The word “crisis” is the most wrung-out meaningless word today. People in Lebanon and Turkey and the countries around Burundi or Sudan must be wondering why in Germany it counts as a crisis when immigration officials have to open a conference centre and organize some extra buses and redirect some trains.
The sudden appearance of 20,000 people in one weekend is a lot for a massive prosperous city, but only because massive prosperous cities aren’t really used to it. The comparisons with the Second World War, when there were something like 24 million refugees moving across a Europe that was a blasted wasteland, are a bit on the panicky side. In reality, what last weekend showed is that Germany’s local immigration authorities can be flexible, efficient and helpful after all, when they have to be – in other words, when the general public suddenly shows how much they care about people.
Not only that, the German government, which a month ago was talking about increasing the federal budget for refugees from €500 million a year to a billion, is now talking about loosening up €6 billion. The wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, you might have noticed, have been going on for a decade and a half, but now the government suddenly realises that it’d be better to invest some money in the problem. Though even that €6 billion is not going to be anywhere near enough, given that about 600,000 people are going to need German lessons, school places, university places, job training schemes. If these new arrivals are going to be successfully integrated into Germany – which everyone keeps saying is the “bigger challenge,” we’re going to need massive investment in the education system and social housing. But what’s more likely to happen is that most of that €6 billion is invested in new police officers (in fact a plan to expand the federal police force has already been announced). Whatever the Merkel government says, controlling the refugees is still, at least for now, a bigger priority than integrating them.
So this is not a “crisis”. This is just what happens when the rest of the world – the part that has to deal with war and dictatorship and poverty and climate disaster, in other words, about six-sevenths of it – intrudes on this bit of the world where we like to watch movies and football and take drugs. It’s just an unwelcome intrusion of real life.