Germany is tightening its migration laws in response to the huge numbers of refugees arriving on its borders, with several Balkan states now designated as ‘safe’ countries to deport failed asylum seekers. VOA visited Schwaebisch Gmuend in southern Germany, where tension is growing over rival visions for the future of migration into the town.
Across Germany, former military barracks – relics of the country’s recent history – are being converted to cope with its 21st century crisis.
One compound outside the historic town near Stuttgart houses 200 asylum seekers from 25 different countries.
In the communal kitchen, Gambor and his friends are cooking a lunch of local sausage and cabbage. Gambor is from Bosnia – recently designated as a ‘safe’ country by the German government - meaning it’s less likely he’ll gain asylum.
‘It is not safe’
Gambor says it is not safe in Bosnia. “It is not safe for my family, it is not safe for my children.”
His friend Ermir is from Kosovo – another country recently designated as ‘safe.’
“My brother is dead, my father is dead, both were killed,” he says. “I escaped Kosovo with my children, with my wife. If we were still in Kosovo, we would be killed,” he says.
Local authorities do not discriminate against any nationality; the refugees’ fate is decided in asylum tribunals.
New refugee housing is being built nearby, designed to house 160 refugees. But the site was attacked by arsonists in December, putting the project back by several months.
The local mayor, Richard Arnold, says Germany is dealing with the migrant crisis on its own - and other European countries must share the burden.
“What we need definitely is a consistent immigration policy, which we do not have at the moment in Germany. And it also needs of course a discussion over the item of the European frontiers. At the moment what we realize is that Europe falls apart,” Arnold says.
A moral duty
Europe is hardening its stance. Germany is tightening asylum laws. The EU is developing a beefed-up border force.
But Schwaebisch Gmuend’s regional lawmaker Klaus Pavel – a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party – says Europe has a moral duty to help.
He says that all of us in the world who are able to, should be prepared to help, to take in people who are in need.
In Schwaebisch Gmuend, local authorities insist the best response to concerns over migration is to integrate the refugees as quickly as possible – and prove that they can be an asset to German society.