance of such a large number of refugees. Economic leaders have long acknowledged that the Federal Republic needs immigration in order to maintain its economic prosperity and social security systems. In this sense, it is slightly unfair to accuse refugees of wanting to immigrate into this prosperity and security, as German prosperity and security will depend on immigration. But political and economic leaders as well as the general population do not want, and also do not need, uncontrolled immigration.

Chancellor Angela Merkel may have been right when she claimed that for the first weeks and months, it was impossible to maintain the high level of border security and control of the territory to which all Germans are accustomed, and which they demand. But a return to a legal and orderly situation is needed for practical reasons of sustainability, and also in order to ward off unreasonable and extremist political movements. Merkel was right in telling her own party and the German people that they needed to face the fact that not allowing the refugees into the country was not only unchristian and inhuman, but unrealistic. In that same vein of realism, however, she and all Germans must acknowledge that it cannot simply continue like this. And finally, still in this realistic spirit, Germans must honestly face the demographic winter that is upon them and upon other European nations. I cannot see a good alternative to a new system of immigration that is able to welcome and process a number of immigrants that is much higher than Germany has seen for a long time. So never mind people getting tired of Merkel's encouraging "We can do this" ( Wir schaffen das!): Germans actually have to realize that "We have to do this," and they have to do it not (only) in order to show moral superiority, but to meet their own interests.

Demographic decline is no horror scenario but mathematically predictable, and the people have brought it upon themselves. Germans today can take courage from how, after World War II, millions of Germans driven out of their homes have successfully integrated into the state that today receives most of the refugees. …

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