With an estimated 600,000 Syrian refugees making it the EU country with the highest number of asylum seekers, Germany has been facing growing domestic political and social discontent.
This was evident during German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas' visit to Turkey two weeks ago. Maas met his counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and discussed Turkey’s recent Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, which was launched on Oct. 9 to fight terrorism and create a safe zone for the repatriation of Syrian refugees. When Maas ignored Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal of establishing an internationally controlled safe zone under U.N. supervision, he was met with outrage from the German public and several politicians.
“Refugees play a significant role in Germany’s internal politics, and the issue is highly sensitive. Another refugee wave like the last one would have such a huge effect that it would lead the government to collapse and a far-right party to become a coalition partner,” Enes Bayraklı, director of European Studies at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) told Daily Sabah, adding that Germany ought to maintain the terms of its current refugee agreement.
Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer praised Turkey's efforts in accommodating Syrian refugees and reaffirmed Germany's commitment to the EU-Turkey agreement while seeking ways to improve the current agreement last month during his visit.
Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement in March 2016 to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the EU. According to the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros ($6.69 billion) in financial aid, which was initially going to be handed to the country in two stages to be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees, yet the full amount has not been received.
Support for center-right fades, while AfD on rise
The exodus of migrants in 2015 caught Europe unprepared, sowing bitter divisions among EU states, straining social and security services and fueling support for populist, anti-immigration, Eurosceptic and far-right parties. The bloc still fears a similar recurrence. Four years after the refugee crisis, another could be too much for European citizens.
Bayraklı said Germany is a country that is used to receiving migrants and has, therefore, it has a functioning system that can systematically register refugees. “Far-right parties try to use this situation by manipulating [the issue] and spreading fear among the public that the issue of refugees is an issue of security,” Bayraklı added, saying that the same is done in Turkey by the opposition.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has been feeding on resentment toward refugees and on other situations decomposing society such as the discontent in former East Germany. An alarming indicator of this was seen in local elections on Oct. 27 in Thuringia, as seen in Brandenburg and Saxony previously, when the far-right gained a strong presence with the AfD coming in second. Having broader experience with migration due to the Turkish guest workers' policy of the 1960s, West Germany was more used to having migrants among society. Yet, the same cannot be said for the East, which could not keep up with the West in many aspects, including jobs, investments and prosperity.
The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, on the other hand, wrote Sunday that 34 refugees had been sent back to Greece since August 2018, which is again an issue of debate in Germany. Last year, a quarrel between Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) about whether these rejections of an accelerated procedure were permitted almost caused the breakup of the grand coalition.
“[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel has been unable to handle the process since taking the refugees in. The situation in Germany hangs by a thread,” said Bayraklı. Indeed, support for Merkel diminished widely in Germany with her party losing in the opinion polls of ARD television.
Ankara has spent nearly $40 billion so far over the eight years it has been hosting Syrian refugees. Facing the risk of a new refugee wave, the government recently put forth a safe zone plan as the best option since an alternative scenario would be a heavy burden on the country. With the establishment of the safe zone, the area would be cleared of terrorists, enabling Syrians to resettle and live in an atmosphere of peace and stability.