Forever in transit: New report highlights plight of Syrian refugees

For his reportage “Stranded. Refugees Between Syria and Europe” the writer Tayfun Guttstadt travelled to the cities of Turkey and along the Turkish-Syrian border. In conversation with Sonja Galler, he talks about the precarious situation faced by Syrian refugees, their legal status and Turkey′s lack of any kind of integration concept

Turkey is one of the most important transit nations for refugee flows en route to Europe. At the same time, Turkey has itself become a migration country in recent years: at around three million, the nation hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees worldwide. NGOs estimate the actual number of Syrians in Turkey is closer to 3.5 million, as not all refugees have been registered yet.

For the EU and the Turkish government, the six-figure number may first and foremost serve as an argument in a domestic and foreign policy game that both areplaying to serve their own political ends. But how are the refugees themselves faring? Those that are “stranded” in Turkey and decided to remain there for a wide variety of reasons.

The Hamburg writer Tayfun Guttstadt, who reported on the Gezi protests in his first book “Capulcu“, has resumed his travels and spent time talking to (among others) Syrian refugees between Istanbul, Hatay, Gaziantep and Diyarbakir about their lives, political views, hopes and disappointments.

Strong desire to return home

The resulting work is a densely narrated reportage, abundant with conversations with friends, casual acquaintances and people from all walks of life, sprinkled with observations and background information. It provides a manifold insight into the precarious social and legal situation of Syrians and other refugees in the country, people who fluctuate between staying and travelling on.

“Most refugees live in hope of being able to return soon. Others feel at home in Turkey, because for example the culture is quite similar, or they’ve found a job, or made friends. Others stay because they don’t know what else to do. Other reasons to stay are the fear of continuing illegally to Europe or doubts over whether things would be better there,” says Guttstadt.

Only a small percentage of the refugees are living in one of the camps set up by the Turkish government close to the Syrian border and from which only a few more than airbrushed images reach the public domain. Just as it is to other journalists, access is also denied to Guttstadt on his travels.

Poverty risk in the metropolis

The overwhelming majority muddle through in one of the country’s cities. There may be more opportunities here, but the risk of falling into poverty is also high: refugees often live in over-priced, cramped accommodation working without permits “for a pittance in industry or on a building site, fielding accusations that they’re taking work away from Turks and Kurds,” says Guttstadt.

Without a work permit – something that few employers go to the trouble of obtaining for their employees – access to welfare is barely possible. Child labour, in the textile industry for example, is also an issue. However, the authorities frequently turn a blind eye to illegal work or new businesses that haven’t been correctly registered.

But Guttstadt does include more positive biographies in his book and reports on wealthy individuals who have rented or even bought apartments and houses and who have relocated their businesses to Turkey. Artists, intellectuals and musicians gather in Istanbul, which has developed into one of the exile centres of Syrian intellectuals alongside Gaziantep and Berlin.

A peculiarity of the Turkish asylum system means, however, that in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention, the refugee status does not apply to Syrians for whom a special status was created in Turkey, which officially allows them to use the public health system and now the education system too. But there is often a lack of appropriate capacity to guarantee these promised rights.

In this context, the reportage also shines a light on civil society efforts: the local initiatives and aid organisations that offer support to the refugees, sometimes under makeshift conditions, trying to offer language courses and provide psychosocial support. Guttstadt also visits the controversial aid organisation IHH, predominantly active in the Sunni milieu – the offshoot of which was banned in Germany.

No integration concept

But we also hear the views of people on the street, taxi drivers and their highly subjective comments, which range from racist resentment through to understanding and expressions of empathy, show that in Turkey too, the issue is emotionally charged.

“First and foremost among nationalist AKP opponents, there is a commonly-held view that the Syrians are living the high life at the expense of the country’s citizens. The most vociferous supporters on the other hand are full of religious pathos, in which the needs and interests of the refugees barely play a role. Very few actors in Turkey recognise that the refugees deserve the same rights as any other person,” says Guttstadt.

