Germany has seen the highest rates worldwide of asylum seekers from conflict zones this year. Those numbers won't be dwindling any time soon, so Germany must "adjust," says the country's interior minister.
Between January and June this year, more than 65,000 people applied for asylum in Germany, figures that topped numbers seen in any other industrialized country. The sudden change has sparked a debate in Germany about refugee policies, ranging from cost, to living conditions, to the fears of a rise in xenophobic sentiment.
On Saturday, Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, weighed in on the issue by calling on Germans to face the reality of the situation.
"We have roughly 50 million refugees worldwide, the highest numbers since the end of World War II," de Maiziere said in an interview with the German daily "Der Tagesspiegel," scheduled to be published in its Sunday edition.
Emphasizing that Germany had a responsibility to the world to help refugees, he said: "We must adjust ourselves [to the fact that we will be seeing] high numbers of asylum seekers and refugees for years to come."
Political instability across North Africa and the Middle East has driven the refugee crisis in recent years, with fighting, particularly in Syria and Iraq, forcing millions of people to flee their homes.
During the first half of 2014, Germany saw not only a spike in the number of asylum seekers, but also a 64 percent increase - or roughly 127,000 people - in the number of refugees seeking residence.
Critical questions not 'extremist'
While many municipalities have worked to accommodate the refugees, the sharp rise in foreigners has opened the public debate to a wide range of concerns and including varying degrees of anti-foreigner sentiment.
However, De Maiziere emphasized the necessity of public debate on an issue which has such a wide affect on society.
It's "completely wrong to make this taboo or, the reverse, to act as if the high number of refugees were no problem," he said. "[But] someone who asks critical questions isn't automatically a right-wing extremist."
Several cases - including continuous protests by refugees in Berlin and the discovery of security guards abusing residents at another home for asylums seekers in western Germany - have underscored the concerns felt across society about caring for those in need while also protecting German interests.
A study published by the Social Democratic Party-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation this week furthermore pointed to a noticeable level of disregard toward asylum seekers. The survey found that roughly 44 percent of its 2,000 participants had a negative attitude toward asylum seekers and that more 40 percent of those surveyed did not believe the refugees had been persecuted in their home countries.
kms/mg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)