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Opinion

Opinion: Politics by numbers?

Bild newspaper says it has seen a document stating that 1.5 million refugees will be coming to Germany. This is grist to the mill of those calling for upper limits on the help Germany provides, fears Naomi Conrad.

Some sentences really bring home the extent of the brutality and cruelty of the war in Syria. Sentences like: "Either the cat dies, or your child." Ayham Ahmad, a refugee from Yarmouk, told me a few days ago that he never wanted to kill dogs or cats. But he simply couldn't find any other food for his children: "So you slaughter a cat, just so your children can survive."

A little more than a month ago, Ahmad, a pianist, fled Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus that has been under the control of the Islamists for a few months now. There is a shortage of everything there: food, medicines and, above all, hope.

Germany, the land of hope

And so, at last, Ahmed set off for Germany in search of a better life – or in other words, in search of hope. Like Ahmed, more and more desperate Syrians – and desperate Iraqis and Afghans – are flocking to Germany.

According to a "secret document" to which the tabloid newspaper Bild claims to have had access, 1.5 million refugees will come here by the end of the year. This is far more than the official government estimate. Officially, they are still reckoning with 800,000 refugees, even if individual politicians have long since revised this figure upwards.

The newspaper quotes the document as saying that there is a danger that provision for the refugees will break down; that it's becoming almost impossible to source residential containers and sanitation facilities for refugee accommodation.

The government was quick to play down the issue. "Nobody knows what this document is," the deputy government spokesman said on Monday (05.10.2015), stressing that he therefore wouldn't give it too much weight. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry also reassured people that, while the numbers for September are indeed very high, experience shows that in the winter months the flow of refugees will abate. Besides, he said, you can't extrapolate daily and weekly figures that simply.

No wonder the government is playing down the figures. In Germany the initial euphoria over the new arrivals is increasingly beginning to give way, with the much-hyped "welcome culture" transforming into calls for an "arrival culture." More and more, politicians have suddenly started talking about "upper limits," and better protection of external borders. Some are even suggesting that the basic right to asylum should be called into question.

End of the euphoria

Perhaps the euphoria of recent days was naïve. It was probably inevitable that sooner or later it would have to give way to realism. Because housing the many refugees, providing them with clothing, food, a roof over their heads, integrating them and, later, making it possible for them to work – in short, allowing them to live the decent life that they are all too often denied in their home countries – is of course a huge feat. A huge feat that costs a great deal: resources, energy, and – yes – money too, of course. Which may then be lacking elsewhere.

But our constitution obliges us to do this, even if for some people it seems that their conscience no longer does. The right to asylum is inviolable, and it must remain so. So instead of wasting unnecessary time and energy on the question of whether we should provide asylum and, if so, with what limitations, shouldn't we rather be asking ourselves how we are going to do it, without stirring up resentment and fueling racism?

Ending the war

At the same time, though, the bloody civil war in Syria must be brought to an end, and for too long politicians have applied themselves half-heartedly to this at best. This, too, is a huge feat, one that seems well-nigh impossible – but there is no other solution. Because the people who today are seeking asylum ultimately want to go home. I have not yet met a single Syrian refugee, whether in Cairo, Dortmund or Berlin, who doesn't want to go home again some day.

But that will only be possible when no more bombs are falling, terrorists are no longer on the rampage, children no longer starving. Until then, we must not set an upper limit on the help that we provide.

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