In September 2015, Germany began taking in a regular stream of migrants, some of whom displaced native Germans from their homes by order of local or state councils.
Well intentioned families took in migrants for short stays until long-term housing was arranged.
Journalist Konstantin Richter, who writes for Die Welt and contributes to the European edition of Politico, was one of these kind-hearted people.
Recently, Richter wrote about his and his wife’s experience for The Guardian. Most of those who lodged with them were young men. They did not say much, if anything. They could not even manage a ‘thank you’. One refugee felt sorry for the Richters because they have no sons, only daughters. Another asked Richter if his wife was Jewish. This is out of bounds behaviour for a guest in someone’s home.
The Richters went on a ‘long trip abroad’ late last year. They returned to Germany to find a divided nation. One group of Germans points to New Year’s Eve in Cologne. Another side wants an open border policy. A group in the centre supports limited entry of refugees. The open border folks call anyone not supporting their position racist.
Richter has no regrets about taking in refugees. He explains that, at the time, he assumed Angela Merkel had a workable plan because everything in Germany runs like clockwork. If her Plan A did not work, then, surely, she had a Plan B. But, no. Furthermore, as of March 2016, Germany has 400,000 newcomers who have not yet applied for asylum:
Which means we have no idea who they are or where they are from. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.
Another difficulty is the educational level of actual refugees. They’re not brain surgeons or rocket scientists, as we were told last year. Richter explains:
… the experiences of companies that hired refugees as trainees have been disheartening. Most people they took on lack even the basics of a high-school education.
What now? The EU’s borders are pretty much closed, at least for the time being. We don’t have people calling any more asking us to host refugees. And if we did get another call, I’m not sure I’d happily say, “OK then, why not?” That doesn’t mean we’ve turned into barbarians.
Getting the refugee thing right will be Germany’s biggest challenge in coming years, and we want to make a contribution. But the spirit of the Willkommenskultur – taking in people randomly, exuberantly, without getting to know them and establishing a meaningful relationship – doesn’t feel right any more.
Millions of us could have told the Germans this last September as we watched events unfold. The sexual assaults and mayhem in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were shocking but not surprising. Nor is it surprising that 400,000 notional refugees have not applied for asylum. Where are these men? What are they doing? How do they survive?
German voters expressed their discontent in regional elections a fortnight ago. However, that still does not solve the problem of 1 million newcomers in their country. A widespread integration into the general population and culture looks increasingly unlikely. Good intentions and all that …