Germany’s CDU Says “2015 Mustn’t Be Repeated:” A Closed Door For Afghan Refugees

Following the critical situation in Afghanistan, general secretary of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Paul Ziemiak said Germany cannot have an open migration policy for Afghan refugees that is similar to the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. Germany accepted over one million refugees in 2015-2016, which left lasting effects. This prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, to draw a hard line in refugee policies. Merkel emphasized that although her party is against an open border, they would evacuate around 10,000 people “for whom [we] have responsibility,” according to Cyprus Mail. With her stepping down as chancellor after the September elections, this could define the last months of Merkel’s leadership. But Armin Laschet, the CDU’s candidate and likely successor for chancellor, said that “2015 mustn’t be repeated,” making it improbable that Germany will be willing to accept more refugees in the future.

In this time of turmoil, many countries are rushing to aid in the evacuation process in Afghanistan. But across Europe, a common conclusion has been reached that a “wide-scale migratory move towards Europe” is not wanted, as stated by European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles. Jana Puglierin, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, stressed that European countries are fearful of returning to 2015, when it felt “like Europe was hanging by a thread” as two opposing sides emerged.

Germany was the first to open their borders to refugees at the time, but changed direction. “[W]e won’t be able to solve the Afghanistan question through migration to Germany” said Ziemack. Instead, German finance minister Olaf Scholz argues this is when the “international community must…stand together” and cooperate to aid the impending refugee movement. The EU is already planning to “intensify” collaboration with surrounding countries, as stated by commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson, in which Germany expressed it would participate.

With uncertainty of what will come, Germany made a safe decision to evacuate the people to whom they have a personal responsibility, especially with the dangerous situation on the ground. As the refugee movement intensifies in the next few weeks, Germany’s stance may need to change, due to necessity and international pressure. But for now, if Europe sends a clear message that the policies won’t be the same as 2015, it should prevent a large scale refugee influx. Yet, if Germany and other European bodies are saying they will aid neighboring countries to Afghanistan, those agreements should be abided by and in a way that will provide more assistance. Many countries became involved in the Afghanistan conflict over the years, and have a responsibility to provide aid in this situation. Therefore, now is not the time for half promises.

The difference between Germany’s position from 2015 is distinct, as Chancellor Merkel said in her famous phrase “[W]e can do this!” to signify the opening of the borders to asylum seekers during the Syrian refugee crisis. Her decision was met with approval from many including those in her party and the international community, but there were unexpected political drawbacks. Both the CDU and politics in general became more divided, as those who were for and against immigration ended up on opposite sides with a lacking middle field.

Merkel was also criticized for shortening the asylum process without developing a further plan, which mirrored a rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric and violence related to the refugees, and Germans showing their discontent. Consequently, Merkel went back on her open border policy and created more restrictive asylum guidelines in 2016, similar to the stance that is taken for Afghanistan. It seems that what was learned in the past is being carried into the future. However, while times have changed, it remains to be seen if Germany will continue to maintain the same stance as the refugee crisis develops.

Germany will evacuate around 10,000 staff that have either been in the military, or activists and lawyers working in the country that could be in harm’s way. But as countries like the United States consider their next move in terms of accepting refugees, Germany seems to stand by keeping their borders closed to avoid the same fallout from the past. Even though this is a safe bet, Germany should consider if they are able to accept more refugees in the country. Perhaps that could be arranged with a more extensive process for asylum seekers. It is clear that there will be further issues related to international peace as the refugee movement begins. If Germany can shoulder a part of that burden, a slightly more open border may make all the difference. Time will tell as the crisis in Afghanistan unfolds and the international community watches.

Sabina Marty