Mar 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – It is wise of Angela Merkel not to have panicked in the wake of setbacks for her Christian Democrats (CDU) in Sunday`s three regional elections. The German chancellor acknowledged the blow, but discounted the likelihood of abrupt changes to her government`s policy on refugees.
That very policy has accounted for a surge in support for the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a recently formed party with links to the far-right Pegida movement. But that is only part of the picture.
Whereas the AfD`s seats in regional assemblies are based to a large extent on the backing of Germans who previously did not bother to vote, a fairly substantial number of CDU appear to have drif ted to the Green party and the Social-Democrats, notably in situations where CDU candidates sought to distance themselves from Merkel`s generosity.
In Baden-Württemburg, for instance, 30pc of the voters who switched from the CDU to the Greens said their decision was based on the refugee issue. The state`s Green premier has been quoted as saying that he was `praying ever day` for Merkel`s well-being.
Germany`s divisions on this issue were inevitably exacerbated after the appalling sexual assaults and coercive thef ts in Cologne on New Year`s Eve, even though only a tiny proportion of the assailants turned out to be components of the latest wave of refugees that brought more than a million people to Germany last year.
Merkel`s open-borders policy has been held responsible for precipitating a Europewide crisis, with those who are able to make their way from Turkey to Greece and beyond opting for relatively welcoming countries such as Germany. The alternative, though, was to deny entry to Europe to the clearly desperate victims of the strife in Syria in particular.
In some ways, that scenario has lately come to pass, with Macedonia seeking to seal its border with Greece and all too many of its neighbours pursuing similar policies in blatant disregard of the international rules put in place in the wake of the Second World War. Back then, it was Jewish refugees from Germany and Nazi-occupied territories who suffered the consequences of reactionary bigotry.
Not many European countries other than Germany have flung open their doors to the wretched of the earth, with some letting in refugees from Syria and Iraq but refusing access to others from various African countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That may seem fair enough in some respects, given Europe cannot be expected to accommodate the all too many economic refugees that international capitalism has spawned.
Levels of desperation are hard to judge, though.Greece`s fear, meanwhile, of turning into what its prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has poetically characterised as a `warehouse of souls` is perfectly legitimate. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Turkey keep on turning up In Greece, with no intention of remaining there, but find their pathway to elsewhere in Europe blocked.
The European Union, meanwhile, has reached an agreement with Turkey whereby all refugees who make it to Greek shores will be returned to Turkish soil, but Europe will accommodate one Turkey-based Syrian for each one sent back. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and various other human rights organisations have pointed out that such a policy would violate international law.
Whether the agreement will bear fruit remains to be seen. Europe`s handling of the unprecedented crisis thus far has provided plenty of cause for consternation. And former members of the Soviet bloc have been by far the least inclined to adopt a humanitarian approach.The Russian president, meanwhile, has been accused of actively striving to whip up tensions in Europe by funding the anti-immigrant backlash. It`s hard to tell, though, whether that is indeed the case, given thatthe charge has been made by a Latvian official associated with Nato who has an axe to grind vis-à-vis Russia.
That doesn`t necessarily mean he is lying,although Vladimir Putin`s announcement on Monday that most Russian forces will be pulled out of Syria militates against the notion that his intervention was intended primarily to exacerbate Europe`s refugee woes.
Not much hope was held out for the talks on Syria`s future taking place in Europe this week, but it would be folly to completely write off the prospect of some sort of agreement. After all, the ceasefire put in place three weeks or so ago has largely held, contrary to expectations.
It would be unduly optimistic, though, to read into that an indication that the awful conflict in Syria is approaching its conclusion. It would be amazing if that were indeed the case. In the interim, though, the `warehouse of souls` remains in place, and it could very well return to haunt Europe for decades hence unless Merkel`s plea for a Europe-wide humanitarian solution finds at least a few more takers.
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan