Over the past year, more than 1.1 million asylum-seekers have settled in Germany, and German voters are in revolt. In state elections, the new Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which advocates a German exit from the eurozone and a reduction in immigration levels, emerged as a serious challenger to the Christian Democratic Union, the country’s main center-right party. Though the AfD will not become Germany’s dominant party any time soon, its rise has forced politicians across the spectrum to take the migration seriously. The CDU has drifted to the left under its leader, Angela Merkel, the architect of Germany’s decision to open its borders to refugees. Not surprisingly, this policy has in turn attracted large numbers of economic migrants claiming to be refugees, and Germany’s ability to control its borders and to meet the needs of asylum-seekers have been stretched to the breaking point.
What is not very well understood about German resistance to this new migration wave is that it is not just native-born ethnic Germans who’ve been a part of it. In a recent Foreign Policy article, Sumi Somaskandasumi Somaskanda reports that Germans of immigrant origin are in many cases just as alarmed, if not more so. Somaskanda cites a YouGov study released in November 2015, which found that 40 percent of immigrant-origin Germans favored reducing refugee admissions and that almost a quarter favored barring new asylum-seekers altogether. That is, only a minority of immigrant-origin Germans were in favor of Merkel’s open-door policy. Why might Germans of Turkish, African, and Arab origin be so skeptical of the wisdom of admitting hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers? There are a number of reasons. Some worry that the massive influx of asylum-seekers has led to an increase in interethnic tensions. Others are more focused on the fact that refugees are competing with immigrant-origin Germans for access to affordable housing and less-skilled employment opportunities in an economy that increasingly prizes skills. Germans of Turkish origin in particular often resent the fact that while they had to struggle for acceptance in German society, Merkel’s government has already done a great deal to accommodate new arrivals.
What immigrant-origin Germans understand far better than Merkel and her allies is that the work of integrating hundreds of thousands of migrants into German society will be expensive and arduous. They know that there are already millions of impoverished immigrant-origin Germans residing in the country, many of whom struggle to find jobs that offer decent pay. Libertarians will blame Germany’s extensive labor market protections for limiting the number of low-wage job opportunities in Germany, and they will have a point. But Germany has managed to build a relatively egalitarian society by relying more heavily on automation than on desperate low-wage workers, and it’s not obvious that they will be eager to change their minds about that. When Merkel declares that Germany must accommodate asylum-seekers, the truth is that she is not asking all Germans to bear this burden equally, because of course not all Germans depend on adequately-funded, well-functioning social services to lead dignified lives, nor are all Germans desperate for low-end service jobs that offer decent pay. No, the Germans who will bear this burden will disproportionately be those of immigrant origin. So it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that these Germans are so skeptical about Merkel’s supposed generosity. They appreciate that it will likely come at their expense.
There is a humane alternative to demanding that Germany absorb large numbers of refugees. In a column for Quartz, Haroon Moghul calls on Bosnia and Albania to welcome Syrian migrants in exchange for generous assistance from Germany and other affluent European democracies. Given the extraordinary cost of integrating a large refugee population, Germans would be foolish not to strike such a deal.