Editorial: Merkel, Germany must stabilise migration wave
New Year's Eve sexual attacks on dozens of women in the city of Cologne have sparked outrage in Germany, the political and economic leader of the European Union (EU), threatening a volcanic overflow of emotions and clashes between migrant sympathisers and xenophobes.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union government must take some blame for this crisis within a crisis.
Ms Merkel has stood like a colossus in European politics, with shoes that could scarcely be filled. As some EU economies crumbled around her, she has been an unflinching advocate of austerity and accountability, grabbing the drunken spendthrifts by the scruff of their necks while injecting millions of euros to keep their rickety fiscal ships afloat, sometimes to her own harm in domestic politics.
As conflict wracked Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, the German government filled the breach and led from the front, opening its borders to a wave of war-weary immigrants escaping from a grisly collage of bombs, death and misery. Ms Merkel used suasion to nudge, and, where necessary, her considerable muscle to shove, fellow EU leaders to respond despite insular calls to keep the strangers out.
As admirable as Ms Merkel and the German people were in welcoming the migrants, they must have known that governmental failure to implement rigorous border checks and security backgrounding was a recipe for chaos and played into the hands of anti-Muslim crusaders who were itching for a reason to stoke religious and ethnic strife. That police and immigration authorities naively allowed the travellers in without consultation and cross-referencing with the security apparatus of other countries complicated the asylum effort, with justifiable fears that terrorists could have passed themselves off as refugees. The whole asylum infrastructure has buckled under the crush of bodies.
Germany's strong economy and scope for jobs made it the preferred destination of most of the migrants. And they have come in droves - one million of them.
The chancellor has admitted that Germany and other members of the Union have lost control of the situation, precipitated by too quick and disorganised a bid at altruism. With her back against a wall, Ms Merkel might be minded to appease the mob. Her administration is already mulling over legislative changes to make it easier to deport asylum seekers and safeguard the rights of citizens.
But amid the increase in decibels of the Islamophobes, Ms Merkel must not allow racist nuts to hijack the German-led effort at a greater EU benevolence. The crude sexual attacks should trigger a strong but reassuring response from the German security forces. We believe that the majority of immigrants are law-abiding people who just want respite from catastrophe, a home in which to live, and an opportunity to provide for their families.
Meanwhile, EU governments need to bring greater order to the immigration effort and ensure that adequate arrangements are made ahead of the next surge. They must also spearhead a sensitisation programme among immigrant communities about the values of the modern Europe.
Hitler's legacy to Germany has been guiltiness for the atrocities of the Third Reich in the bloody years of World War II. Germany has sought to cast off that shadow and build a polity that celebrates plurality and is a model in protecting human rights. It is important that the German government, while securing its borders and preserving security, not yield to the xenophobic reflexes of the marginals. Germany must continue to lead, not follow.