Refugee Debate in Germany: It is just not that simple

In the light of recent events, it is unsurprising that German or rather European citizens — especially those that align themselves with right-wing movements that have opposed Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy from the very beginning — demand to call a halt to said policy. If only it were that simple.

This is a highly sensitive issue and I cannot imagine what the victims of the assaults must have gone through. Robbery, sexual harassment, and rape are crimes that must be brought to justice and after having suffered such a traumatic experience, those women have every right to be concerned and question the status quo. However, those criminal offenses are only the result of a much more deeply rooted problem.

While it hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, it is expected that the molesters are indeed immigrants from Northern African and Arabic countries. Nevertheless, one must refrain from linking those incidents to the immigration issue. As German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has emphasized, oversimplification of the matter isn’t going to solve this problem and connecting it to the refugee issue simply constitutes a “misuse of the debate”.

The actual dilemma we are facing is far more complex. While Syrians, who make up the majority of all refugees that have fled to Europe, are different from others in that they are more likely to come from upper-class, and thus well-educated backgrounds, it is a whole different story for people from other countries. In Afghanistan, only 42% of the male and 23% of the female population receive a secondary school education based on Unicef’s most recent data. For Somalia and Eritrea, those numbers are 10% and 5% and 23% and 21% respectively. Moreover, those countries are still known to be significantly behind on gender equality. Half of female Iranians, Pakistani and Eritreans think wife beating is justified. In Afghanistan, a stunningly 84% of women are like-minded.

Bear in mind those data, and now we’re expecting those people, human beings just like you and me, who have grown up in societies where domestic violence is daily fare, to immediately adjust to Western norms upon their arrival in Europe? That would be a very naïve presumption. Obviously, the easy way out would be to simply deport the “troublemakers”, however, adopting those measures would only numb the pain but not cure it. Those men would return to their home countries and once again fall victim to the system, continue to beat up their wives or even die. A vicious circle that is difficult to escape from.

This supposition is as old as the patriarchy itself and has been part of the scholarly discourse for centuries. In the early 16th century, philosopher Thomas More, author of Utopia, infamously stated:

Thomas More
“For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”

500 years later, More’s observations are still prevailing.

Germany is welcoming refugees who escape war zones and yet we keep exporting weapons and armor to the very countries those migrants once called their home. The United States claim to be the world’s greatest advocate of freedom and democracy and yet they’ve been subsidizing African dictatorships for decades to secure steady access to gas and oil. Of course there are more variables missing from that equation I just briefly sketched out but at the end of the day we are all nurturing the system. We are all guilty.

One can legitimately question why Germany committed to taking in the 800,000 refugees that were expected to arrive in the country by the end of 2015 if cities and communities aren’t fully prepared for those numbers. Some impute base motives to the German government, claiming the country is aiming to thwart its fast-aging population by taking in young asylum seekers. Others argue we still feel guilty for World War II and have to proof not only to the world but also to ourselves how tolerant and culturally aware we are. Still others applaud us for our apparent altruism and Christian values. Once again, one cannot expect the truth to be either black or white. It has taken on an ambiguous grey shade and it will take some time to determine how light or dark that shade actually turns out to be. In the meantime, I urge everyone to hold off on premature comments and start thinking before opening their mouth.

Blaming underprivileged, poorly educated refugees is not the solution. Turning away hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children and thereby basically sentencing them to death isn’t either.

In times like these, it is crucial for us to constantly remind ourselves of how privileged we are. It is our duty to seize this privilege and the education we are so lucky to be receiving to promote change. Indeed, in this case it is just that simple.

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