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Opinion: Allow a debate on refugees

Sep 12, 2015 | Studies & Reports

Opinion: Allow a debate on refugees

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It’s been a long time since Germans have discussed anything as passionately as the question, “How many refugees can we take in?” The media are avoiding the subject. DW’s

Christoph Hasselbach says that must change.
When was the last time that there was a debate in Germany that put friendships to the test, divided families, or saw colleagues vehemently disagreeing with each other at work? Perhaps in the 1980s, in the ideological battles surrounding NATO missile deployment and nuclear energy. That was more than 30 years ago. Even the fight over how to deal with the European debt crisis was tame here, maybe because Germans didn’t feel truly affected, other than the fact that they could forget receiving interest on their savings for years to come.
Maybe there has just been a broad societal consensus in Germany since the end of European communism 25 years ago. Nobody had to propagate it; it was simply there. The political parties have moved closer together as well, and society seems satisfied by and large.
Conflict averse

DW’s Christoph Hasselbach
Now, suddenly, there is a severity surrounding the refugee debate that has surprised many. At the same time, most discussion is taking place in private settings. There are those who argue passionately for taking in even more refugees, and who are personally willing to offer them help.
And there are others who warn of the dangers of a possible overload of refugees resulting in a foreign infiltration of the country and loss of national identity. There are those who accuse people holding such sentiments, of hard-heartedness, at times even racism. The counter accusation is above all, naiveté. Both sides are totally convinced of their standpoints. And then there are others who don’t want to talk at all – and simply put the torch to refugee shelters.
It is, more than anything else, those attacks and the xenophobic rants that can be found on the Internet, that have led the majority of politicians and media outlets to shy away from a fundamental discussion about the possible limits of refugee admittance. No one wants to be indirectly responsible for violence against refugees. Thus far, the prevailing tone among politicians and in the media has tended to echo Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recently stated sentiments that, “We’ll get it done”; and that there is “no ceiling” when it comes to a person’s basic right to asylum. Both statements sum up German asylum policy – and together, they have far-reaching consequences.
Dangerous wishfulness
Due to the long term effects of these policies – because sooner or later all citizens and residents, even later generations, will be affected – they absolutely have to be discussed: What will happen when the influx keeps up, or even increases over the next several years? Or, when other European countries decline to be as generous as Germany in taking in refugees? Both are possible. What happens when integration doesn’t work out like we hoped? These questions must be asked, and they must be discussed without the questioner being immediately branded as a right wing radical.
It would be dangerously negligent to brush such uncomfortable questions under the rug and essentially forfeit them to the extremists. Perhaps this wave of refugees really is the great chance that the optimists see it as. But even so, it cannot hurt to have discussed things ahead of time. Yet, even the optimists, to which Chancellor Angela Merkel obviously belongs, speak of Germany’s greatest challenge in decades. It cannot be that a few statements from the chancellor are enough to define policy direction on an issue this big. Let’s all have the debate, maybe heated, but always factual, and without accusing the other of malicious intent. If it doesn’t take place now, when will it ever?
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