We Will (Not) Succeed! The Helplessness of German and European Refugee Policy

  • Egbert Jahn


When the mass flight of refugees to Germany via the Balkans began, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed on 31 August 2015 that “We will succeed!”. Tens of thousands of refugees were forced to remain in Hungary under terrible conditions, and Germany declared itself willing to take in most of them. This statement, made in the context of images of German railway stations, where friendly citizens welcomed thousands of refugees with gifts and signs saying “Refugees welcome!”, was understood worldwide as being an invitation to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and other countries in which people are suffering from civil war and violent persecution to come to Germany. Immediately, vehement protest arose among parts of the German population against the “welcome policy” of the Merkel-Gabriel government, but also in many European countries in particular, where this policy is being made partly responsible for the increase in the number of refugees coming to Europe and the levering out of internationally recognised agreements such as the Dublin Regulation, as well as for the catastrophic conditions along the routes taken by the refugees. Demands are being made for a strict limit on the number of refugees being received, or even for them to be sent back to Turkey or to their countries of origin, since Europe will not succeed in integrating all the refugees who are arriving there.

Germany in particular has since then begun to urge the other EU countries to also take in refugees, but has met with a high level of resistance, particularly in East Central Europe and Britain. Almost everywhere in Europe, radical rejection of any acceptance of refugees on a mass scale among right-wing nationalist groups and within the EU in general rapidly gained support and expressed itself in acts of violence against refugee homes and refugees. This, together with the growing difficulties in accommodating, feeding and clothing the refugees, also motivated the established parties to seek ways to limit the sudden mass influx of people. These included tackling the reasons for refugees fleeing their country, e.g. through diplomatic initiatives to end the war in Syria, as well as support for the war against the Islamic State, the stabilisation of Afghanistan and larger-scale financial support for the refugee camps in southern Turkey, northern Jordan and in Lebanon. A further measure was to establish reception camps in Greece and Italy for the purpose of registering and distributing the refugees in accordance with an allocation quota for the EU which was to be jointly agreed.

Many of these measures will be successful to a certain degree in the long term. However, the mass flight to Europe will not come to an end in the coming decades, with the result that far more fundamental questions regarding the future European refugee policy and the ethno-religious structure of the EU should be considered. Several recommendations will be presented here for discussion.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Egbert Jahn
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MannheimMannheimGermany

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