Guttstadt also has unequivocal words of criticism for the Turkish government: “There is no discernible integration concept, the situation is characterised by emergency solutions. Always under the assumption that a few ‘guests’ have to be looked after just for a short while, because Assad will in any case be toppled tomorrow or the day after. None of the parties giving serious attention to the rights of refugees. The AKP uses a romanticised rhetoric, which barely conceals its political exploitation of the situation, above all in domestic and EU policy,” says Guttstadt.

The discussion concerning the naturalisation of Syrian refugees is also to be viewed in this context: It is “controversial because the AKP is doing all it can to fit the majority Sunni refugees – non-Sunnis only come to Turkey unwillingly – into its social model.”

Sonja Galler

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

German Army rocked by right-wing extremism revelations

To what extent is the German Army – the Bundeswehr – a home for far-right sentiments? This disconcerting question has dominated the German political debate since last week’s arrest of Franco A. Apparently motivated by far-right ideology, the 28-year-old Lieutenant is suspected of having planned attacks on politicians, civil society institutions, and Jewish and Muslim representatives while seeking to make it appear as if refugees were to be held responsible.

A far-right backstory

Franco A., who is a member of the Franco-German Brigade stationed in Illkirch in the French Alsace region, has a history of engagement with far-right ideas. The young man’s master’s thesis – submitted at the French elite military academy of Saint-Cyr in 2014 – was marked by an obvious adherence to right-wing extremist and racial ideologies.

His professors notified their German colleagues, whose evaluation of the thesis came to the same conclusions: an internal Bundeswehr document noted that the text was “not a work for an academic degree but rather a radical nationalist, racist call for action”.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

Nevertheless, his superiors still reached the conclusion that any doubts about the soldier’s fitness for service and about his politico-ideological convictions could be “excluded”. As a result, no further steps were taken and his disciplinary file remained unsullied.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

A second identity as a refugee

In light of Franco A.’s brinksmanship, the following events read like an adventure tale. In late 2015, he approached local authorities in Bavaria under the pseudonym ‘David Benjamin’ and, claiming that he was a green grocer from Damascus, sought asylum in Germany.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

Inexplicably enough, over the following months he managed to lead a double life by commuting back and forth between his refugee shelter in Bavaria and his barracks in Alsace. And even more remarkable is the fact that, although he spoke hardly any Arabic, he not only managed to demand legal protection in Germany – he also obtained it.

Whilst this casts an extremely bad light on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Franco A. prepared meticulously for his role by questioning fellow soldiers who had helped out at the Office at the height of the so-called refugee crisis in late 2015 and early 2016. In this way, he appears to have obtained valuable insider information on the conduct of asylum procedures and hearings.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/franco-a-soll-bundeswehr-kollegen-vor-asylantrag-ausgefragt-haben-a-1146248.html ))

Run-in with the police at Vienna Airport

Subsequently, Franco A. – together with an accomplice who has also been arrested but whose role remains unclear – began collecting weapons and ammunition. He had hidden an old pistol in the cleaning shaft of the toilet facilities of Vienna’s international airport. The weapon was discovered; and A. was briefly detained when attempting to recuperate it in February 2017.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

The Austrians tipped off their German counterparts, who began a surveillance operation. Over the following weeks and months, ample materials testifying to A.’s far-right views were collected. Investigators reached the conclusion that A. and some of his confidants might be planning an attack.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

This premonition appeared justified when, following the arrests of A. and one of his accomplices, investigators uncovered a large stash of ammunition, most of which was taken from Bundeswehr depots.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html ))

Accomplices and targets

The size of the Lieutenant’s network is as of now unclear. The weapons were stored by fellow soldier Matthias F. in the central German city of Offenbach.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html )) A blacklist of potential targets for assassinations appears to have been compiled by Franco A. together with at least one other accomplice, Maximilian T., who served together with Franco A. in the Alsace-based battalion.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

The blacklist seems like a compilation of all political actors A. and his followers despised: targets include former German President Joachim Gauck, current Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, Green party politician Claudia Roth, as well as Bodo Ramelow, Minister President of the state of Thuringia and leading member of the Left party.

Yet the list also mentioned civil society institutions, such as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, the most important foundation seeking justice for the victims of far-right and neo-Nazi violence; as well as the Central Council of Jews and the Central Council of Muslims.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

A larger issue

The extent to which the conspirators’ deliberations amounted to a coherent plan or just to a megalomaniacal laundry list of unreachable targets needs to be uncovered by further investigations. Yet even so, the events surrounding Franco A. cast an exceedingly negative light on the Lieutenant’s environment in Germany’s armed forces.

