Five years after migrant crisis, integration in Germany is succeeding, policy analyst says

Five years after migrant crisis, integration in Germany is succeeding, policy analyst says

The World staff

Daniel Ofman

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Syrian refugee Anas Modamani takes a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside a refugee camp near the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees after registration at Berlin’s Spandau district, Germany, on September 10, 2015. 


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In 2015, hundreds of thousands of people were on the move from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and turning to Europe as they sought safer and more stable futures.

Germany took in more than 1.7 million asylum-seekers that year. And five years ago today, German chancellor Angela Merkel made what would become a famous speech in which she reiterated that migrants and refugees were welcome in Germany.

“I’ll put it simply: Germany is a strong country…we can do this,” she said. 

Critics said this statement, which triggered a groundswell of xenophobia, would be her undoing. They argued it would open the door to terrorism, right-wing extremism in politics, and general divisions within the German population and Europe overall. 

Five years later, critics’ worst predictions have not come to pass. And while Merkel’s popularity took a hit, it has risen again throughout the pandemic.

The World’s host Carol Hills checked in on what’s happened to Merkel and the so-called “migrant crisis” with Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on German and European foreign policy.

Related: Survey: Despite crisis, most Europeans still welcome refugees

Carol Hills: Constanze, bring us back to 2015, when Merkel made that statement. What was the situation at the time in terms of the migrant crisis?

Constanze Stelzenmüller: I was mesmerized by what seemed like an absolutely historical immigration challenge for Germany and mesmerized also by the generosity of the response. And I don’t just mean the chancellor’s memorable words — for which, of course, she was castigated — but I realized that many of my friends and acquaintances were trying to help out. This was people who had 24/7 jobs in national policymaking who were volunteering in refugee shelters, to the 82-year-old mother of a friend of mine, a retired gynecologist in the former eastern Germany, who said to her son, “Well, somebody is going to have to take care of these ladies,” and reinserted herself into the workforce. So there was a general atmosphere of people rolling up their sleeves and saying, “Let’s try and get to grips with it.” But it did, of course, become apparent that there were real problems with us as well. 

So what was the backlash, and how did Merkel respond? 

There was reasonable criticism by many, it has to be said, that, while, German civil society was responding in the sort of energetic and cheerful ways that I’ve just described, German government institutions seem to be much more overwhelmed, seemed to be faltering in addressing this challenge. And this gave a completely new breath of energy and malignant force to Germany’s populist parties, in particular the Alternative for Germany, a relatively small, mildly Eurosceptic party that had been formed in 2013 and that suddenly ramped up everywhere, based on really viciously xenophobic and ethno-nationalist messaging. There was a sudden and very serious groundswell of anger against Chancellor Merkel. There was a movement on the right wing of her Christian Democratic Party called MMW for short — Merkel Muss Weg, or Merkel Must Go — and for a while, it seemed as though that was going to muster a very serious challenge to her authority. 

How did she respond?  

Well, famously, she said, if we can’t accept that we are large and wealthy enough to handle this kind of a refugee influx, then this is no longer my country. That angered many, many people. And the truth is, five years later, we’re seeing that the worst of the predictions have not come to pass. We have not had significant foreign radical terrorist attacks. We have seen some immigrant crime, but my understanding is that immigrant crime numbers are below the domestic crime numbers. There are actually a great number of success stories. In other words, the integration of those who were eligible to stay because there were genuine political refugees, I think, is now a more or less unqualified success. 

Since 2015, how did Merkel’s approach to admitting asylum-seekers change?  

Interestingly, Merkel, who is a very canny, shrewd political operator, stuck to her guns saying, we can do this and we should not change our rules or close our borders. De facto, that is exactly what we did. The border closings really happened all across Europe and then Merkel negotiated a bilateral treaty with Turkey that amounted to a promise by Turkey to keep the bulk of Middle Eastern refugees in Turkey in exchange for billions of euros in economic support. So far, it seems to have worked, and the influx of new migration to Europe and Germany is much much lower than it was five years ago. Obviously, that also has something to do with the pandemic. 

Five years on, Angela Merkel won’t be seeking another term. She’s likely to be stepping down in 2021. How is she viewed in Germany today? Broadly, is she admired or just sort of tolerated? What’s the general sense of her?   

