From The Other Side of The Fence

Where had the inspiration come to write an article like this? Why purposefully wade into the murky waters of the ongoing refugee crisis here in Europe? Far from being an original theme in today’s rhetoric it’s also a topic laden with bias, and plagued by confusion and prejudice. I wanted to simply offer another perspective, one less seen. I felt the need to write from the other side of the fence. After all I had worked, played, volunteered and even made lasting friendships with refugees here in Germany. I felt that their story was being misrepresented and distorted; that the reality had begun to slip from their horrific fates. There became a real need to investigate the realities of the current refugee situation here in Europe.


The worsening situation in many parts of North Africa and the Middle East has resulted in the largest forced migration of people that we have witnessed this century. Which if you have read, seen or overheard the news you would be aware the situation has been heralded as a crisis here in Europe. But lets avoid the tricky question of who or what is to blame, and lets try stick to the reality of the situation at hand.

Millions have been forced to flee their homes, leaving war torn and blood stained lands behind them. In pursuit of safety and stability, many of those have found salvage unsurprisingly in neighbouring Europe.

The sheer volume of human displacement in the last few years is simply staggering. The conflict in Syria has left some 4.7million refugees in neighbouring countries alone (1). While a total 1.3 million refugees and migrants from Afghanistan to Ukraine applied for asylum in European countries in 2015 (2). Despite the deluge of human movement the conflicts of today are fortunately not yet comparable to that of World War II. Which at its closure had produced some forty million refugees in Europe (3), subsequently leading to the 1938 intergovernmental committee responsible for coordinating those refugees forced to flee home and land during the conflict.

Even in our very recent history have we managed to adapt and deal with a situation, which at present does not compare to the sheer size and impact of the events nearly 80 years ago.

Yet as refugees continue their struggle into Europe, events regaled in the media often cause confusion and disillusionment. Many reports purely lend their hand to distorting the truth and augmenting unnecessary fear, provoking many to believe integration is futile.

Though there is no denying the awful and bizarre incidents that took place in Kölln (and several other cities across Germany over New Year) are completely unacceptable. It is key to evaluate the situation by its facts.

Headlines of the account can be extremely misleading. Some media outlets branded the event as,  ‘Mass sex attack’, whilst others have asked, ‘What happens after 1000 women have been sexually assaulted’. The incredible hyperbole lavished headlines without a hint irony, nor professionalism.

The reports not only target refugees, they also help sustain disparity and further divide people. Breeding fear and uncertainty, they contribute to the growth of far right wing politics here in Germany, and many other countries across Europe.

Yet the realities of the events that took place, though still unclear, were somewhat less shocking than have been branded. With just less than 1000 complaints and crimes noted on the night, only 838 were later officially recorded. Of that less than half, 381, (4) were categorised as sexual offences. The broad nature of sexual offences opens it up to a range of severity, and includes verbal attacks and the use sexually explicit language. The vast majority of crimes reported on the night were of petty theft. While just 3 incidents were of rape.

The abhorrent nature of the events that took place on New Years should not be ignored. But we too should not ignore the lazy and infectious reporting of them, which can be almost as dangerous. We should focus on addressing issues surrounding early integration; if we had, perhaps something like this could have been prevented.

Though, the narrative being spun is always one of impending threat. The threat isn’t necessarily just physical, often it is directed at our resources. A competition is set, a fight for work, housing and education, hangs mercifully overhead.

But perhaps there is another way of looking at it. With Europe taking the lead as the continent with the world’s lowest birth rates, we too are undergoing our own crisis. The declining birth rates, the ever-rising dependent population, and infallible and eternal Mediterranean demographic of old people, has provoked economists to suggest Europe is dying. Even if the people aren’t.

Germany tops the list with an average of 8.2 babies per 1000 (Hamburg based study 2008-2013)(5) as they nudge ahead of Japan for worlds lowest birth rate. All the while thousands of young, skilled workers continue to knock on the walls of Europe, desperate for salvation and a new start. Perhaps there is a solution after all?

During an afternoon in my Deutsch language integration course the topic of, ‘Was machen Sie beruflich’ is tentatively discussed in broken German. In attendance that day we have three Syrian refugees and one from Palestine. We have two dentists, a former business consultant, and a business masters student. I think Angela Merkel may have unearthed a solution to Germany’s fertility conundrum.

The country after all sits in a unique position. It has already experienced the integration of millions of Muslims into the society before. During an economic upsurge in the early 1960’s Turkish citizens were drafted in to tackle the increasing labour demands. Although it was intended to be on a short-term basis, as gastarbeiter, the window was never firmly closed. With approximately three million Turkish citizens now residing in Germany, many have cited the failed attempts of multiculturalism by the state.

Misconduct, poor decision-making, and a split conscience by a government in denial led to decades of uncertainty for the Turkish here in Germany. The effect hasn’t gone unnoticed as higher unemployment rates and lower levels of education shroud Turkish migrants (7).  There is hope and new incentive that the government can learn from the integration mistakes and pitfalls of the past. If ever there were a country ready to tackle to the growing ‘crisis’ here in Europe, you would have to place hope that Germany would stand up.

While many are still unhappy with the current levels of immigration, we continue to hear the growing echoes of far right politics through the streets and cities across the land. Our next steps should be taken extremely carefully. You don’t need to tell the people of Berlin that building a wall is not the solution, yet perhaps Mr Trump would disagree.

The reality, whether people accept it or not, is that immigration is something likely to be far more common in the not so far future. With global climate change likely to surpass today’s conflicts as the biggest instigator of human displacement, people must learn to change and adapt now. Immigration and integration will shape the story of mankind’s future. How we adjust and acclimatise will determine how we tackle what comes next.

By Liam McGuckin


Syrian Refugee Numbers
Refugee intake in Europe
WW2 Refugee figures
Kölln attack
German birth rates
+ (7) Turkish numbers in Germany/Education

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