Campaigning to elect a new German leader this month is being clouded by concerns that the country will face a new influx of refugees — this time those fleeing Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
In 2015, more than 1 million migrants, many of them Syrians escaping their country's civil war, traveled across the Mediterranean and Europe to reach Germany, according to German officials.
Angela Merkel is not standing in the September 26 election, so Germany will soon have a new chancellor tasked with formulating policy toward Afghanistan and the unfolding refugee crisis.
Armin Laschet is the candidate for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, which currently shares power with the Social Democrats. Speaking shortly after the Taliban seized power last month, he pledged there would be no repeat of the refugee influx.
"The European Union must be prepared that there will be refugees heading towards Europe. And this time we must provide humanitarian aid to the region, to the countries of origin in time. 2015 must not repeat itself. We need an orderly protection for those who are heading towards Europe," Laschet told reporters on August 16.
Laschet's rival — Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, who are leading in the polls — also maintains that Europe must share the burden of any imminent refugee influx.
"It isn't just Germany, but all of Europe has a responsibility, and we have to remember that almost all refugees, and there are millions in the world, have often found refuge in a neighboring country," Scholz told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Germany has evacuated more than 4,000 Afghans since August. The government says anyone directly employed by German forces in Afghanistan is entitled to asylum. The situation for contractors, however, is not clear.
Afghan brothers Ahmad and Ikram, who did not want to give their real names, arrived in Germany in 2015 as part of the wave of migrants seeking a new life in Europe. They are currently staging a protest outside the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, to demand that Germany speed up the asylum process for refugees.
Ikram says he worked with NATO forces in Afghanistan and recently showed VOA the documentation he hopes will secure him refugee status. After six years of trying, they have both been denied visas. The brothers were due to be deported to Afghanistan in August but were given a reprieve after the Taliban seized power.
"Afghanistan is no longer safe. People cannot let themselves die there — they themselves, and their families. And so, they say it doesn't matter how dangerous the way is, people are saying we're leaving, because otherwise they will be killed," Ahmad told VOA.
So, could Germany face another migrant influx? The situation is very different, says Nora Brezger of the Berlin Refugee Council, a support group for migrants.
"At the moment now, there is actually no way to Europe where people can cross, like it was in 2015 or 2016. So, it's more that a lot of Afghan refugees are in the surrounding countries of Afghanistan, and in the Balkan route they are stuck in Bosnia, they are stuck in Serbia, they are stuck in Greece, they are stuck in Turkey," Brezger told VOA.
"So, it's not a question of how we should avoid people coming here. For us, it's more a question of how should we make people come here because they need a safe place," she said.
VOA recently spoke to several Afghan refugees currently stuck in the Turkish city of Erzurum. Among them was Yusuf, who said he was doing casual work to try to save money to reach Europe. Germany continues to exert a strong pull for those seeking a new life.
"We want to go to Germany, but the borders are closed at the moment. If you want to go to Germany via Bulgaria, you would be held in Bulgaria. The human smugglers say that the borders are open, you can go — but we know that they are closed. Once the borders are opened, God willing, we will go," Yusuf said.
It appears unlikely that Germany — or the rest of Europe — is prepared to reopen those borders anytime soon.
VOA's Memet Aksakal contributed to this report.