The German government has enlisted the help of its army to deal with the tens of thousands of asylum seekers arriving in the country every month. Nearly 80,000 migrants arrived last month alone, putting the country on track to receive 450,000 by the end of the year. Soldiers are being enlisted to help set up tents and other facilities as immigration centres are overrun.
The use of army personnel to assist with the migrant problem has sparked a row, however, as Germany’s constitution calls for the army only to be used for defence or national emergencies, the Times has reported. Ministers have insisted that erecting the tents is simply a goodwill gesture, and not against the law, but Rüdiger Erben of the Social Democratic Party disagreed. “We are strictly opposed to changing the basic law of the country for this purpose,” he said.
Ursula von der Leyen, the defence minister, denied that a line had been crossed. “The accommodation and care of refugees is a major task for society. For us in the armed forces it is a matter of course to help wherever we can,” she said.
Troops have been used in the central state of Saxony-Anhalt, the northern state of Brandenburg and the city state of Hamburg. However, Bavaria is the main point of entry into Germany, prompting politicians there to call for a doubling of migration funding for the state to €2billion this year. Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian conservatives, has spoken out against a massive abuse of the asylum system by economic migrants seeking to exploit Germany’s generous social benefits.
Germany has been inundated with migrants from across the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. Between January and July there were some 94,000 asylum applications from the Balkans, although the majority of those are expected to be rejected. A further 40,000 have been made by migrants from Syria, the vast majority of which are expected to be affirmed.
In total, there were 258,000 applications to July, of which at least 209,000 have yet to be processed. July alone saw 79,000 migrants applying, a figure which was nearly 6,000 higher than the total for January to April combined. Some estimates suggest that by the end of the year, 450,000 applications will have been lodged, blowing last year’s 202,815 figure out of the water.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised to double the number of staff working on processing the applications to 2,000; calls have also been made to bring forward the date of a meeting to discuss the situation from its scheduled date in September.
The rapid increases in migrant numbers has fuelled violence across the country (and beyond – Sweden is experiencing similar problems). The first half of 2015 has seen as many instances of immigration centres being attacked as occurred in the whole of 2014. Around 10 percent of the 202 crimes recorded so far were violent.
Incidents have included the blowing up of a car belonging to a left wing, pro-immigration politician in Dresden, numerous cases of vandalism, and a number of clashes between pro and anti-immigration groups at rallies.
There has also been outbreaks of violence among the asylum seekers themselves; over the weekend, police in Bonn shot a 23 year old man in the arms and legs after he threatened a fellow migrant with a knife during a row over a carton of milk.
The situation has become so chaotic that some asylum seekers are attempting to flee back home, claiming they feel safer there. In July, a Syrian refugee in Freital, Saxony, wrote to the German government asking them to cancel his application. In broken English he told news agency AFP: “I want to return to Syria — very afraid here. I come from Syria because I was afraid — but here big afraid”.
The refugee centre in Freital has been the focus of nightly protests, with crowds of 1,200 people gathering every week day evening after the centre was sprung upon them without consultation.
Peter Altmaier, Mrs Merkel’s chief of staff, admitted yesterday that the government had underestimated the scale of the challenge facing the country.