Not only was A.’s master’s thesis not seen as a cause for a concern (critics would say that it was, in fact, swept under the rug). Army inspectors also visited the Lieutenant’s barracks in French Illkirch, only to report that they had found swastikas drawn on the barracks’ walls as well as on an assault rifle. They also noted that the buildings contained a range of memorabilia from the Wehrmacht, the National Socialist predecessor of the current German Bundeswehr.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-verteidigungsministerin-ursula-von-der-leyen-usa-reise ))

Extremism in the Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr has repeatedly had to struggle with allegations of unsavoury behaviour in its ranks. Over the past few months, a string of sexual harassment scandals have rocked the Army. Moreover, the armed forces have faced repeated accusations that they are too lenient vis-à-vis right-wing extremism.

The military intelligence agency (Militärischer Abschirmdienst, MAD) is currently investigating 280 cases of potentially far-right and neo-Nazi soldiers. Yet the treatment of these affairs is long-winded and the number of unreported cases potentially considerably higher.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/rechtsextremismus-in-der-bundeswehr-wenn-der-soldat-den-hitlergruss-zeigt-1.3493827 ))

In fact, an overriding concern in recent years had been the possibility that Islamists might join the armed forces in order to gain military training or even battlefield experience. This is, to be sure, a risk: from 2007 to 2016, 24 soldiers with Islamist leanings were identified by the MAD.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bundeswehr-islamisten-101.html )) Nevertheless, against the backdrop of the case of Franco A., this strong focus on Islamists looks like a major blunder on the part of the military and intelligence leadership.

Political repercussions

These events have placed considerable pressure on the German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen. Widely dubbed as a potential successor to Chancellor Merkel in her CDU Party, von der Leyen took up the Ministry of Defence after the last federal election in 2013 in order to gain political clout.

At the same time, the Ministry is famed for being “ungovernable”.(( http://www.dw.com/de/schleudersitz-verteidigungsministerium/a-16889658 )) Successive corruption affairs, as well as managerial incompetence have long plagued the German defence portfolio, including during von der Leyen’s tenure. Yet no scandal has developed into such a threat to von der Leyen’s position as the case of Franco A.

The Minister initially took a strikingly bold stance, attesting the army an “attitude problem” and “leadership weaknesses”. However, a backlash from within the CDU forced von der Leyen to apologise for these utterances, seen as tarnishing the work of thousands of committed soldiers. Others questioned von der Leyen’s ability to actually control her own ministry and the armed forces. (( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/bundeswehr-skandal-nur-merkel-verteidigt-von-der-leyen-1.3492235 ))

Growing militancy of the German far right

The case involving Franco A. is only the latest indication of growing militancy on the part of the German far-right. Answering to an information request by a Left party MP, the federal government has just published new data showing that more and more known far-right activists are acquiring weapons, with numbers nearly doubling between 2014 and early 2017.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/news/politik/waffen-750-rechtsextreme-besitzen-legal-schusswaffen-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-170506-99-343300 ))

In recent months, the German National Day celebrations were have been overshadowed by bomb blasts and far-right agitation. More generally, the incidence of xenophobic hate crimes has skyrocketed with the ‘refugee crisis’ has remained high ever since.

On the backs of refugees

The fact that Franco A. sought to pass himself off as a Syrian grocer is also indicative of a scapegoating mechanism that seeks to paint refugees as the originators of violence. In this respect, the presence of refugees is instrumentalised to carry out agendas of violent action.

These agendas need not necessarily be political. A particularly striking case in this regard was the recent bomb attack on the team bus of the Borussia Dortmund football team. The perpetrator placed three letters at the scene in which the so-called Islamic State appeared to claim responsibility.

Investigators later found, however, that the man had most likely sought to make large financial gains on the stock market by speculating on a dramatic fall in the football clubs’ share prices in the aftermath of his attack.(( https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-21/german-soccer-team-attacker-hoped-to-profit-from-share-slump ))

New data on charitable involvement in refugee help shows German Muslims’ civil society activism

A new study by the Bertelsmann Foundation has taken a closer look at Germans’ charitable work for refugees. According to the survey, 44 per cent of German Muslims volunteered their time by helping in asylum shelters or elsewhere over the course of the year 2016.

