How a migration crisis is fueling Germany’s far-right surge

World
Tue, 24 Oct 2023 7:01 GMT
More than 200,000 people applied for asylum in Germany from January to August this year.
How a migration crisis is fueling Germany’s far-right surge

• More than 200,000 people applied for asylum in Germany from January to August this year

Far-right party AfD has capitalized on migration issues to revive its declining standing in opinion polls

Government facing pressure domestically and internationally to develop a more restrictive refugee policy, expert tells Anadolu

The almost unbridled influx of migrants and the increasing demands on municipalities in terms of accommodation, integration and schooling have brought the migration issue back onto Germany’s political agenda with full force, placing the government under immense pressure to act.

From January to August, more than 200,000 people applied for asylum in Germany, with most of them coming from Syria and Afghanistan, according to official figures.

This was the first time the figure exceeded that mark and represented a jump of 77% compared to the same period last year.

In addition, more than 1 million Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Germany since the start of the war in late February last year.

“The German federal government apparently feels increasingly pressured, both domestically and internationally, to develop a more restrictive policy with regard to the admission of refugees into Europe,” Jochen Oltmer, a professor of migration history at the University of Osnabrueck, told Anadolu.

“In terms of domestic policy, the debate, also against the background of ideas about an economic crisis in Germany, is now almost exclusively focused on the topic of burdens on society caused by asylum seekers. The rights of refugees play less and less of a role here.”

Another major impact of this worsening crisis was a record surge in opinion polls for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party ahead of key state elections in Bavaria and Hesse.

For the AfD, asylum and immigration were the biggest issues that carried it to election victories soon after the party was founded in 2013.

In the summer of 2015, after internal party divisions, the AfD slipped to 3% in polls, but it capitalized on the migration crisis to recover and rise to more than 10% within a few months.

Alexander Gauland, who was the party’s vice-president at the time, went as far as to say that the crisis could be called a “gift” for the AfD.

Benefits and drawbacks

Dealing with refugees is one of the biggest challenges Germany faces at the moment, as well as one of the most politically controversial topics.

From the perspective of many experts, the German labor market could benefit from the newcomers.

The discussion is not only about how much migration the country can tolerate, but also what type of immigration is desired.

Foreign skilled workers are urgently needed, but attracting them is not easy. Taking in war refugees is, on the other hand, an international obligation of Germany as a signatory to the Geneva Refugee Convention.

In light of the falling birth rate, Germany urgently needs more immigration of skilled workers.

According to official figures, 400,000 more people would have to enter the labor market every year to keep it stable.

But in 2021 there were only 40,000, and even with a high immigration rate, the number of skilled workers in the country is projected to shrink by 4.4 million from 2020 to 2040.

With a low immigration rate, there will be 6.3 million fewer skilled workers by 2040.

The resources that asylum seekers offer as skilled workers are also still under-utilized, according to experts.

Sectors with a high shortage of skilled workers and workers have been demanding more and easier immigration from abroad for years.

When it comes to asylum seekers, they are much more reserved, even though many experts see great potential here.

“We must not mix the immigration of workers and skilled workers with irregular migration,” Rainer Dulger, head of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, told the German Press Agency.

“When it comes to irregular migration, the population – and with them we employers – expect decisive action at the national and European level.”

Oliver Zander, general manager of the Metal Employers’ Association, shared similar views with a local daily, pointing out that the economy needs skilled workers from abroad, but “excessive migration threatens to destroy the acceptance of immigration.”

Government under the pump

German municipalities are now calling for help from the federal government, demanding full reimbursement for the costs of handling refugees and calling for higher reception capacity at the regional level.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) opposition leader Friedrich Merz has demanded that Chancellor Olaf Scholz have direct talks after the state elections in Bavaria and Hesse “to quickly solve the problem of illegal migration to Germany.”

Even President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has a largely ceremonial role in the country’s politics, spoke out in favor of limiting the number of refugees and called on all democratic parties to work together.

If refugee policy remains a controversial issue, others would benefit from it, warned Steinmeier, without mentioning the AfD by name.

“We need to limit access, there’s no question about it,” he added.

Chancellor Scholz, meanwhile, also spoke out in favor of limiting immigration in a recent interview with the RND editorial network. ​​​​​​​

“The number of refugees seeking to reach Germany is too high at the moment,” he said, while calling for effective controls on the EU’s external borders.

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