Germany changes its tune on refugees

Growing public unease prompts tough talk and harsher measures from Berlin.

Call it the Aufwiedersehen culture.

Just weeks after Germans surprised the world, and themselves, by embracing the challenge of taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees, Germany’s leaders are rolling up the welcome mat.

In a primetime appearance on German television on Thursday, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière lashed out at the “many” refugees he accused of not following Germany’s rules.

“There are many refugees who believe that they can just allocate themselves,” he said. “They leave the facilities and order a taxi — and then, surprisingly, they have the money to drive hundreds of kilometers across Germany. They strike because they don’t like the way they’re accommodated, they create trouble because they don’t like the food, or they get into fist fights in the refugee centers.”

De Maizière, whose comments recall populist stereotypes of asylum seekers, wasn’t alone. Spooked by signs of waning public support for the government’s refugee strategy in polls, senior officials from both left- and right-of-center parties have begun calling for tougher measures in recent days.

“In Germany, we are rapidly getting close to the limits of our possibilities,” Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economic minister and vice chancellor, told Spiegel Online in an interview published Friday. “While the asylum law doesn’t have a ceiling, there are real limits to how much pressure we can put on our cities and towns.”

Germany expects somewhere between 800,000 and one million refugees this year, substantially more than the rest of Europe combined. The influx has forced local communities to convert everything from school gyms to parking lots into refugee camps.

The rhetorical shift, officials say, is part of a concerted effort to show a tougher face to the refugees to discourage more from coming. But the comments appear aimed more at shoring up domestic support by reassuring the Germans the government is still in control of the situation.

For the first time since the crisis began, a majority of Germans said the number of refugees coming to Germany “scared” them, according to a poll for state broadcaster ARD released on Friday. The country appears split down the middle, with 51 percent expressing fear, while 47 percent said they weren’t afraid. Back in September, just 38 percent said that they were scared, while 59 percent said that they weren’t.

In the same poll, 54 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with Angela Merkel’s performance — her lowest rating in nearly four years.

The widening criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis is putting some of those in charge on the defensive.

“Everyone is making every damned effort — there’s just no other way at the moment,” de Maizière told the Bundestag on Thursday, adding that the country’s leaders had to make tough decisions when confronted with the largest influx of refugees in many years.

It’s easier to take selfies with refugees than to get tough” — German MP

‘The unthinkables’


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