The study’s coordinators emphasised that these numbers could refute the widespread assumption that Muslims were neither invested in refugee aid programmes nor willing to take on responsibilities in civil society more generally.

This reproach had surfaced more and more often in recent political debates. For instance, Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, asserted that not enough German Muslims were involved in integrating the recently arrived refugees.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/De-Maiziere-nimmt-Muslime-in-die-Pflicht-article18682541.html ))

Breakdown of the numbers

The study revealed that Muslims are considerably more active in charitable causes linked with refugees and asylum-seekers than their Christian counter-parts: of the latter, only 21 per cent became involved in these causes, compared with 17 per cent of respondents unaffiliated with any religion.

Within the heterogeneous group of German Muslims, 53 per cent of all those with roots in the Middle East were active in refugee aid efforts, compared with 42 per cent of their ethnically Turkish counterparts. This reflects the ethnic and linguistic origins of the large number of Syrian and Iraqi arrivals.((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article163148827/Muslime-in-Deutschland-helfen-besonders-haeufig-Fluechtlingen.html ))

The study also revealed that while initially in many neighbourhoods considerable scepticism had reigned vis-à-vis the opening of large housing units for asylum-seekers, only a small fraction of neighbours (8 per cent in West Germany and 15 per cent in East Germany, respectively) subsequently felt disturbed by these housing complexes and their inhabitants.

Limited missionary zeal…

The authors of the study stressed that activists of Muslim faith did not seek to use their position in refugee aid efforts to proselytise. This had been another much-evoked fear in recent months. Yet three quarters of Muslim respondents asserted that they did not see themselves in a position to convince others of their religious convictions. This number mirrors the close to four fifths of Christian and atheist aid workers evincing the same missionary restraint.

This is not to deny the existence of smaller currents more actively engaged in missionary activity. Salafi preachers have sought to gain access to refugees’ housing projects, although the scope of the phenomenon remains unclear.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/krude-missionierung-salafisten-werben-nahe-fluechtlingsheimen-13793462.html ))

Similar—and, judging from the press echo, even more aggressive—proselytization activities have been conducted by Evangelical churches, as well as by the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/fluechtlinge-wie-evangelikale-christen-fluechtlinge-bekehren-wollen-1.3022011 ))

… but also limited institutional capacities

All of this should not suggest, however, that there are no obstacles to German Muslims’ engagement for Iraqis, Syrians, and other Middle Eastern or Muslim refugees. To be sure, on a personal level they often work as the kind of invaluable “cultural mediators” the report of the Bertelsmann Foundation describes. With respect to their institutional capacities, however, German Muslims’ possibilities are more limited.

Perhaps most notably, mosques across the country are still confronted with severe spatial and monetary constraints. This is partly due to the fact that Islamic communities have so far not managed to obtain a legal status comparable to the Christian churches or a of Jewish congregations; a status that would bring not just legal recognition but also a host of financial perks.

While Turkey remains a – controversial – source of funding for the mosques affiliated to the German branch of its DİTİB organisation, other, mainly non-Turkish communities have at times turned to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for funding.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/30/muslime-in-deutschland-moschee-glauben-staat/komplettansicht ))

As a result, these mosques have often taken an increasingly conservative stance. These tendencies have, in turn, perturbed Syrian refugees who, when looking for Arab-speaking religious spaces, were often left with Wahhabi-tinged offers only.(( https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/syrische-fluechtlinge-und-arabische-moscheen-in-deutschland-allah-hoert-zu ))

Strengthening religious institutions

Thus, considerable work remains to be done to ensure that German Muslims can effectively realise their willingness to aid their fellow Muslims in making Germany their home. Indeed, the Bertelsmann study has shown that this willingness is strong. Some charitable organisations have latched on to this, with for instance the Bosch Foundation offering special financial support for civil society projects carried out by young Muslims.(( http://www.bosch-stiftung.de/content/language1/html/49624.asp ))

