A microcosm of the European refugee crisis

Sometimes the best way to illustrate what's going on in the world is by eschewing the big picture and concentrating on the effect of a crisis on a tiny slice of reality - how the crisis impacts an individual or a small group.

Although the European refugee crisis has disappeared from the top of the news, it continues to worsen. And for one, small German town, its about to get very real indeed.

New York Times:

 This bucolic, one-street settlement of handsome redbrick farmhouses may for the moment have many more cows than people, but next week it will become one of the fastest growing places in Europe. Not that anyone in Sumte is very excited about it.

In early October, the district government informed Sumte’s mayor, Christian Fabel, by email that his village of 102 people just over the border in what was once Communist East Germany would take in 1,000 asylum seekers.

His wife, the mayor said, assured him it must be a hoax. “It certainly can’t be true” that such a small, isolated place would be asked to accommodate nearly 10 times as many migrants as it had residents, she told him. “She thought it was a joke,” he said.

But it was not. Sumte has become a showcase of the extreme pressures bearing down on Germany as it scrambles to find shelter for what, by the end of the year, could be well over a million people seeking refuge from poverty or wars in Africa, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In a small concession to the villagers, Alexander Götz, a regional official from Lower Saxony, told them this week that the initial number of refugees, who start arriving on Monday and will be housed in empty office buildings, would be kept to 500, and limited to 750 in all.

Nevertheless, the influx is testing the limits of tolerance and hospitality in Sumte, and across Germany. It is also straining German politics broadly, creating deep divisions in the conservative camp of Chancellor Angela Merkel and energizing a constellation of extremist groups that feel their time has come.

The Germans, and other Europeans, have a grand self-image that includes an expansive view of immigration. "Open borders" really means something to many on the continent. It's a bedrock principle of the EU charter.

But beyond self image, is the reality that too many people are trying to immigrate to Germany too quickly. Even if the refugees were all white Christians, it would be too much, too soon. 

The issue is not race or religion, although many Germans are rightly questioning how the influx of Muslims will change their society. The issue is a government that ignores common sense and implements policies that enable and encourage millions to trek hundreds of miles to settle in places that are unprepared to care for them now, and in the future. It is thoughtless politics that Chancellor Merkel and her party will probably pay for it at the polls.


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