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  • March 2016: Towards the end of the “welcoming culture” (Willkommenskultur) in Germany?

We can remember images of the outburst of solidarity and generosity of the German population - a sign of this welcoming culture (Willkommenskultur) - greeting floods of refugees in Munich station during summer 2015, while at the same time other European countries were already making preparations to close their borders. The German government announced as of September 2015 that it was going to release an additional six billion euros to take care of asylum applicants and refugees in 2016. This massive commitment by Germany to welcome migrants mainly originating from Syria and Iraq can be explained in particular by economic and demographic reasons, but it is also a moral obligation for Chancellor Angela Merkel. We cannot, however, ignore that the continuous flow of migrants is fuelling growing doubts among a section of the population about the Chancellor’s migration policy and Germany’s capacity to integrate such migrants socially, economically and culturally. We also cannot ignore that recurring attacks and xenophobic violence targeting reception centres for asylum applicants or migrants’ accommodation have continued to multiply in recent months.

In this increasingly explosive context, it is legitimate to wonder whether the theft, violence and sexual attacks to which hundreds of German women were subjected on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and in other large cities in the country do not spell the end for the Willkommenskultur in Germany. Many issues relating to these attacks have not been cleared up to date, but Cologne’s public prosecutor nevertheless revealed in February that more than 1,000 complaints had been recorded (of which about half for sexual offences) and that among the 73 suspects under investigation, the police had identified 30 Algerians, 27 Morrocans, 4 Iraqis, 3 Tunisians, 3 Germans, 3 Syrians, 1 Libyan, 1 Iranian and 1 Montenegrin, a very large majority of whom had come to Germany in 2015. The foreign origin of the attackers and their religious affiliation to Islam, used to explain the violence which occurred on New Year’s Eve, provoked violent debates in the media and on social networks. Beyond the traumatism which such an event represents in the very multicultural city of Cologne and more widely in Germany, we may wonder about the reasons for which these events were initially hushed up or played down by the Cologne police (see Presseportal) or by certain media. Through self-censure, keeping silent to avoid being accused of Islamophobia and denying that problems relating to integration are not only of an economic order, are we not risking playing into the hands of individuals or xenophobic groups, the anti-Muslim Pegida movement (“Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”) or of the populist AfD (“Alternative for Germany”) Party, whose rise does not seem to be slowing in advance of the upcoming regional elections in three Länder on 13 March next year?

Faced with the immense challenge that the refugee crisis represents, it is important not to be content with moral posturing nor yielding to invective, but to enable debates on economic, demographic and cultural (religion, values…) issues to take place in total freedom.

For further information, see Die Zeit et Die Welt.

D 5 April 2016   

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