The more enduring challenge is the strengthening of Muslims’ religious institutions in Germany. Studies have consistently highlighted the importance of well-functioning Islamic (religious) organisations as a springboard for broader societal participation. Involvement in the charitable work of local mosques does not, therefore, lead to increased segregation – contrary to the oft-voiced fear.(( http://www.migazin.de/2016/10/12/geheimnis-der-integrationsdebatte-muslime-engagieren-sich-mehr-als-viele-glauben-wollen/ ))

Against this backdrop, enabling German mosques to leave behind their drab backyard quarters without having to rely on funding from the Gulf that often comes with strings attached re-emerges as an all-important concern.

A political figure: The number of Muslims in Germany

The Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has published a new study on the number of Muslims living in Germany for the first time since 2009.

After the admission of hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers by the Merkel government in summer and autumn of 2015, these numbers are eminently political: populist movements’ campaign platforms focus on the (perceived) ‘Islamisation of the West’, and 40 per cent of Germans believe that the country is being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam.

Providing a corrective to populists

These fears are also reflected in the tendency—observable in all Western countries—to overestimate the Muslim population. An Ipsos Mori poll, conducted in late 2016, revealed that German respondents estimated more than 20 per cent of the German population to be Muslim.(( https://www.theguardian.com/society/datablog/2016/dec/13/europeans-massively-overestimate-muslim-population-poll-shows ))

Against this backdrop, the numbers of the BAMF study are a welcome reality check. According to the study, by December 31, 2015, Germany was home to between 4.4 and 4.7 million men and women of Muslim faith. This translates into a Muslim share in the overall population of about 5.4 to 5.7 per cent.

Growing diversity of the Muslim population

Moreover, the study contains interesting insights about the composition of the Muslim population in the country. While in 2011 67.5 per cent of Muslims were of Turkish background, their share has dropped to about 50.6 per cent. Muslims of Middle Eastern origin now constitute the second largest group among German Muslims.

This is linked to the fact that around 27 per cent of Muslims in Germany—or 1.2 million men and women—have only recently, i.e. over the past 5 years, immigrated to the country. Consequently, the diversity of Muslim life has grown significantly in Germany over the past few years.

An inadequate religious structure

The participation of these new arrivals in the existing religious institutions and frameworks is not straightforward, however. In a large number of the country’s mosques, Turkish language, culture, and Islamicality predominate, meaning that they struggle to attract Arab Muslims.

At the same time, many Syrians have felt uneasy to visit Arabic-speaking mosques, due to their conservative nature. Syrians reported that they were often criticised for their clothing style and their (lack of) religious devotion. Most of these mosques are financed by the Gulf monarchies.(( https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/syrische-fluechtlinge-und-arabische-moscheen-in-deutschland-allah-hoert-zu ))

Some hope that the arrival of Syrians can help to break the hold of Wahhabi-Salafi orthodoxy in Arabic-speaking mosques. Yet this is not a foregone conclusion: Syrian refugee Jaber al-Bakr, who planned a bomb attack on one of Berlin’s airports, was reportedly radicalised by conservative Imams after his arrival in Germany.

Shortcomings on ample display

Yet in spite of its contribution to factualising the debate, the BAMF’s study also contains a number of distinctive shortcomings.

At the most general level, the fact that the study was conducted by the federal office responsible for migration and refugees is telling. It highlights that Islam and the presence of Muslims is still seen predominantly as a migrant phenomenon—rather than as a phenomenon that is part and parcel of ordinary German life and citizenship.

More particularly, the reliance on the databases of the BAMF means that German converts to Islam are not included in the study’s figures. The number of these converts is difficult to gauge due to lack of data. According to leading researcher Esra Özyürek, whose anthropological fieldwork has focused on German converts to Islam, estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/muslime-in-deutschland-konvertiten-erfahren-besonders-viel-abneigung-a-1111636.html ))

Foreigner = Muslim

At the same time, the BAMF often counts every immigrant from a Muslim-majority country as Muslim—irrespective of whether the person in question identifies with the Islamic faith. Nor, of course, is the BAMF interested in the level and the particularities of individual religious observance.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wie-viel-millionen-sind-es.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375505 ))

The study is thus an important contribution to a debate that all too often appears completely disconnected from factual analysis. Yet on its own, the obsession with numbers does very little to address any of the questions and problems that Germany and its Muslim community face.

