For a long while, the discussion about migration into Germany was dominated by abstract principles, so beloved of German commentators: "Dignity", "Humanity", "Fairness", "Justice", "Compassion" and the like. It sounded like a theological seminar. These abstract notions, like Olympian Gods, demanded various concrete policies in the real-world, such as accommodating all migrants who make it to Germany, helping migrant boats across the Mediterranean, rejecting any distinction between refugees and economic migrants, etc. The absolute nature of these moral injunctions made trade-offs, constraints, and distinctions -- the Three Graces of real-world policy debates -- seem positively demonic.
What a difference a few hundred thousand people and some spectacularly acrid and volatile European summits make!
This latest interview with Manfred Schmidt, the head of Germany's federal Office for Migration and Refugees, allows us to see the discussion about mass migration in Germany rapidly becoming much, much more realistic. Among the proposals Schmidt puts forward:
- Don't forget that all the Syrians who have so far been granted some form of residency in Germany (usually asylum), will be bringing about 200,000 family members with them in the next few years.
- Immigrants from Africa can be divided into those fleeing genuine oppression in Somalia, Eritrea or Boko Haram parts of Nigeria and the rest, who are economic migrants.
- Although some of these latter migrants may be needed in Germany, it's neither realistic or sensible to invite 'the entire workforce of Africa' to Germany.
- As for economic migrants from the Balkans, we need to go further in reducing their numbers. We need to quickly process their asylum applications and once rejected, quickly deport them. This will work: after large numbers of Kosovars were deported, the number of new migrants has plummeted from 1600 to 60.
- It may sound 'cruel' to prevent children of economic migrants from going to school while their hopeless asylum applications are denied, but it's even more cruel to dangle a false hope of permanent resettlement in front of their eyes.
- Cash transfer payments to economic migrants from the West Balkans should be stopped entirely. Since all their necessities are already given to them for free in migrant hostels, the €140 per month each family member gets adds up to € 1600 if they are allowed to stay three months before deportation. This is enough for the entire family to live on in rural Albania (average monthly wage €200) for an entire year. So yes, some of these migrants are coming for the money, and that should be stopped.
About the only concession to abstract principles is Schmidt saying that there should be no upper limit on the number of refugees accepted. But in general, the discussion is rapidly taking on a much more pragmatic turn. Proposals that were denounced as Draconian and crypto-fascist a few weeks ago are now firmly in the mainstream. This is healthy, in my view.
In one part of the interview, Schmidt notes that many migrants tell him want to make it to Germany because its economy is booming, and because it is a 'safe and orderly' society in which people 'actually stop at red lights'. 'Our reputation is better than we think', Schmidt says. Never underestimate how enormous an achievement an orderly society is.