by Silke Reichrath in Ottawa
The refugee crisis in Germany has flooded the media with coverage on the diverse aspects of the situation, from negotiations among European nations about refugee flows, registration and distribution to the logistics of housing the rapidly increasing number of newcomers.
In contrast with the overwhelming surge of solidarity with the migrants, there is evidence of violence among refugees in crowded shelters and anti-immigrant attacks by the local population.
Although the scale is very different - Germany is looking at accommodating a refugee per 55-100 inhabitants, depending on the estimate, whereas Canada is looking at 1 per 1,400 - many of these incidents serve as inspirational as well as cautionary tales to Canadians confronting the challenge of bringing in 25,000 refugees - a number that is being questioned at the same time for not being enough, given the magnitude of the crisis, as well as being too many, given Canada's available infrastructure.
Public support has to be channeled
The Tagesschau, a German national and international television news service, mapped over 600 volunteer projects to help refugees, in addition to large numbers of German volunteers helping refugees settle in, visiting, collecting clothes and toys, translating and helping out informally in other ways.
The Berlin-based national daily Die Welt (03/11/2015) reports that food banks have been accepting the new clientele, but are strained without additional resources. Child services are monitoring the situation of 40,000 unaccompanied minors, but are likewise overwhelmed by the added case load.
German industry is calling for unity among the governing coalition and for an orderly processing of the refugees. They talk of 600,000 positions waiting to be filled and call for a quick integration of the newcomers, including language instruction and training for the labour market.
In addition, they point out that the arrival of newcomers is stimulating consumer demand (Der Tagesspiegel, 03/11/2015).
However, an estimated 81 per cent of the 2015 refugees have no formal qualifications, and an additional 400,000 welfare recipients are expected in the coming year (Junge Freiheit, 26/10/2015), which points to the importance of literacy and adult education programs.
The reception process has to be well managed
Merkel has been pushing for a more orderly process through reception centres and refugee processing at the place of first arrival in the European Union and for quotas to distribute accepted refugees, or applicants from countries with high asylum recognition rates, among member states (Die Welt, 03/11/2015).
Internally, the governing coalition is discussing measures to limit the numbers of refugees through transit camps for refugees with a low likelihood of recognition and faster deportation for rejected claimants (Tagesschau, 03/11/2015).
The sheer volume of migrants may dwarf the Canadian commitment to bring in 25,000
A record 218,000 refugees crossed the Mediterranean in October, fleeing the escalating war in Syria and other conflicts, just as winter is approaching.
European institutions are overwhelmed and struggling to respond. Hungary has put up a border fence, redirecting refugee flows from Serbia and Croatia to Slovenia. Slovenia and Austria are threatening to do the same as transit camps are filled well above capacity.
Germany is expected to take in 800,000 refugees - other sources now expect up to 1.5 million.
An estimated 50,000 are housed in tent cities while the government is looking for more accommodation. Others are housed in former military barracks, hotels, fire stations, schools, factory halls, portables and other housing, often in rows of bunk beds with no privacy (Tagesschau, 03/11/2015).
Centres for newcomers are overwhelmed and most recent arrivals sleep outdoors for several nights before being assigned to an accommodation, as hostels do not accept their vouchers any more (Die Welt, 03/11/2015).
Refugee hostels are overcrowded and outbreaks of violence, mass fights and sexual assaults are becoming more frequent as refugees spend their days waiting and standing in lines (Der Spiegel, 6/10/2015).
Access to medical care is uncoordinated and dependent on volunteers until refugees are registered and issued health cards (Der Tagesspiegel, 03/11/2015).
The backlash must be pushed back, and dealt with proactively
Chancellor Merkel's policy of an open door for all refugees is under mounting pressure, with the anti-immigrant Pegida gaining in popularity and support for Merkel evaporating.
Politicians are receiving death threats and hate speech is growing on social media (Der Spiegel, 23/10/2015). The number of attacks on refugees and refugee shelters in the first nine months of 2015 has been double that of all of 2014 (Tagesschau, 22/10/2015).
Just in one day, Nov. 4, the headlines in Die Welt cover a fatal stabbing at a refugee accommodation, a case of aggression by a train conductor against a refugee, an incident where a fire fighter refused to fight fires set to refugee accommodations, a projection of social problems caused by migration by 2025, and the loss of political support of the Christian Democrats over its response to the refugee crisis.
The prominent national weekly Der Spiegel reports on a wave of anti-immigrant attacks on refugees, politicians, volunteers, police officers and journalists; calls for surveillance of the anti-immigrant organization Pegida; Chancellor Merkel's increasing political isolation over the issue, and a series of commentaries about the mass arrival of refugees, the politicians' response, and growing xenophobia.
Some of these concerns are being echoed in the Canadian ethnic media
The Canadian ethnic media has been overwhelmingly positive to the proposal to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year (e.g. Red FM Punjabi, 04/11/2015). The Hispanic El Centro News (29/10/2015) points out that this is a significantly smaller number than that taken in by smaller countries like Germany.
However, some commentators and some settlement agencies are voicing doubts that Canada can bring in this number while maintaining security standards and allowing for an organized settlement process (e.g. Radio Rim Jhim, 04/11/2015).
Darpan Magazine (04/11/2015) points to the logistical challenges of getting them here and housing them upon arrival — and the lack of time to get it done.
Sinoquebec Chinese Newspaper (30/10/2015) points to the challenges of insufficient time for background checks, insufficient settlement resources, a negative impact on the processing of other refugee applications and the labour market impact and concludes that it may be "better not to do it rather than do it wrong."
Polish papers like the Merkuriusz Polski and Zycie (29/10/2015) hold up the German example as a warning hope that the Liberal government will learn from the German experience and not create an open refugee policy for all asylum seekers from the conflict zone ... because just the processing of refugee cases will cost $200 million.
Nevertheless, most sources seem optimistic and highlight offers of assistance from the provinces: "Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said that Alberta will join Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan in opening its door to refugees" (Canadian Chinese Express, 04/11/2015). NGO and church initiatives are also highlighted, including Lifeline Syria in Toronto, Project Hope by the Toronto Catholic Archdiocese and Refugee 613 in Ottawa.
Several Chinese sources support the proposal to use military transport and military barracks for temporary housing (e.g. Fairchild Ontario, 30/10/2015). Certain Arabic sources also support this and point to a Canadian Council for Refugees suggestion to prioritize refugees with family in Canada (Voice of Egypt in Canada, 01/11/2015).
The ethnic media was quick to react to Minister John McCallum’s appointment to the immigration portfolio.
Red FM 93 Punjabi in Vancouver (04/11/2015) commented that immigration issues caused many ethnic Conservatives to vote Liberal because of their promises. Top of the list of promises is the settlement of 25,000 refugees.
Other South Asian, Chinese and Spanish media outlets across Canada - like Noticias Montreal or CINA Sun Shine Radio and Tamil Canada Mirror in Mississauga - also focus on the refugee issue and intend to hold the new government to its promise.
Published in partnership with MIREMS (Multilingual International Research and Ethnic Media Services).