Two weeks ago, Klaus Bouillon, a politician from Germany’s reigning political party appeared on national television to discuss a recent visit to an asylum center. What he had seen clearly worried him.
Some migrants were insulting female volunteers simply for being women, some were refusing to eat meals because the women serving those meals were viewed as ‘unclean,’ and others were fighting to get to the front of the serving line when it wasn’t their turn.
When the moderator asked Bouillon why he decided to make these concerns public, Bouillon emphasized the importance of being truthful with Germans, saying, “we cannot tell the people that integration will be easy when it won’t be”.
The Chancellor, or ‘Mama Merkel’ as many migrants affectionately call her, has a different perspective. “We can do it,” she insists, a catchphrase that increasingly seems to instruct the ordinary Germans they will do it.
Merkel’s current stance on asylum seekers is a far cry from the summer. Back then, she told a 14-year old Palestinian refugee living in the north of Germany, “We can't accept everybody.”
Embracing that attitude today is met with accusations of xenophobia, a worry shared by Bouillon when he made some of his experiences known.
But this tactic robs the voice of large segments of the population who are increasingly nervous over what sudden large-scale immigration means for their daily lives.
Their discomfort is evident in public opinion polls that show waning government support in favor of anti-immigrant parties and growing concern over Germany's ability to manage the numbers of people arriving.
Contrary to popular belief, reversing this trend does not require that Germany’s borders be sealed - rather, the country must insist on its own laws and values.
One of the Federal Republic’s greatest post-war achievements was its adoption of the Grundgesetz, known in English as the Basic Law.
Crafted with the intention of preventing a dictatorship from rising again in Germany, the law contains explicit provisions for asylum requests. It is therefore essential that all applicants have their requests considered.
But the law also emphasizes human dignity regardless of gender, sexual orientation and nationality. Hence, it is equally essential that all migrants understand and accept Germany’s refusal of intolerance.
Until now, attempts to convey this idea have involved handing out copies of the Grundgesetz to new migrants. The result? Fights over food that is not to the liking of the migrant palate, clashes over who gets to use the toilet first, and brawls over uncomfortable beds.
The country’s Interior Minister often responds to these incidents by pleading for asylum seekers’ “understanding”. One wonders if he dare ask the same of those selfless female volunteers who have been on the receiving end of verbal tirades from some migrants.
The German government is so fearful of being labeled inhumane towards asylum seekers that it errs on the side of appeasement. But appeasement merely legitimizes actions that would in other countries attract the full force of the law.
This practice must end. Merkel must send a clear message to those who seek refuge within Germany’s borders: We will promptly and fairly consider your asylum request, but you will be held accountable for your actions. You will be viewed unfavorably should you engage in discriminatory behavior. Physical violence is grounds to reject your asylum request altogether. Our resources are limited and we reserve those resources for those who respect our laws.
Such an approach may seem tough. It is, but it is also fair: fair to millions of Germans who have volunteered their time to welcome strangers to their land. And fair to the hundreds of thousands of peaceful migrants who have escaped untold horrors to seek refuge in a country that values human dignity above all else.
About the author: Dr. Ashley Nunes is a Visiting Researcher at L'Universite Paris Descartes. He studies population aging, labor markets and technology policy in developed countries and his work as appeared in the American Scientist, the Christian Science Monitor and Aviation Week and Space Technology.
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