By:  Katie Gartner

This blog is a month late, but perhaps that has allowed the subject to mature. If I were writing to keep people informed on current events, I would be failing miserably at that job. Mercifully, I write instead as a response to global happenings, trying to lend coherence to a student’s tangled thoughts.

Since this blog was last updated, violence has broken out in Burundi, the Chinese economy has appeared increasingly shaky, President Obama gave his last State of the Union address, and the Iowa caucus continued to throw surprises at those campaigning for the Democratic and Republican candidacies. Rather than detailing the ramifications of any of these news items, however, I have decided to return to what will likely remain the central theme of my writings on this blog for this academic year:  the refugee crisis.

On New Year’s Eve, as Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her traditional address, asylum-seekers in Cologne, on the western border of Germany, were putting her much-vaunted Wilkommenskultur in peril. The chancellor’s speech was deemed nearly perfect—broadcast with subtitles in both Arabic and English, so that refugees and Germans alike would receive her message—reminding the 1.1million asylum-seekers to respect German rules and traditions while urging Germans not to be divided by “those who, with coldness or even hatred in their hearts, lay sole claim to be German and seek to exclude others” (The Economist, “Cologne’s Aftershocks”). Yet, as she spoke of tolerance and her hope for success in continuing to accept refugees, some one thousand men who were described as migrants of North African or Arab origin assembled between Cologne’s railway station and the Dom Cathedral. These men then broke into clusters, surrounding female revelers, “harassing and groping them, stripping them of clothing and valuables…one woman was raped” (The Economist, “Cologne’s Aftershocks”). More than 600 women have come forward, describing the experience as “running the gauntlet.” The local police did not comport themselves well after the fact, claiming that the night was relaxed, and the following media coverage did nothing to ameliorate the situation.

Since then, Chancellor Merkel’s previous optimism has proved damaging, to say the least. Reports of one of the Cologne offenders taunting police with “I am a Syrian, you have to treat me nicely–Mrs. Merkel invited me!” have led to a hardening of Mrs. Merkel’s governing coalition’s stance. These reports also play neatly into the fearful rhetoric of xenophobes. But what does this all mean for future asylum-seekers?

I hope that Chancellor Merkel continues her welcoming stance to migrants, but I support wholeheartedly her promise that the New Year’s Eve offenders will feel the full force of the law, and her suggestion that asylum seekers who break the law would be deported. Deportation of asylum-seekers is a daunting process legally, involving varied sentences for sexual offenses and complicated negotiations with home nations, but it is necessary in order to continue to accept refugees. If there is no governmental attempt to make right the events of New Year’s Eve, the German people will likely not accept a continued flow of migrants whose values differ from their own. Germany has borne the brunt of the burden of accepting asylum-seekers, which is putting serious political pressure on Angela Merkel. Unless the European Union gets its act together to present a unified response to the refugee crisis, the right-wing nationalism that has already taken hold of parts of eastern Europe will continue to feed on the xenophobia and political populism triggered by the migrant crisis. Asylum applicants are currently operating on a free-for-all system, which needs to be replaced by a screening system at Europe’s borders (or before the migrants cross the Mediterranean). Unacceptable migrants should be sent back immediately. Some suggestions from The Economist on how to create a better regulated system for asylum-seekers are as follows:

Creating a well-regulated system requires three steps. The first is to curb the “push factors” that encourage people to risk the crossing, by beefing up aid to refugees, particularly to the victims of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, including the huge number who have fled to neighbouring  countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The second is to review asylum claims while refugees are still in centres in the Middle East or in the “hotspots” (mainly in Greece and Italy), where they go when they first arrive in the EU. The third element is to insist that asylum-seekers stay put until their applications are processed, rather than jumping on a train to Germany.

  • The Economist, “How to manage the migrant crisis”

Each of these steps is difficult in and of itself, but some measures must be taken to ensure that Cologne does not have an imitation. Similarly, Europe must work to prevent history from repeating itself by avoiding falling into the xenophobia that preceded the Holocaust. Germany remains ashamed of their history with Hitler’s Third Reich, and has worked to recognize and atone for their sins; I believe that Europe should remain wary of parallel dangerous ideologies, perpetuated by fundamentalists of all kinds. Europe is right to be appalled by the transgression of women’s rights by unrepentant offenders who are taking advantage of their hospitality, but they should also be appalled by the idea of rescinding the tolerance and generosity that Angela Merkel has worked to offer migrants.

Granted, this is just a blog post. This will not stand before the European Parliament, or plead with the Pegida movement or the AfD party to not have a spirit of fear but one of courage and grace. But as both The Economist and I have cheered Angela Merkel’s strength in standing by her liberal response to the crisis in Syria and the wider Middle East, and believed in the values that the European Union espouses as requiring a regulated hospitality to asylum-seekers, so I felt I must continue to write about the refugee crisis. I suppose I can only sit and watch, as friends minister to migrant camps in Germany, and as the continent I love remains shaken and divided by this crisis.