Asylum-seekers: the limits of tolerance

The language of the immigration debate in Germany has got harsh and extreme. German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked the anti-immigration movement in her New Year speech, saying its leaders have “prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts.”

The language of the immigration debate in Germany has got harsh and extreme. German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked the anti-immigration movement in her New Year speech, saying its leaders have “prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts.”

The “anti-Islamization” protests all across Germany on Monday fizzled out in the end. About 18,000 people showed up at one rally in Dresden, where the weekly protests by the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) began last October, but that hardly counted because there are few Muslims — indeed few immigrants of any sort — in Dresden.

Anti-immigrant sentiment in Western countries is always highest where there are few or no immigrants. In big German cities like Hamburg, Berlin and Stuttgart that do have large immigrant populations, the counter-demonstrators outnumbered the Pegida protesters 10-to-one.

But the debate is not over.

Germany is taking in more immigrants that ever before: some 600,000 this year. That’s not an intolerable number for a country of 82 million, but it does mean that if current trends persist, the number of foreign-born residents will almost double to 15 million in just 10 years. That will take some getting used to. And there’s another thing: a high proportion of the new arrivals in Germany are Muslim refugees.

Two-thirds of those 600,000 newcomers in 2014 were people from other countries of the European Union where work is scarce or living standards are lower. They have the legal right to come under EU rules, and there’s really nothing Germany can do about it. Besides, few of the EU immigrants are Muslims.

The other 200,000, however, are almost all refugees who are seeking asylum in Germany. The number has almost doubled in the past year, and will certainly grow even larger this year. And the great majority of the asylum-seekers are Muslims.

This is not a Muslim plot to colonize Europe. It’s just that a large majority of the refugees in the world are Muslims. At least three-quarters of the world’s larger wars are civil wars in Muslim countries like Syria (by far the biggest source of new refugees), Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya.

Many of these refugees end up in other predominantly Muslim countries (like Lebanon, where between a quarter and a third of the population is now Syrian refugees.) But Europe is relatively close, and a much better place to be if you can get there: each asylum-seeker who is accepted by Germany gets free accommodation, food, medical care and clothing. Adults also get $160 a month. Moreover, if they make it to Europe, the war cannot follow them.

Every country has an obligation to accept and protect legitimate refugees seeking asylum, but in practise some dodge their responsibilities. Last year the United Kingdom, which has 65 million people, accepted less than half as many refugees as Sweden, which has 10 million people.

But even the best-intentioned countries, like Germany, are starting to show the strain.

It’s easy to mock the fears of Germany’s “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West” — only five per cent of Germany’s population is Muslim. But nine per cent of the children born in Germany in recent years have Muslim parents because of the higher birth rates of Middle Eastern immigrants.

If the current wave of asylum-seekers continues — and there is no particular reason to believe that the Syrian civil war will end soon — then Germany will add another two million Muslim immigrants to its population in the next decade. And they too will have higher birth rates than the locals.

With its current asylum policy, Germany could be 10 per cent Muslim 10 years from now.

You might reasonably ask: what’s wrong with having a 10 per cent Muslim population? But it’s hard to think of a Muslim country that would welcome the relatively sudden arrival of a 10 per cent Christian minority with equanimity.

And special thanks to the Islamist thugs who committed the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday for making it even harder for Europeans to see the difference between terrorist fanatics and ordinary Muslims. Most Europeans still try to see things in proportion and not judge all Muslims by the acts of a few, but they are failing more frequently. People are people, and their tolerance has limits.

Even in Sweden, the most heroically open country in Europe, where they are expecting more than 100,000 asylum applications this year, former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said just before last September’s election: “I’m now pleading with the Swedish people to have patience, to open your hearts, to see people in high distress whose lives are being threatened. Show them that openness, show them tolerance.”

Once more, the Swedes did that. The mainstream parties, all of which share that vision of Sweden, have formed a coalition government that is pledged not to slam the gates shut on asylum-seekers. But the anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, more than doubled its vote and became the third-largest party. Even in Sweden, time is running out on tolerance.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

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