Lawyers Mobilize at Nation’s Airports After Trump’s Order

On Wednesday, lawyers from the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center who were concerned that the action would affect the project’s clients sent out an email calling for lawyers who could volunteer immediately to go to airports where refugees were scheduled to enter the United States.

“It occurred to us that there were going to be people who were traveling who would land and have their status affected while in midair,” said Betsy Fisher, the group’s policy director.

Even before President Trump issued an order on Friday banning immediate entry into the United States by people from several predominantly Muslim countries, immigration lawyers, having heard rumors of coming action from the White House, were on alert.

While lawyers gathered at airports on Saturday, others were working furiously on litigation. Cecillia Wang, the A.C.L.U.’s deputy legal director, described the scene at her office as “complete chaos.”

Hollande urges ‘firm’ response to Trump

French President Francois Hollande urged Europe to form a united front and provide a “firm” response to US President Donald Trump, at a gathering Saturday of southern European Union leaders.

“We must conduct firm dialogue with the new American administration which has shown it has its own approach to the problems we all face,” he said at the end of the gathering as he was flanked by the other leaders who took part.

Trump has rattled America’s traditional European allies with a range of radical policy plans.

On Friday he also signed a sweeping executive order to suspend the arrival of refugees and impose tough controls on travelers from seven Muslim countries.

During his first phone conversation with Trump late Saturday, Hollande stressed the “economic and political consequences of a protectionist approach”, adding that the principle of “acceptance of refugees” should be respected.

“Faced with an unstable and uncertain world, withdrawal into oneself is a dead-end response,” Hollande was quoted as saying in an Elysee Palace statement.

Hollande had earlier told the gathering that “when he adopts protectionist measures, which could destabilise economies not just in Europe but the economies of the main countries of the world, we have to respond”.

“And when he refuses the arrival of refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we have to respond.”

While officially the new administration in Washington was not on the agenda, the six other European leaders who took part in the summit also alluded to Trump.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Europe was “ready, interested and willing to cooperate” with the Trump administration. “But we are Europe, and we cherish our values,” he added.

 

 

 

Jean-Marc Ayrault speaks out against Trump’s travel ban

French and German foreign ministers met on Saturday to discuss President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on nationals from seven countries entering the US. The ban affects citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and is in effect for an extendable initial period of 90 days.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, “We have signed international obligations, so welcoming refugees fleeing war and oppression forms part of our duties. There are many other issues that worry us. That is why Sigmar and I also discussed what we are going to do. When our colleague, [Rex] Tillerson, is officially appointed, we will both contact him.”

The International Rescue Committee said, “The agency is calling President Donald Trump’s suspension of the U.S. refugee resettlement program a ‘harmful and hasty’ decision. America must remain true to its core values. America must remain a beacon of hope.”

French President François Hollande said, “We should engage in discussions that sometimes should be very firm … When he rejects the arrival of refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we should respond to him.”

Meanwhile, Trump has said the new ban is working out “very well.”

“It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over. We’re going to have a very, very strict ban and we’re going to have extreme vetting which we should have had in this country for many years,” Trump said.

The entire text of the executive order can be read here. Although most media coverage refers to a ban on Muslim refugees, the executive order makes no explicit mention of Islam. It does, however state that “In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law.

“In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including ‘honor’ killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.”

Iranian Director Asghar Farhadi Won’t Attend Oscar Ceremony

The Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film “The Salesman” is nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign-language movie, said on Sunday that he would not attend the Oscars ceremony next month even if he were granted an exception to President Trump’s visa ban for citizens from Iran and several other predominantly Muslim countries.

Mr. Farhadi said he had planned to attend the Feb. 26 ceremony in Los Angeles and while there bring attention to a decision he called “unjust.” But the executive order signed by President Trump on Friday presented “ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip,” he said in a statement to The New York Times.

The executive order blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also suspended entry of all refugees for 120 days and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely.

