Terror-weary Germans turn on Merkel over refugee policy

Five violent terror-related attacks in a two-week span are prompting Germans to turn on longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has continued to embrace a liberal refugee policy some say has compromised safety.

Although Germany has so far been spared the kind of atrocities that shook Brussels, Paris and Nice in the last year, there have been 15 deaths and dozens injured in attacks in Germany since July 18. Two of the attacks have been linked to ISIS, and many suspect the others bore hallmarks of terrorism. Politicians from both the left and the right have assailed the once-enormously popular chancellor’s plan to integrate more than a million refugees from war zones in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The sharpest criticism comes from Bavaria, which has been the entry point for most of the refugees. Leaders of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavaria-based sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are demanding tighter border controls and an annual upper limit on the number of migrants.

The left-wing opposition party, Die Linke, has also voiced criticism. Its co-leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, as quoted by Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, said the violence shows that the task of integrating the huge number of refugees “is harder than Merkel with her frivolous ‘we can do it’ slogan of last autumn would have us believe.”

Merkel’s government denies that the terrorist attacks reveal flaws in the immigration program that began a year ago, in August 2015. But most Germans do not share Merkel’s optimism.

A recent survey conducted July 26-29 by the pollster You Gov finds that only a little more than a quarter of the 1,017 persons polled have confidence in Merkel’s promise. The number of people who share Merkel’s optimism is the lowest it has been since the influx began. Another poll, conducted in April and May, finds that 73 percent of Germans fear terrorism.

On July 28 Merkel again asserted that the migrants would be integrated and democracy defended. She also announced that the Bundeswehr, for the first time ever, is preparing joint exercises with the police to address potential terrorist scenarios. And Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere reportedly will soon announce new security measures following the attacks.

Officials have long been warning that terrorists may have slipped into Germany with the refugees. At the peak of the influx, there were some 10,000 arriving each day. Authorities are investigating 59 cases with possible terrorist links. 

Approximately 100,000 of the refugees are unaccompanied minors. These children and young people are especially vulnerable to recruitment by Islamic extremists, including ISIS.

There are also hundreds of thousands of traumatized and disaffected refugees, largely young men. They lack the language and work skills to get jobs, said Deidre Berger, Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office.

“These young people have been uprooted and have been cast adrift,” she said. “They are traumatized, and they have no structure in their daily lives.”

According to Berger, some of these young men are sent to shelters in small towns, which only accentuates their sense of isolation. Some flee to Germany’s big cities, thereby avoiding any official scrutiny.

Most of these boys experienced horrible human rights violations in the Middle East and during their escape to Europe,” said Karl Kopp, Director of Pro Asyl, a refugee advocacy non-profit organization, in a telephone interview.

According to Kopp, some of these minors have journeyed for as long as three years before reaching Germany, where they now face long waits before receiving asylum status. “They often end up in places where there is no tradition of caring for young people,” he said.

“Keep in mind that many of these teenagers don’t share Western democratic values and face identity problems in a new land,” said Duzen Tekkal, a freelance journalist and a candidate for Parliament in next year’s national elections. “Then the Salafists provide them with easy answers to recruit them,” said Tekkal who is a Yazidi, one of Iraq’s oldest ethnic and religious minorities.

The populist far-right party, Alternative for Germany, which achieved stunning success in state elections last spring, citing the recent terrorist attacks, charges that Merkel’s policy poses an increasing threat to Germany’s internal order and security. The party calls Merkel’s policy the greatest threat to Germany and Europe since the end of the Cold War.

When the refugees started coming to Germany last year, Merkel was hailed as a humanitarian. Germans greeted the refugees at train stations with cake and warm welcomes. Now many are having second thoughts.