Refugee Support Hurts Centrist German Politicians

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The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the center-right political party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, did poorly in recent state elections, owing to the concomitant rise of the far-right, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The poor showing has been attributed to Chancellor Merkel’s unwavering support of refugees, many coming from war-torn Syria. The fear that this result could change the policy of the center-right in Germany has prompted many dailies and regional observers to praise Mrs. Merkel and urge her to remain steadfast in her support for refugees. There is an acknowledgment, however, that sooner or later, the migrant wave washing onto European shores must be stopped, and that simple statements and declarations of solidarity won’t suffice. Some are also beginning to consider the impact that such brain drain will have on the future of the affected countries in the Middle East.

According to a recent editorial by the Saudi Gazette, Angela Merkel’s actions are to be applauded, especially in the face of rising support for the anti-immigrant, far-right AfD party and a hardening anti-immigrant sentiment among German voters: “There is widespread agreement that the CDU took this electoral pasting because of the Chancellor’s principled stand on refugees. She has allowed over a million, largely Syrians to find shelter in Germany….Her welcome for Syrian refugees was an act of the highest humanity that has put to shame virtually every other European country. For sure the German economy needs the skilled professionals and technicians among those fleeing the barbarous Assad dictatorship, but there are also Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans who offer little immediate benefit to Germany, for whom the advantages are at this moment entirely one way….It seems clear that the generosity and humanity of their chancellor ought to be a cause for considerable pride among Germans, despite the inevitable challenges their arrival poses. The success of the Islamophobic AfD is alarming because it negates the liberal principles on which modern Germany is built and harks back to the dark days of Nazi racial horrors.”

Similarly, the Gulf News editorial urges the German chancellor to continue down the path that she has been on for the last year despite her political losses: “Merkel showed remarkable confidence in the strength of her country when she welcomed hundreds or thousands of refugees looking for a new home. Stories of residents welcoming those in need have warmed the cockles of many of a heart. But beyond the emotion, there lies a feeling that she has given away too much and is taking in too many people. The far right is now trying to cash in on this feeling….Xenophobia may win a few seats, but it will not get the country anywhere. It is time for Germans to see what has been achieved and then look at the vast opportunities that lie ahead before taking a short-sighted decision. Merkel has displayed stamina during Europe’s debt crisis and the time is now for her to do it again. The chancellor must continue the fight against those who claim that the country belongs to only a few.”

Writing for Al Arabiya, Yossi Mekelberg expresses the view that much of the cause for the shifting sentiments is the rising number of terrorist attacks in Europe: “Only a fool would be complacent in the face of the high risk of terrorism and extremism Europe is facing at present. There is also no denial that those who have perpetrated some heinous murderous acts claimed they were carried out on behalf of the religion of Islam. However, it would be equally foolish and irresponsible for Europe to associate an entire religion and its followers with violence and the harboring of extreme ideas….It is not only French liberté, égalité, fraternité that is under threat. Brexit and the rise of extreme right wing movements in Central and Eastern Europe are chilling reminders that nationalism in on the march again and if not stopped the future of the continent is bleak. It is actually by intelligently dissecting the challenges that Europe is facing, and by remaining true to its tolerant foundations, that European societies and the European Union can avoid further deterioration in inter-communal relations across the continent and social implosion.”

Al Ahram’s Ramzy Baroud, reflecting on the various fleeting commentaries posted on social media, notes that the refugee crisis in Syria and elsewhere requires more from each of us, beyond expressing sympathy : “While there, indeed, exist true humanitarians with a clear purpose and an unmistakable sense of mission and little self-promotion, there are many others who have no identifiable purpose, aside from a fleeting interest, a sense of adventure, and an opportunity to unburden themselves of a nagging guilt….It is far easier to declare oneself an activist and snap a thousand photos that parade victims of war in total isolation from one’s own moral responsibility. Personal and collective ‘moral responsibility’ is a risky notion, for it invites more than ambiguous feelings of guilt that misleadingly spread responsibility for war equally among all; instead, it propels a moral stance, mobilization, political pressure and direct action….A true humanitarian activist is one who is able to make a tangible difference in the lives of others — focused, sensitive to cultural sensibilities, compelled by a tug of moral responsibility, able to read political contexts and daring enough to hold accountable those responsible for war and other collective tragedies.”

It is clear that the only solution to the refugee crisis is to end the instability in Syria and the wider region, which, according to this Khaleej Times editorial, requires a military, rather than political, solution: “The migrant issue has become a political hot potato for European leaders after a series of terror attacks in France and Germany, triggering a backlash against the migrants. But to conclude that refugees are responsible for every attack is naive and lacks basis. Most attacks were not carried out by any recent refugee to these countries but by migrants who were already citizens….There is no doubt that the civil war in Syria is sparking off the exodus. The fact that Syria is in war within itself indicates the magnitude of the crisis…. In Syria, the civilian population has been at the receiving end for the last five years, caught in the crossfire between the forces of President Bashar Al Assad and dreaded terrorist groups like Daesh….Terror in all its forms must be rooted out militarily for a just transition to peace and democracy.”

For the National’s Luay Shabaneh the outflow of such considerable human capital from the Middle East will continue to reverberate for some time, hence the need to reverse it as soon as possible: “In reality, the summer has been painful in the Arab region and a reminder that even the largest development and humanitarian network finds the challenges of natural and man-made disasters almost insurmountable. Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Palestine suffer the brunt of intense armed conflicts in which civilians seem to pay the highest price. Sudan and Somalia continue in their protracted crises, and several other countries in the region struggle with internal political turmoil, making their route to prosperity difficult….The Arab region, one of the youngest regions in the world in terms of the age of its population, is one of potentials, a region that should be able to use youth to its advantage rather than to push it away in search of a better future, often through perilous routes across the Mediterranean. One in five Arabs is 15 to 24 years old, but more than one in four is unemployed, according to recent research. To them, the grass is greener on the other side, a side they see as abounding with education and employment possibilities that they have lost the hope of finding in their own countries.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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