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Bwambale. Omar. Babucarr. Modou. Mehreteab. What do these names have in common? Each of these people is an African refugee living in Germany who had risked his life to search for a safer future. Working as an intern in Germany for six weeks over the summer, I had the opportunity to interact with them and learn about their experiences coming to Europe and their lives as refugees in Germany. While many were excited about the opportunity to begin a new life there, I quickly began to discover that this pursuit of a better future is fading from reality.
When refugees first began arriving in Germany, the public welcomed them with water, toys and candy. As thousands of migrants in Hungary began making their way towards German borders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy delighted not only the majority of the German population but humanitarians worldwide. A country with deep-rooted memories of atrocities committed throughout the 20th century, Germany took the lead in mitigating the growing European refugee crisis. Images of hundreds of Germans turning up to help sift through supplies and commodities prepared for refugees quickly softened the nation’s reputation and broadcast goodwill around the world.
Fast forward two years and the entire political and social landscape in the region has changed. Not only has Great Britain declared that it will soon exit Europe, but terror attacks across the continent have led to the deaths of tens of innocent people, leading to an increasingly divisive social atmosphere. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has risen in popularity, campaigning against the EU and “the Islamisation of the West,” stating that the religion of Islam does not have a place within “the free, democratic social foundation, our laws and the Judae-Christian and humanistic bases of our culture.” The AfD platform includes plans to once again introduce border controls around Germany and to shut the borders to the EU, with Frauke Petry, the leader of the party, stating that German police should shoot “if necessary” at migrants attempting to cross Germany’s borders illegally. Not only does the first of these policies violate the Schengen Agreement of 1985, but some of the party’s rhetoric, such as “Luegenpresse,” or lying press, echoes propaganda of the Nazi regime. On an AfD poster it states, “Nur meckern allein nützt nichts,” which translates to “complaining alone does not help at all.”
But does complaining together help either? The three most recent attacks in Germany were carried out by immigrants who had come in previous to the adoption of the open-door migrant policy. Over the past two years, Germany has shown incredible kindness and compassion to the Muslim community by accepting millions of Muslim refugees, which, unlike the situation in marginalized Muslim communities in France, demonstrates that the nation is not at war with Islam, rather at peace with the faith. If this were to suddenly change, and those millions of immigrants were to face deportation, the conflicts throughout the region would only be exacerbated.
So will anti-Islam movements truly help? After leaving Germany, I was spoke to a man from Eritrea on Facebook. He told me that he wished nothing more than to get a job so that he could work and pay society back for the opportunities he had been given. Simply because a small group of radicalized members of a religion carries out terrorist attacks does not mean that their actions represent the point of view of the majority. In a society already beset by racial and religious struggles, it is integral that people worldwide do not use ignorance or bias to explain their actions, but understand the true conflict so that humanity can prevail and societal divide be bridged.