Merkel’s popularity went down in national polls when it became clear that this influx of a million or more refugees in 2015 would be much more difficult than everybody thought at the beginning. Now, five years later, we’re in the middle of a pandemic but Merkel’s popularity is greater than it’s ever been. It’s really interesting. I think that she will go out on a very high note. And by the way, she has said that she is not running again in 2021, and I think we have every reason to believe her. She is not needy, unlike many other politicians, and I think she will calmly go into the sunset. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Under lockdown, mosques in Kenya offer virtual prayers for Ramadan

Under lockdown, mosques in Kenya offer virtual prayers for Ramadan

Halima Gikandi

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Women walk down the streets of Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 19, 2019. The neighborhood is currently under quarantine due to a spike in coronavirus cases. 


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On a normal Friday during Ramadan, Ahmed Ali Mohamed would head to the mosque with his family and friends to break the fast.

“Then [we’d] head home and have a feast with friends, and family, and relatives, sometimes at my grandmother’s or mother’s house,” he said from his home in Nairobi, Kenya. “But this Ramadan has been very different.”

Related: How coronavirus is changing the way Muslims celebrate Ramadan

Eastleigh, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood where Mohamed’s mother and grandmother live, is currently under lockdown, and most mosques have closed. Instead, some mosques are offering virtual prayers via YouTube. 

“I can’t visit at all. No one is allowed,” said Mohamed, who lives in another area of Nairobi. He notes how police and soldiers have put up roadblocks in Eastleigh to prevent people from moving in and out of the neighborhood. 

On May 7, the Kenyan government announced the 15-day lockdown in Eastleigh after the neighborhood saw a spike in COVID-19 cases. Some accused officials of discriminating against Muslims, because they had also locked down Old Town, a predominantly Muslim area in the coastal city of Mombasa.

“There is no effort to target anyone,” Kenya’s Interior Minister Fred Matiangi told Muslim leaders earlier this week. “We are suffering equally. This disease does not choose where you come from.”

Mohamed didn’t feel the lockdown was singling out Muslims. In fact, he recalled how Islamic scripture has specific guidelines on what people should do during a pandemic or a plague.

“Any place that is under quarantine, you shouldn’t go in. And if you are inside you shouldn’t come out,” he said. “That’s hadith [saying] from the prophet, peace be upon him.”

Still, like many in Nairobi, he worries about how his family will deal with the effects of the lockdown. “Most of the people who used to go into Eastleigh come from outside. The small traders. The ones who bring fresh groceries, they don’t come into Eastleigh anymore.”

Residents and workers of Eastleigh initially protested the lockdown, leading officials to allow essential workers to come in and out of the neighborhood.

But Mohamed, who trades wholesale goods like sugar and flour, says the increasingly narrow lockdowns are cutting off food supply not only in Eastleigh but in the whole country.

Related: Coronavirus — and locusts — threaten Kenya’s food security 

Weeks before the Eastleigh quarantine, the government had announced a citywide lockdown, meaning Mohamed cannot leave Nairobi for work.

Even dates — a favorite Ramadan treats — are scarce or overpriced.

“We used to have dates, lots of dates from mostly the Middle Eastern countries, or North Africa,” said Mohamed. “We don’t get them because there are no goods coming into the country,” he continued.

Without iftar feasts to look forward to, Mohamed is spending Ramadan at home with his wife Fatimah, and their two small children.

Instead of going to the mosque, they pray at home. “The majority of the mosques do have YouTube pages, so you can follow the sermons on YouTube,” said Mohamed. 

“Spiritually, you have to go online if you want to interact or see or ask any questions with the imams.”

Mohamed points to Jamia mosque, which closed its doors for the first time in 95 years due to the pandemic. The mosque’s TV channel, Horizon TV, regularly releases virtual prayers, programming for children, and interviews with scientists and experts.

As religious leaders in other parts of the region seek to undermine the threat of the coronavirus, Jamia is trying to drive a different message to its congregants who are spending Ramadan at home. 

“You fall sick today. Look for a doctor, look for medicine,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome in a recent message on Jamia mosque’s YouTube channel.