Just a few weeks after throwing open the doors of her country to hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a huge backlash.
Serving up the slogan, “We can do it,” the chancellor won praise as “Mama Merkel” for stepping forward and making Germany the only European nation willing to take significant steps toward providing relief for the millions of people driven from their homes by civil war in Syria, and by the brutality of ISIS terrorists.
The German public initially approved, and there is even talk of a Nobel Peace Prize.
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But as German President Joachim Gauck met Wednesday with President Barack Obama, who himself is under pressure to admit more refugees, the German public has soured on Merkel’s initiative. Local officials are overwhelmed, and her own governing coalition is splintered.
Obama has already increased the number of refugees the U.S. will take by some 45,000 over the next three years. It’s unclear whether it stops there.
In his meeting with the German president Wednesday, Obama praised Germany’s willingness to take in refugees and called it a model, according to a report by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
But Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the German experience both demonstrates the limits of the West’s ability to solve the refugee problem and offers a cautionary tale for U.S. policymakers who would follow suit.
“I think what we’ve seen is we’re never going to be able to deal with a crisis like that,” he said. “The numbers are just too overwhelming.”
About 200,000 refugees responded to Merkel’s call in September alone. By some counts, 5,000 foreigners every single day — and up to 10,000 on peak periods — arrive in Germany. Merkel initially estimated that Germany would receive 800,000 refugees. Some estimates now range as high as 1.5 million.
Cities and towns throughout Germany have complained they lack the resources to house and feed the newcomers.
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Cities and towns throughout Germany have complained they lack the resources to house and feed the newcomers. The German government is seizing unoccupied residential space, and even commercial space, to house the many refugees.
It used to take a few hours to photograph and fingerprint each migrant, issue temporary documentation, and find homes, according to The Atlantic. But the wait period has ballooned to two days or more. Some refugees have been sleeping on the streets in Berlin.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the center-left Social Democratic Party, recently told the German magazine Der Spiegel that he was “very worried” about the situation.
“Anyone who speaks with Germany’s mayors and district councils has observed this: In Germany we are rapidly approaching the limits of our abilities,” he told the magazine. “In other words, in addition to confidence, we also need realism.”
Ralf Jäger, the interior minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told Der Spiegel that people helping the refugees were “at wits’ end.”
Merkel’s policy has strained relations with the Christian Social Union (CSU), the governing partner with her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. Horst Seehofer, leader of the CSU, said over the weekend in an interview with public broadcaster Bayerische Rundfunk that the prime minister should reverse her policy.
“We cannot continue,” he said, warning of a “collapse” by winter if the flow continues unabated.
It is not just coalition partners. Thirty-four politicians from Merkel’s own CDU last week signed a sharply worded letter to her.
“The ‘open borders policy’ we are now implementing is not in line with either European or German law, nor does it reflect the CDU’s program,” the letter states.
A survey last week by Infratest Dimap for German public broadcaster ARD indicated 51 percent of Germans are “scared” about the number of refugees entering the country.
Perhaps they are reading the polls. A survey last week by Infratest Dimap for German public broadcaster ARD indicated 51 percent of Germans are “scared” about the number of refugees entering the country, up from 38 percent last month.
A poll by German-based Forsa Institute suggested the entire conservative bloc that controls the German government has taken a hit since the most recent federal election. The right-wing Alternative for Germany, meanwhile, stood at 7 percent in the poll — a record high this year.
Merkel’s personal popularity dipped to 47 percent, her lowest showing in the polls this year.
Although far less than the scale as experienced by Germany, critics warn that the United States could face similar problems.
“These are the incubators of terrorism,” said Mehlman. “Obviously, not everyone is a potential terrorist. But we do have to be aware of it.”
In Germany, meanwhile, even some refugees appear to be having second thoughts.
“I wish I’d stayed in Syria and not come here,” one 26-year-old told Reuters through an interpreter. “I dreamed Germany would be better, but it’s so bad. We’ve been sleeping in the cold. Now my baby is sick.”