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Germany torn over immigration debate

14 May 20150 comments
Container cities in Koepenick, Berlin Source: BBC

Container cities in Koepenick, Berlin
Source: BBC

East of Berlin, in a dreary clearing behind pine trees and a wire fence sits a three-storey metal building. This is just one of several ‘container cities’ that have recently started popping up throughout Germany.

These temporary homes were quickly built in a necessary effort to keep up with the thousands of refugees flooding into the country. This one centre in particular accommodates for 300 refugees, which will be at full capacity shortly.

The influx of asylum seekers is not a result of one cause, but many. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have their citizens fleeing to escape the violence. Others come from countries in the southern Eurozone in an attempt to escape a life of poverty and unemployment.

The combination of these causes is what has put immigration in Germany at a 20-year high. In 2013, net immigration stood at 429,000 people.

Officially all of these refugees are welcome to seek asylum, Germans are known to be proud of their Willkommenskultur (welcome culture). This culture is thanks to many reasons, including migrant’s ability to help to fill a significant skills gap that has been created by a rapidly ageing population.

Lately though, immigration has increasingly been a subject of debate throughout the country. A recent study shows that Germans believe immigration strains the welfare system, causes problems in schools and creates social tensions.

These concerns are echoed in German politics, with many parties that are both old and new campaigning for tighter immigration control. Though there is a political split on concern for the need to rethink immigration policy, many parties supporting stricter policies are gaining votes.

At the moment German immigration policy centres on freedom of movement, indiscriminately lumping asylum seekers, economic migrants, EU internal migrants and the highly qualified into the same category.

However, the country is still subject to EU regulations, which have recently been cast into the spotlight. Hundreds of refugees in Germany have sought sanctuary in churches to avoid deportation as they are considered ‘Dublin cases’.

They face deportation not because of the merits of their case, but under EU regulations that say refugees must seek asylum in the first EU country they enter. Many end up in a Catch-22 situation, shunted between EU countries that don’t want to take them.

The local churches have granted the asylum seekers sanctuary under the protection of an ancient custom. Though church sanctuary isn’t recognised in German law, it is still a religious country and therefore police officers refuse to drag the refugees away.

According to the German Ecumenical Committee on Church Asylum, over 200 Protestant and Catholic churches are currently providing sanctuary to 411 people. The overwhelming majority are asylum seekers.

Churches are committing this unprecedented challenge to EU rules, as they believe German authorities are turning away genuine refugees.

Though the asylum seekers won’t have to stay in the shelter of the church forever. EU’s Dublin rules no longer apply once they have been in the country for six months, when they will then be able to have their cases heard.

Though some believe that by then it still may be dangerous to leave the church’s protection due to the rising debate over immigration.

This ancient custom of church sanctuary may even come under threat as the number of those given shelter becomes increasingly high. Germanys interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, recently urged the practice be stopped and compared it to Sharia law.

Though the minister later retracted his statement, his words reflect the growing concern that immigration is a threat in Germany.


Ruby Brown
AMES Staff Writer