For the German government and its parties, the asylum and migration debate is slowly but surely becoming uncomfortable. In local governments, anger is growing over the growing number of refugees, there is a lack of accommodation, citizens are making noise, cheered on by right-wing extremists. Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser invites to a refugee summit, the co-governing Greens, previously a heaven of tolerance and a culture of welcome, are publicly arguing about a sharper course in German asylum policy. And Chancellor Olaf Scholz, typical of his understanding of political communication, goes into hiding and doesn’t bring the summit to the Chancellery, but shoves it off to the Ministry of the Interior.
Since the government took office, Germany has heard absolutely nothing from its government that points to the future in terms of migration policy. The head of government takes refugee issues “very seriously”. He had “made a great effort to work intensively on the subject”. You could put it another way: Scholz prefers to leave the responsibility to others when it comes to the unrest on the subject of flight and asylum.
The previous federal government tried to take the pressure off the kettle in times of high refugee numbers by announcing increased deportations. Former Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who always called for a tough approach on migration issues, promised consistent repatriations and stricter rules. But the number of deportations did not increase, on the contrary. The same suggestion to keep refugees at the EU’s external borders is also far from reality. No country, not even in North Africa, sees why it should solve Europe’s asylum problems on its own soil, for example by building huge detention centers.
Now it’s the politicians in the cities and municipalities who are sounding the alarm. And it’s not the usual suspects from the conservative and right-wing camp who are criticizing the current asylum policy. Rather, it is the Greens and Social Democrats who can no longer help themselves with the persistently high number of refugees, whether from Ukraine, the MENA region or East Asia.
There is now an open debate, especially within the Green Party, about how Germany can and should deal with the growing number of migrants in the future. In particular, a group of Realpolitik Greens shapes the intra-party debate. They went public with a “memorandum” and thus touched on green taboos. Germany is again the destination of a great number of migrants, the text says, “we are now experiencing again that we are basically not prepared for this”.
There is talk of “overwhelmed municipalities” and “a lack of accommodation”. There are also complaints that there is “no concept for successful integration or the consistent return of refugees to their homeland”. The debate about this must be characterized by “humanity and empathy, but without naivety and the concealment of problems”.
German migration policy naïve, problems that are kept secret? These are tones that one rarely hears from the green cosmos. The “Vert Realos” is an association of green politicians, including many veterans of the party: The former leader of the European parliamentary group of the Greens, Rebecca Harms, is one of them, the former parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag, Rezzo Schlauch, also the mayor of Tübingen Boris Palmer signed the memorandum.
The authors emphasize that Germany has actually been a country of immigration for decades. But there is no clear integration concept, the migrants “do not know what is expected of them”. Green migration policy must be based on the rules of the liberal democratic basic order – such as gender equality, the separation of state and religion. The “creeping erosion of these values under the banner of a false tolerance” must be “resolutely opposed”. A distinction should also be made “between asylum seekers, refugees from war and disasters and people who are primarily looking for a better economic life”.
The granting of asylum presupposes “that the asylum seekers participate in the admissions process” and “do not conceal their origin and do not commit a crime,” it continues. Otherwise, “the right of asylum and thus the right of residence will lapse, which must also result in a speedy deportation”.
While the Green party leader Nouripour avoided a clear positioning on the memorandum, the discussion in the party is in full swing. The fact that the mayor of Tübingen and perennial critic of green basic positions within the party, Boris Palmer, is also involved in the paper is – as expected – upsetting some people. Members have already stood by Palmer when he was about to be pushed out of the party by the state executive of the Greens in Baden-Württemberg. The membership of the successful local politician is suspended until the end of the year after a settlement in the state arbitration court of the Baden-Württemberg Greens. In the paper of the “Vert Realos” there is therefore a subtext: Boris Palmer is again embedded in the internal party debate.
Member of the Bundestag Julian Pahlke from Lower Saxony criticized on Twitter that if “Palmer signs a letter somewhere, you don’t sign it. Basic rule.” He accused the authors of “worn concepts” and that their ideas were “technically incorrect”.
The green mayor of Hannover, Belit Onay, even complained about “a toxic attitude in the migration debate”. In his opinion, the statements did not meet with broad support in the party, he said. The old leftist Jürgen Trittin also reached out and compared the “Vert Realos” with the right-wing conservative value union. Both groups delivered “steep templates for the competition,” he wrote on Twitter.
While there was a headwind from Lower Saxony, other top politicians from the party were more cautiously positive. The paper is pointed, but “a contribution to the urgently needed debate”. Whoever “wipes away” problems completely moves away from the task of good politics,” says one. The attempt to slow down the memorandum about a contact guilt, according to the motto “We are the good guys, Palmer is bad” seems to have failed.
In order not to stab their own government in the back, the “other group” within the Greens is now trying to win the issue over again: In view of the growing influx of war refugees from Ukraine and asylum seekers from other countries, they are making demands on the Federal Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser (SPD), in addition to the question of distribution and admission, there must be more to the integration offensive. “We finally want refugees to no longer be obliged to live in initial reception facilities, even though they could stay with relatives,” says a top Green politician. This would quickly create free capacities, facilitate integration and avoid accommodation in gyms. “We want work bans for refugees – especially in times of labor shortages – to finally be a thing of the past. The Interior Minister must now quickly initiate the corresponding legal reform.”
The increasingly tense situation when it comes to taking in migrants means that the federal, state and local government tasks for accommodation and distribution must be constantly readjusted. The desire for a “refugee summit” with the chancellor, which the municipalities and the Union parliamentary group have called for, is justified.
However, it shouldn’t be about questioning the fundamental right to asylum, says Green mayor Belit Onay. The latest figures show that, apart from Ukraine, the most important countries of origin for asylum seekers are the main war zones Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, and that many politically persecuted people come from Türkiye.
He calls for better and lasting support from the federal and state governments for cities and districts. “However, an acute burden situation of the municipalities must not lead to a contemporary and modern immigration policy being discredited”.
With Joachim Stamp, the federal government has now appointed a special representative to negotiate repatriation agreements with the countries of origin. This is at least an attempt. But even if the new deportation official is successful, Germany’s refugee issue will not be solved.
Instead of raising false expectations, a clear language must now be spoken on the immigration question, in the Chancellery. Yes, more refugees are coming, many neither rich nor educated. They need to be accommodated and, wherever possible, qualified for the labor market. It costs. The rule of law will also have to deal with criminals.
So it’s not enough for Interior Minister Faeser to give the municipalities more money at the refugee summit. A chancellor is also needed now who convincingly and persistently explains why Germany wins through immigration, despite everything. If Scholz ducks further away, others will gain the upper hand: fears and resentment.
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