Opinion: Fighting sham battles over the transit zone | Opinion | DW | 14.10.2015
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Opinion: Fighting sham battles over the transit zone

"Transit zone" has become a magic phrase in German politics. It gives the impression that a single measure will solve the refugee crisis. Nonsense, says DW's Felix Steiner - it is a completely unrealistic plan.

Sometimes there are terms no one is familiar with until they suddenly make their way into political discussions - and then spread like wildfire. Since the weekend, political talk has focused on "transit zones" for refugees at German borders. Heated discussions have taken place among Germany's coalition partners: the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). They have tried to create a semblance of discipline and order when dealing with the mass influx of people.

One should be eagerly anticipating the legislative proposal that the German interior minister will put forth. But after a quick pause for contemplation, it will be obvious to anyone with some sense that this is by no means a cure-all. There is no way to compare the situation at the German-Austrian border to the situation in an airport.

Huge internment camps on the borders

Huge reception halls would have to be built along main traffic arteries in order to accommodate newly arrived migrants while they wait for their documents to be processed. The buildings would have to be protected with fences and barbed wire to prevent unauthorized entry. Just thinking of German history should be reason enough not to build anything that remotely resembles an internment camp. Additionally, they would be completely ineffective as refugees can avoid them. So what's the political debate about in the first place?

Steiner Felix Kommentarbild App

DW's Felix Steiner

It comes down to political point-scoring. The general mood in the population is changing and politicians are attempting to appear as if they are taking action by saying, "We're taking care of the matter. We respect your concerns. We'll fix the problem!"

Expectations are being raised

It is a high stakes gamble. Such proposals and debates raise high expectations among the less reflective members of the population. Even if the plans become reality, what happens if expectations are not met?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably never make a big speech about the refugee crisis, but, to her credit, she has described her policies in a talk show and in a two-page interview conducted by the country's largest tabloid. She said security forces will not seal off the borders. She believes that it is inappropriate and, also, unfeasible. She wants acceptance and integration.

The problem remains. Speedy asylum procedures and the quick construction of refugee housing with lower construction standards make for headlines, they but do not give people the feeling that politicians are doing anything about the situation. As philosopher Max Weber said 100 years ago: Politics is like slowly drilling through thick boards.

Angela Merkel's plan

Last week, Merkel announced that she had a plan for the proverbial long haul, but it looks like it is being kept in the dark. Maybe it is linked to the chancellor's upcoming visit to Turkey. As the majority of refugees travel through Turkey, the country could become a key to regulating the influx of people heading to Europe. In that respect, every euro Germany gives the Turkish government to improve conditions for refugees there alleviates problems in Germany. The chancellor will probably have to swallow one bitter pill: This money will go to an increasingly authoritarian government, which is in the midst of an election campaign. This will probably not make for good headlines, but at least it will show that somebody is considering a realistic idea.

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