BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migrant troubles have reignited in the new year but the German leader is sticking to her guns, insisting her country will manage the challenge and that diplomacy can bring solutions.
Germany registered nearly 1.1 million asylum-seekers last year, and 2,000 to 3,000 are still arriving daily even in mid-winter.
A surge of robberies and sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne — and the fact that some of the suspects were asylum-seekers — have highlighted the difficulty of integrating so many newcomers. With pressure mounting for the government to manage the influx, Merkel’s Bavarian allies are once again pushing for a cap on asylum-seekers.
Public opinion toward refugees has been souring for months in Germany, although polls suggest political support for Merkel’s conservatives is down only slightly. While Germany doesn’t hold a national election until late 2017, smaller votes this year — starting with three state elections in March — will offer a test of the mood.
“The events of New Year’s Eve have again shone a spotlight on the challenges we face, made them clear from a new side we had not viewed so far,” Merkel acknowledged. Within days, her government proposed legislation to make it easier to deport criminal foreigners.
On the refugee influx itself, however, Merkel is standing firm — sticking to her much-criticized mantra that “we will manage it.”
The woman chosen as Time’s person of the year insists that the solution is not to unilaterally close borders, but to work with reluctant European partners, Turkey and others to secure Europe’s frontiers and share the burden of hosting refugees. That has been the central plank of her approach even as the government has tightened policy at home — taking steps to make it easier to send migrants from Balkan nations home and making clear that not all Afghans will be allowed to stay.