Speaking in Germany's parliament on Friday, conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) lawmaker Stephan Harbarth expressed support for the United Nations Global Compact for Migration, and recalled a visit to a Jordanian refugee camp where health care services are substandard. His remarks were met with derision and laughter by parliamentarians from the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). Their callous contempt underscores exactly what is at stake regarding the UN migration deal.
A pact for human compassion
Germany, despite fierce opposition from the AfD, will go ahead and sign the UN migration pact — just as the vast majority of the other 190-odd UN member states will. The pact lists a range of humanitarian principles that will apply in every country, and affords extra protection to refugee children, for instance, and the provision of health care. In short: the UN compact on migration puts in writing that humans should treat each other with compassion. Nothing more, nothing less. That a parliamentary discussion is even necessary on this matter illustrates just how cold-hearted debates on refugees have actually become in this country. But at least Germany stands by the UN agreement — unlike Austria, Hungary, Australia, the United States and a few others.
AfD stokes fear
The AfD, unsurprisingly, has framed the UN migration pact as a threat to German sovereignty, has evoked the specter of open borders and unchecked immigration, and has said this puts an excessive burden on our welfare system. None of this is true. But that does not concern the AfD. In reality, the UN pact stresses the principle of national sovereignty. And in any case, the UN deal is not legally binding. But none of these significant details matter to the fearmongering AfD, of course.
Foreign Ministry's conduct plays into hands of populists
It was a relief to see the remaining parties join forces against the AfD's scare tactics — including Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, even though some critics within her party had taken issue with the Foreign Ministry's somewhat secretive handling of the UN pact. It is unclear whether this was done deliberately because matters pertaining to refugees and migration can potentially stir controversy. That it was the AfD's initiative that led to the parliamentary debate on the UN deal certainly adds grist to the mill of the far-right populists. Members of the Left, Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats also criticized the ministry's initial conduct.
A modern immigration law is urgently needed
With the AfD as Germany's largest opposition party in parliament, the tone of debates has become noticeably harsher and colder. It is a disgraceful development.
This has to come to a stop. It is now time to pass a modern immigration law that clearly distinguishes between the right to asylum, and targeted immigration — and that clearly defines the opportunities and limits inherent in both. The time is now. Germany's democrats need to join forces against the country's misanthropist far-right.