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Immigration Crisis in Germany

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In the pursuit of economic growth, countries today are increasingly becoming more open, with more countries opening up their doors to immigration. With international mobility on an upward trend as a result of rapid globalisation, under-populated countries such as Germany are constantly looking to migration as a economic and social mobility strategy. With its immigrant population occupying a whopping one-fifth of its entire population, Germany has grown dependent on immigration as a solution to its shrinking population (Thomasson 2017). As the main refuge for asylum-seekers in Europe today, Germany is facing a tremendous influx of new citizens—but paradoxically, economists say the country’s future is still threatened by the shrinking population even with immigration plugging its huge labour gap (Narula 2016). Under-population in this context refers to how the fertility rate in Germany is dropping below replacement level, which would soon result in an unsustainable population (Kelly 2013). Despite housing more than 1 million asylum seekers since the introduction of their open door policy in 2015, Germany is still projected to face a stagnating or shrinking population by 2030 (Apt 2013:9). Germany also saw a rise in the number of assault cases on the locals, caused by immigrants. One such report displayed how violent acts committed by foreign nationals have risen since the height of the refugee influx in 2015, with the number of German citizens killed by foreign assailants in the last three years rising steadily to 83 over the last two years (Channel NewsAsia 2018). Officials have since attributed this rise in violent migrant crime to the large numbers of young men who had entered the country seeking asylum (Eddy, 2018).

The hike in violent crimes on locals by foreign offenders coupled with the sudden influx of immigrants have since provoked anti-immigration sentiments and has led to elevated xenophobic sentiments among locals (Perrigo 2018). In exploring the strong anti-immigrant sentiments and xenophobic attitudes among local germans, I will be examining a case study of the ongoing anti-migrant protests that first happened in Chemnitz, East Germany, just a couple of weeks back, which has pushed the country to the worst state of its immigration crisis in modern day history. In my paper, I will be discussing how Germany’s approach to migration is not the most appropriate, especially with the rise of the anti-migrant protests, and thereafter proposing possible solutions for this issue. Chemnitz is currently on edge after a wave of racist violence acts following the deadly stabbing of a local man, allegedly by two migrants, which stoked tension between anti-migrant crowds and leftist-counter protestors (Channel NewsAsia 2018). According to CNN, the previously peaceful demonstration which has since turned into a violent protests, was sparked by the alleged killing of the local German-Cuban man, Mr. Daniel Hillig, who was attacked by two asylum seekers of Iraqi and Syrian descent during a street festival on 27 August 2018 (Schmidt, Smith-Spark 2018). Upon the disclosure of the arrest of the Iraqi and Syrian offenders, over 5,000 right-wing demonstrators have gathered in the city, all of which demanding for immigrants to leave Germany for the fear of their own safety (Perrigo 2018). The protests also led to the rise in popularity of far-right political parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which encouraged the people to protest and attack citizens who they thought were of foreign origin (Perrigo 2018). The AfD, which is German parliament’s third-largest party, has made use of this incident for the resurgence of Neo-Nazi activity through the protests, rioting and parading Nazi salutes in their demonstrations (Serhan 2018). The Neo-Nazi activity in this context refers to the most insidious variant of right‐wing extremism in Germany, which has increased dramatically after unification (Anderson 2008: 39-46). In the protests, the AfD appeared to cheer the public backlash against immigration—an issue that the party used to gain considerable support during the country’s general election last year (Serhan 2018). As reported in the Economist, the AfD reported inflated numbers of violent crimes committed by immigrants, claiming that there was a total of 447 killings by illegal migrants in 2017 (The Economist 2018). In the era of post-truth politics where sentiments are prioritised over facts, the AfD exploited and exaggerated facts such as migrant crime rates in this case, to broaden its appeal to mainstream voters, by triggering emotions and feelings of anger amongst locals (The Economist 2018). On the surface, this serves to amplify the distinction between the local Germans with authentic german heritage against immigrants, but it also acts as a form of manipulation of the public in taking action according to their the party’s wishes. Examining the root cause of xenophobic attitudes and anti-immigrant sentiments The current situation today is a buildup of anti-immigrant sentiments from 1993 that still finds echoes today as Germany struggles with the after-effects of the 2015-2016 refugee crisis (Scally 2018). Since then, growing anti-immigration sentiments have manifested into racist attacks on immigrants and the rise of the extreme right-wing parties due to the fear of Uberfremdung (Skipper 2017:17).

