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Pressures Of Migrant Crisis Weigh Heavy On Germany


The country that has opened its arms to so many of the migrants flowing into Europe is becoming noticeably less welcoming. Germany packed onto a plane last week Afghans it judged to be economic migrants and sent them back to Kabul. Germany's Parliament has also passed new laws making deportation easier. And one thing that didn't help, the German government admitted it did not know the whereabouts of 130,000 of the migrants who applied for asylum last year. We reached NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin to find out more. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And now, 130,000 is rather a large number of people to lose track of. How did that happen?

NELSON: Yeah, that represents about 13 percent of the people who filed asylum claims last year. And some of it's being blamed on perhaps paper errors 'cause they had this new quote, unquote, "easy system," which was supposed to make it quicker or easier for authorities to be able to register who was coming in. The interior ministry also feels that some of them may have traveled onto other countries or maybe have gone off the grid to avoid deportation because they don't think their cases are strong or maybe even are living with family members and friends already here. But it's interesting that asylum seekers that I spoke to this weekend at a conference in Hamburg say that this highlights the chaotic nature of Germany's asylum system. They're demanding that authorities do a better job of keeping track of asylum seekers and helping them once they're in Germany.

MONTAGNE: And that conference that you just mentioned, it's a conference on refugees in Hamburg. And you're saying there were migrants there, which is probably something of a first, right?

NELSON: Absolutely. It's the first time that they've actually organized their own conference. It's very clear that they're seeking some sort of political voice or say in all these things that are happening to them and laws that are being passed against them. There were about 1,200 participants. Some of them had been here for two decades. Others had just been here for a few weeks. And they came from different countries, not just Germany. But there was a lot of disagreement at this conference. And I think the most notable moment was perhaps when 120 women stormed the stage. And they were complaining the conference was sexist and that the male organizers were dominating the discussion. And they had relegated the women to a so-called women's space that was away from the action.

MONTAGNE: And, Soraya, Germany last summer was one of the few countries where the government openly welcomed asylum seekers, as we all saw. But the sexual harassment and assaults allegedly by North African and Arab migrants in some of Germany's cities on New Year's Eve seem to have turned a lot of Germans against migrants. And so what is happening in that case?

NELSON: Well, the Cologne case in particular, which was the one that got the most attention and which definitely was the point at which German attitude towards refugees turned - and that's not going anywhere, basically. The new police chief has said they haven't been able to find the people who committed the crimes. And so it doesn't look like that will come to a resolution. And adding to the frustrations are the fact that there are still other cases being reported. But it's important to note that it's not just migrants on Germans, if you will, but it's also Germans on migrants that are really picking up in a very alarming way. You have refugee homes almost daily that are being torched. These are shelters for asylum seekers that are about to open, and they're torched before they can. There's a lot of protests. And it's even gotten to the point where German politicians - these are local people I'm talking about, who are suppose to be enacting refugee policies - are asking for help from police for protection because there're just so many extremists who feel very emboldened right now to launch attacks.

MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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