McConnell: We don’t have religious tests in this country

Several top Senate Republicans raised concerns Sunday that President Trump’s order to halt the admission of refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries had not been properly vetted and could harm the relationship between the United States and key allies.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cautioned that the United States does not have a religious test for entry into the country, though he stopped short of rejecting the order in its entirety. McConnell said that Muslims, both in the United States and abroad, are key allies in the fight against terrorism and urged caution in regard to Trump’s plan to implement “extreme vetting” for refugees from countries where a majority of the citizens are Muslim.

“I don’t want to criticize them for improving vetting,” McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think we need to be careful. We don’t have religious tests in this country.”

Sexual violence, criminality, and immigration: Germany discusses how to report on immigrants’ criminal offences

With the Berlin Christmas market attack, security questions have become dominant on the German political scene. Especially the domain of immigration law is becoming more securitised by the day as politicians propose more restrictive immigration policies, as well as greater scope for surveillance operations on the part of intelligence agencies.

Beyond the Berlin attack, however, a range of other incidents and developments continue to feed into this securitisation dynamic. Among them are not just the large-scale sexual assaults that occurred in Cologne and other German cities on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016, but also an increasingly agitated discussion on crime and criminality among refugees and asylum-seekers in general.

Sexual assaults

A milestone in this regard has been the highly mediatised case of the rape and murder of a 19-year old student by a 17-year old Afghan refugee in the city of Freiburg. To many, this case – especially as it came after a series of other rapes and acts of violence in the Freiburg region – demonstrated the direct linkage between increased immigration and a worsening security situation.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/mord-an-studentin-in-freiburg-risse-im-idyll-a-1124344.html ))

The case gained added salience due to the fact that, like the 17-year-old Afghan who had attacked the passengers of a regional train near Würzburg in July, the perpetrator of Freiburg was living in a local host family. He thus appeared to have all the possibilities to integrate and build a successful life in Germany.

Since then, two other high-profile cases of assault against women have come to light: in Bochum, a 31-year-old Iraqi asylum-seeker apparently raped and grievously injured two students of the local university.(( http://www1.wdr.de/nachrichten/ruhrgebiet/neue-details-nach-sexuellen-uebergriffen-in-bochum-100.html )) And in Hameln, a Kurdish man tied his wife to the back of his car by a rope around her neck and drove off, dragging her through the town’s streets.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/2016/11/21/hamel-bluttat-auto-schlei_n_13122450.html ))

Difficult reporting decisions

The media have been placed under close scrutiny with respect to their reporting strategies in the aftermath of these events. In a controversial move, Germany’s most-watched nightly TV news magazine, the Tagesschau running at 8 pm on the ARD public broadcaster, initially chose not to mention the arrest of the 17-year-old Afghan charged with raping and killing the Freiburg student.

The network subsequently justified this decision by arguing that the Tagesschau “only very rarely reports on individual criminal cases” because as a national-level news magazine, it is focused on “societally, nationally, and internationally relevant events. A murder case does not number among such events.”(( http://blog.tagesschau.de/2016/12/04/der-mordfall-von-freiburg/ ))

The news magazine’s head editor, Kai Gniffke, asserted that his programme “cannot and does not want to report on every single one of the around 300 murder cases per year (although it is interesting to note that this number has dramatically decreased over the course of the last 15 years).”(( http://blog.tagesschau.de/2016/12/04/der-mordfall-von-freiburg/ ))

Harsh criticism of editorial choices

The criticism directed at the Tagesschau’s editorial desk for its decision not to discuss the case was, nevertheless, fierce. It came not only from the right-wing fringe but also from outlets such as the mainstream conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

In a vitriolic commentary on the matter, the paper asserted that the Tagesschau’s unwillingness to report on the case justified labelling the ARD public broadcaster “Lückenpresse”—‘lacunae press’, or ‘press with gaps’. This constitutes an unabashed reference to the slogan “Lügenpresse” (‘liar’s press’), a term of disparagement of the ‘mainstream media’ with a strong National Socialist legacy that today is widespread among partisans of the new populist right.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/tagesschau-berichtet-nicht-ueber-ermordete-studentin-in-freiburg-14560129-p2.html ))

The fact that one of the country’s major respectable newspapers should so openly accuse another standard media outlet of being complicit in a pro-immigrant cover-up mandated by political elites demonstrates the extent to which populist language and demands have seeped into public debates.