Uberfremdung in Germany has been defined as the “overforeignisation” — in the situation that a society becomes “foreign” to its own members due to excessive immigration of foreign cultures (Heckmann, Schnapper 2015). This has also led to the subtle return of discrimination based on ethnicity originating from the Nazi Period, with people in Germany facing hostility and attacks due to their statuses as asylum seekers or refugees, or are considered such because of their skin colour, regardless of how long they have stayed in the country (Scally 2018). This exemplifies how subjects of post-war racialization continues to be produced through contemporary migration regimes in modern day Germany (Erel et. al. 2016:1344). In examining how this post-war racialization based on ethnicity applies into the context of the case study, the discrimination here refers to how the anti-migrant crowds which mainly comprise of local Germans, against those of foreign descents —which includes asylum seekers, refugees and even immigrants who have converted to German citizens. Coupled with the rise in number of violent migrant crime in the country, this has resulted in locals fearing for their safety with the presence of the immigrants who have been labelled as “ violent criminals” in light of the protests. This therefore acts as the trigger to locals who have demanded for immigrants to leave the country, in protection of their country, democracy, and ethnicity for the fear of Uberfremdung. Social Science Theory: Realistic Group Conflict Theory Further breaking down this issue through the sociological lens, the anti-immigrant sentiments can be explained with the Realistic Group Conflict Theory that was termed by Donald Campbell in 1965. The Realistic Group Conflict Theory states that the perception of a zero-sum competition between groups translates into a belief of a “group threat” which in turn leads to prejudice and negative stereotyping by members of one group against the other (Sidanius and Pratto, 1999:17). Applying this theory into context, the zero-sum competition, which is defined as one’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, refers to the perceived threat of rising number of immigrants in Germany for the fear of over-foreignisation. This is then translated into the belief of a “group threat” that immigrants are a threat to the country which led to the rise in anti-immigrant sentiments among the locals.

The Realistic Group Conflict theory also broadens the notion of self interest among natives to incorporate the possibility that harm to one subgroup of natives could be perceived as harmful to all natives (Card et. al. 2005:9). This explains how the local germans were angered by the fact that a fellow local german was harmed by immigrants, who in this case are not considered as the natives, which sparked the start of the protests against immigration in Germany. It also demonstrates how discrimination based on ethnicity takes place where the term “all natives” here does not include that of the immigrants, even if they have lived in the country for long periods of time. Globalisation Aspect: Accelerating the spread of “Fake News” to mobilise protestors Viewing Germany’s situation from a global perspective, globalisation is seen to have accelerated the spread of “fake news” in mobilising protestors during this period. With the globalization of technology providing vast and efficient spread of information, and in this case accelerating the use of information technology in disseminating information on platforms such as social media (Bieber 2014). This has since created opportunities for “fake news” to proliferate on social media platforms. In the case of Germany’s recent anti-migrant protests, far-right groups, such as the AfD, have been spreading “fake news” on social media to mobilise their supporters for violent protests. One example was a report circulated widely on social media that the 35-year-old man who was stabbed had been defending a woman from migrants, which the AfD made use of to fuel anger among locals and to garner support for their protests. In this case, globalisation perpetuates this situation in escalating the violent protests, where the AfD saw a great mobilisation effect for their protest as a result of the “fake news” article. Thesis: Germany’s approach to migration is not the most appropriate While Germany is massively dependent on migration, this issue clearly shows how fraught the immigration issue is in Germany, reflecting how deeply the immigration issue has divided German society (Fielder, Starzmann 2018; Eddy, 2018). As the interior minister, Horst Seehofer shared, “The migration issue is the mother of all political problems in this country. Many people now associate their social concerns with the migration issue” (Lewandoski, 2018). Backed up by a national survey conducted in July 2018, 72 percent of respondents shared that they felt that Germany’s immigration policies were “too careless” (Lewandoski, 2018). This case study also shows how migration can present the country with challenges, such as the anti-migrant protests, besides its potential success in plugging Germany’s huge labour gap.

The anti-migrant protests also showed how Germany’s society lacked social cohesion between the locals and the immigrants, which was further demonstrated with the ongoing violent protests between the two groups. Germany would need to look into improving various aspects of approaching migration in order for it to be an effective solution for the country’s ageing population. Two areas in which Germany should be addressing would be increasing social integration between the native majority ingroup and the immigrant outgroup members, and how to improve its immigration policies to attract more skilled labor migrants to effectively plug its huge labour gap. In bolstering social cohesion in Germany, members of the native majority ingroup are thought to become less concerned with the welfare of immigrant outgroup members, the more socially distant they feel from them (Goldschmidt,2017:51). Referencing to a similar high-migration country in Europe, Sweden has managed to emerge as the world’s best country for immigrants to live in with its strong social welfare system which appeared to be one of the main contributing factors (Sharman 2017). To complement the above, Germany should consider amending immigration laws in order to attract more skilled labour migrants to the country. According to a report by Euractiv, “Currently, not even a doctor from Spain can come to Germany easily. For a doctor from India, this is even more difficult. ” This only shows how tough it has been for skilled labor to move to Germany, with the open door policy benefiting more refugees and asylum seekers. Despite the success of Germany’s immigration in boosting population numbers, Germany has yet to create a forward-looking framework for migration and immigration policy that would bolster social cohesion and attract skilled labor migrants (Süssmuth, 2009:6). As Professor Süssmuth discussed in his paper on migration in Germany, the right policy mix for migration policies must include both permanent migration programmes and measures to boost the number of temporary workers (Süssmuth, 2009:6). This would thus allows Germany to strike a balance in attracting more skilled labour migrants to fill its labour gap while also accepting refugees and asylum seekers as a form of temporary migration.

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