WASHINGTON – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her political allies just took a big hit in three states elections from voters seemingly upset with her open door policy that will allow very large numbers of Syrians to be accepted into Germany as refugees.
The CDU (Merkel’s party) suffered major losses. The political map in the three German States that just held elections has been changed, quite dramatically. The openly anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party has done quite well, especially in poorer Saxony-Anhalt, where unemployment is higher than in the rest of Germany.
Anti immigrant revolt?
So, is this sign of a brewing Europe-wide anti immigrant wave that will crush all the established political forces that are still trying to find a balance between humanitarian aspirations and popular concerns about having too many immigrants?
Hard to say. As the German vote shows, the anti-immigrant sentiment is strong; but not yet overwhelming. The AfD political victories in Germany are noticeable but not stunning. Despite this political setback, Angela Merkel and her coalition are still very much in control in Berlin. And as many opinion polls indicate, her immigration policies still enjoy wide approval.
That said, we are seeing that lots of voters (in Germany and elsewhere in Europe) now are truly afraid that their countries soon enough will be unrecognizable, because of the impact of too many immigrants from distant lands with completely different customs and religions. This is a bit far-fetched. Europe is not about to be “taken over” by Arab asylum seekers, or more simply by large numbers of economic immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.
Not today, that is.
Something needs to be done
Which is to say that, while the mostly unchecked immigration problem is still somewhat manageable today, unless something really serious is done –quickly– to heavily restrict immigration from Africa and the Middle East, in a few years Europe will be indeed unrecognizable.
Focus on Syria
Let’s clarify this. Right now the media focus is almost entirely on the millions of Syrian refugees driven out of their semi-destroyed country by a bloody and most destructive civil war. Given the focus on Syria, people in Germany and in the rest of Europe may be led to believe that, once peace returns to Syria, this immigration emergency will be over.
May be so regarding Syria. However, the point here is that Syria is only the most noticeable and tragic component of a slow but relentless secular migration from Africa and the Middle East into Europe.
It started decades ago
This phenomenon started decades ago. Every year hundreds of thousands or more sail from North Africa to Italy, Greece or Spain. Some of them have been driven away by conflicts. But most of them are economic migrants.
They have been told that life in Europe is much better. And, in any event, in most instances these poor people are leaving behind a life of never-ending poverty, hardships and lack of opportunity. To them Europe represents hope. Then why not go there?
And they have big hopes, based on good stories. The Europeans are generous. In Europe refugees get shelter, food, medical attention, schools for their children. True or not, these dreams of material improvements available in Europe are strong enough to motivate people to begin long, dangerous and often costly journeys that will lead them to this Promised Land.
Nothing to do with Syria
My simple point is that the hundred of thousands who have been landing for years and years in Southern Italy, after having sailed from North Africa on overcrowded crafts, have absolutely nothing to do with the Syrian crisis. They have been coming into Europe for decades, driven by poverty, way before Syria had become an issue.
And they will continue to come long after the Syrian crisis will have been forgotten. This wave will not stop by itself. It may lose impetus only if at some point in the future African countries will be able to offer to all or most of their citizens attractive economic and education opportunities. At this time, despite higher rates of growth in some African countries, most of them cannot.
The migration into Europe will not stop
To put all this together, the acute immigration crisis caused by the Syrian civil war eventually will come to an end. But the secular wave of migration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe will continue. Day after day, large crafts full of Africans seeking a better life will continue to land in Sicily and other Italian smaller islands.
And these thousands upon thousands who taken together have already become many millions will keep fanning out across Europe.
Time to take action
Therefore, while today’s fears of a “take over of Europe by immigrants” may be excessive, the European anti immigrant political forces have a very valid point. Unless the political leaders do something right now to stop this steady inflow, soon enough most of their countries will be unrecognizable.
And those who would conclude that this is just racism should consider the hard realities. Integrating hundreds of thousands of immigrants who keep coming and coming is difficult as a matter of course. But in the case of these immigrants mostly from very poor countries it is a lot more complicated.
Integration is difficult
These are not highly educated Indians with Ph.Ds in computer science. We are talking about integrating mostly illiterate village people, with little or no knowledge about modern societies, and no skills. Add to this the fact that they come from vastly different cultures, with different (and in some cases incompatible) customs and religions, and anybody should understand that integrating them is and will be extremely complicated, and very costly. While racism may play a role in fueling anti immigrant feelings, the truth is that many Europeans are really afraid.
They fear that they will have to coexist indefinitely with large, non assimilated alien communities of new immigrants who settle at the margins of their societies.
And this is a very unsettling prospect.