Scrutinising empirical data

As a result, there is now an expectation that any serious crime committed by a refugee or asylum-seeker must be reported on immediately. Crimes perpetrated by immigrants are thus deemed more newsworthy and more dangerous than crimes committed by ethnic Germans.

At the same time, empirical data on the actual number of offences committed by asylum-seekers or refugees has scarcely figured in these debates. According to numbers released by the Federal Criminal Police Office, 5.7 per cent of all suspects involved in criminal cases in 2015 were asylum-seekers or other individuals without residence status.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719.

In Germany, these other persons without official residence status include not just ‘illegal’ immigrants. They also include more than 150,000 individuals under the peculiar legal regime of ‘Duldung’ (literally ‘toleration’ in English). Duldung merely connotes the temporary suspension of deportation; consequently, ‘geduldete’ individuals do not have access to most of the state’s social and financial services, no right to work, and no right to participate in integration courses. Their freedom of movement is restricted to their locality.))

The most common offence with which these individuals have been charged is theft, amounting to a quarter of all criminal cases, followed by fare evasion on public transport (17 per cent). Another quarter of cases concern bodily harm, aggravated theft, or coercion. Sexual offences amount to 1.3 per cent of all cases.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Make-up of perpetrators and victims

94 per cent of the interpersonal violence is directed at other immigrants.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 )) Especially Germany’s overcrowded refugee shelters have often been identified as conducive to outbreaks of violence.

Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans – collectively making up two thirds of immigrants – are responsible for only 33 per cent of criminal offences perpetrated. Conversely, immigrants from the Balkans and from the Maghreb countries are over-represented among criminal suspects.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Overall, in the first three quarters of 2016, immigrants were involved in 214,600 criminal offences. Over the course of these three quarters of the year, the number of crimes recorded dropped by 23 per cent, potentially reflecting a growing degree of settledness of the newly arrived migrants. Over the same time period, 67,300 anti-immigrant crimes were recorded.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Making sense of the numbers

Experts have remained cautious as to which conclusions to draw from these shifting and volatile numbers. Importantly, criminologists point to the need to tackle widespread impoverishment, especially with respect to the Balkans and North Africa: migrants from these regions are drawn into the powerful crime and mafia networks headquartered in their home countries; and participation in these networks is one of the few reliable sources of a stable income.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719-2 ))

Against this backdrop, recent cutbacks to social and financial support given to immigrants are seen in a sceptical light: whilst these restrictions are ostentatiously aimed at curbing the influx of migrants by disincentivising the perilous and expensive journey to Germany, they might jeopardise the ability of already arrived refugees to build a stable life in the country and thus to do without the networks of organised crime.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719-2 ))

Speaking on the Muslim debating programme Forum am Freitag, sociologist Ahmet Toprak highlighted that the perpetrators of violent crimes, particularly sex offences, generally share a set of characteristics—across all ethnic or religious divides. Aside from psychopathological diseases these characteristics include social isolation, lack of education, a history of violence running in the family, as well as intense experiences of violence during childhood and adolescence.(( https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-16-dezember-2016-fluechtlinge-und-gewalt-100.html ))

Putting crime into perspective

Empirical figures as well as sociological and criminological studies thus put into perspective the alarmist language on crime and criminality supposedly emanating from refugees and immigrants. Yet they also highlight particular problem areas.

Immigrants driven from their countries of origin by poverty and lack of economic opportunity with slim chances of obtaining a residence permit in Germany are more likely to become enmeshed in crime. This is particularly true if these criminal organisations already have a strong presence in the home countries (and are perhaps even the ones who can facilitate and finance the travel of migrants to Germany and Europe).

Moreover (and even more difficultly), among the many immigrants fleeing war and persecution, there might very well be a certain number whose own biographies of violence and dislocation make them more prone to the commission of violent acts. This is of course not the same as claiming that, for instance, ‘Afghans as such’ are criminals.

Yet such nuance might be difficult to maintain in a context in which the failure to explicitly ‘name and shame’ a sex offender if he is an immigrant is lambasted as complicity in political correctness.