Germany prepares for impact of refugees on Oktoberfest

politics | Sep 16, 2015 | By Martin Barillas

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was defensive about her about-face concerning the current refugee crisis in Europe. Following a meeting with her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann on September 14, she said that while she believes it was right to admit tens of thousands of refugees over the last two weeks, she was equally justified for shutting down Germany’s border with Austria. It was thus that the Schengen Treaty, which allowed free transit through the EU by its citizens, was temporarily suspended. On September 13, Germany shut down rail service between the two countries and reintroduced border controls.
Rejecting claims that she had exacerbated the refugee crisis by encouraging border-crossers to seek out asylum in Germany, she said she was right to show “friendly, beautiful face” to the world. Faced with a humanitarian crisis, said Merkel, she was compelled to make an exception. Saying that the world saw photographs of friendly German volunteers greeting haggard refugees at the Munich train station, she continued “If we had not shown a friendly face, that’s not my country,” she said.
According to some reports, Munich alone has received  60,000 refugees over the last week alone while aid agencies and volunteers show signs of strain. Refugees are being placed in tents, and even idled trains.
Germany has taken at least 50,000 refugees over the last week. Most of them are unregistered, sparking concerns that among them there are terrorist infiltrators. Indeed, Pope Francis said in a recent interview with a Catholic radio station of Portugal that he too believes that infiltrators may be afoot. The number of refugees is expected to increase: Germany expects 800,000 by the end of 2015, while as many as 1 million are thought to be coming by the end of 2016. Germany has accepted, by far the largest number of refugees among the 28 nation European Union.
EU leaders are seeking to introduce quotas that would apply to the individual states, and resettle the 180,000 refugees who have arrived already. Some countries have already made up their minds: Hungary has shut down its border with Serbia, seeking to keep refugees out with razor-wire fences. Slovakia has proclaimed that it will accept Christian refugees only. Greece is taking in some, but seeking to send them on to destinations further north.
In an interview with CBC news, Professor Oliver Schmidtke of the University of Victoria said "So far, the EU asylum policy has largely failed. The refugee issue has proven to be a highly divisive test case for the solidarity among EU member-states."  A native of Germany and an expert on migration, he said that he fears that the new arrivals may become targets of extremist attacks by Germans. He also sees Merkel’s decision to reintroduce border controls as an effort to pressurize other European states to take action since Germany cannot handle the crisis alone. Speaking to the outpouring of compassion on the part of Germans, he said that there is a consensus in Germany cannot sit by and watch a humanitarian crisis. Schmidtke said that Germany’s opposition parties and media frequently bring up the legacy of the Holocaust and the country’s experience of migration after the Second World War.
Refugees on hunger strike in Germany
Schmidtke also said that Germany needs labor since it is facing demographic challenges and an ageing population. “The German economy could actually benefit from refugees. Still, housing them and providing them with work will be a major logistical challenge and Germany isn't sufficiently prepared yet,” said Schmidtke. Currently, there is already a backlog of 250,000 asylum applications in Germany that usually take at least six months’ processing. He predicted a backlash on the part of the German public, while noting that aid for refugees may rise to 3 billion euros annually. As to the future, Schmidkte said of the effects of migration, he said “It will change German society profoundly.” 
Good times at Bavaria's Oktoberfest
A harbinger of cultural conflict floated up in Germany's national discussion on the refugee crisis and the assimilation of refugees. Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann of Bavaria spoke to possible intercultural strife over the coming Oktoberfest. Starting on September 19 in Munich, the annual beer-swilling festival will bring together 6 million people to the Bavarian city. It is estimated that 7.5million litres of beer will be consumed over the two-week Bacchanale. Herrmann, aware that the mostly Muslim refugees are ostensibly sober teetotallers, warned that he might find festival-goers "odd." He also warned that they might encounter gangs of violent drunks. “Refugees from Muslim countries may not be used to seeing extremely drunk people in public,” Herrmann said. “It might seem a bit odd to some of them, if I may say so, but this is the reality.” Officials are seeking to avoid what the media is calling "Krisen-Wiesn," or Oktoberfest in crisis.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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