Hospitality has its limits

Hospitality has its limits

I am sure you remember this as it was only short while ago. 

On July 15 of this year, a German TV channel screened a discussion entitled “The Good Life in Germany.” Chancellor Angela Merkel was shown speaking to a selected forum of teenage students from a high school in Rostock. Reem, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl from a Lebanese refugee camp who arrived in Germany four years ago with her family, challenged Merkel in fluent German. She asked why is it that she cannot enjoy the good life and education like the rest as she had to leave Germany, because she did not have a residence permit. “Politics is hard sometimes,” said Merkel, “There are thousands and thousands more in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. And if we say ‘you can all come here, you can all come over from Africa,’ we can’t cope with that.” 

The girl breaks down in tears; Merkel remains speechless for a moment and then walks across the floor and tries to comfort her by a friendly pat on her shoulders. That awkward moment when the German chancellor could hardly find a credible balance between her realpolitik and a young person’s legitimate claim for better life went viral on social media as #Merkelstreichelt (Merkel strokes) and received millions of comments, mostly critical of the chancellor.

Now, remember another picture: that of drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish shore near Bodrum on Sept. 2 of this year. His body was one of the over 3,000 that have been recovered so far from the waters of the Mediterranean. 

And then a few weeks later, the images of the tens of thousands of migrants walking towards Edirne on the E5, trying to reach the Greek border, hoping eventually to reach Germany or Austria. To the reporters who interviewed them on the way to the Greek-Turkish border, they said they had information that Germany would accept “up to one million refugees” this year. Most had fled from Syria; they had stayed temporarily in Turkey but wanted to go to Europe for a “better life.”  

This time, there was a real possibility for a “good life in Germany,” they thought. To the surprise of everybody, Mrs. Merkel had decided to present a friendly face to the migrants and advocate her “open door” policies, unlike several of her European partners. Remember the enthusiastic Germans welcoming refugees in Munich train station? “Those who have helped have conveyed an image of Germany that we can be proud of,” declared Merkel on Sept. 7. The strict Rostock image is out; the friendly hospitable Germany is in. What happened? Economists see economic reasons according to the latest figures. Germany has been facing a serious demographic problem and needs manpower, they say. Some 46 percent of German employers have difficulty in recruiting staff, especially qualified staff. An injection of foreign labor force (Syrians have good education and qualifications) would help the German economy sustain its position as the only surplus economy in Europe and the leading force in the EU.

And look at the latest picture: just days ago, a somber German chancellor at the Yildiz Palace sitting next to the Turkish president and explaining at a joint press conference about the seriousness of the refugee crisis and the need of Turkey’s cooperation to stop more migrants from coming to Europe. 

Mrs. Merkel in Turkey no longer looked the powerful leader, awkwardly consoling the sobbing Palestinian girl in Rostock. She looked more like a confused leader. Like the rest of Europe on the problem of migrants which “went out of control,” as she said in Istanbul. 

The figures tell the story.  According to IOM (International Organization for Migration) and Frontex, more than 700,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by various ways and over half-a-million have applied for asylum. Some 120,000 come from Syria. Germany remains the most popular destination, with 800,000 expected to ask for asylum this year. That is four times the figure for last year. However, only a proportion of them will be granted asylum through lengthy and complicated procedures. 

The sudden migration influx of the last three months has thrown Europe into confusion. One of its fundamental principles of solidarism has been seriously challenged, with EU countries refusing to share the migration burden in their own lands. Leaders of the EU are now trying to proportionally “relocate” the migrants that have entered Europe but stop more from coming. Now Mrs. Merkel is determined to assign countries like Turkey to help out. Her somber look in Istanbul shows that she has a lot on her mind, including her falling popularity at home and the next federal elections in 2017.