Refugee problem in Europe: the view of the German press (materials of Spiegel and FAZ)

Currently the refugee crisis in Europe is a hot topic that is discussed everywhere. Especially in Germany, one of the countries which take in the most refugees, debate is becoming harsher with politicians struggling to find a solution after initial euphoria has passed. There is a split of the German population between taking in all refugees and others who want to limit access for refugees and migrants to Germany. The population is increasingly unsatisfied with how the government handles the situation. Often politicians don’t provide any solutions worth pursuing.

In this research work the view on refugee crisis Europe is analysed by having a closer look at the German press. For the analysis the publications from a left-wing newspaper (Spiegel Online) as well as a conservative one (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)) were taken. These publications reviewed stem from the period of December 2014 to October 2015. In total 35 articles from Spiegel Online and 31 articles from FAZ were analyzed.

Five major topics that the newspapers reported which are in the centre of attraction were singled out on the basis of analysis: reasons for the massive flight; the situation on the Balkans, a major migration route; a fair distribution of refugees across Germany and Europe; more integration for refugees in the German society and finally the attitude toward refugees among the German population.

1. The reasons for the massive flight

The Spiegel focuses on 2 major reasons for the massive flight: the situation in the refugees’ native land and the actions of the German government. In a Spiegel interview with Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the SPD on October 2nd, Gabriel claimed that the deteriorating situation in refugee camps in countries such as Jordan was responsible for the refugees to «literally taking down their tents and heading to Europe and Germa- ny» [1]. He explicitly called this the reason for the ever-increasing stream of refugees and not the behaviour of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

However, Merkel had previously announced that asylum in Germany has no upper limits, which was seen as very controversial even amongst her own coalition. Her state-ment «Wir schaffen das» (We will make it), which became the slogan of this movement in Germany, is also not highly esteemed throughout the population.

Regarding reasons for the refugees across the Mediterranean to come to Europe and especially Germany, the FAZ reports that most of them are from Syria, a country struck by civil war, followed by Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria; all countries that suffer heavy political conflicts. According to the articles published in the FAZ, aid in these regions is needed to lower the refugee flow to Europe. FAZ agrees with the main reason of why refugees come but it refrains from the criticism of the current Merkel’s government.

2. The situation on the Balkans

Most refugees take the route across the Balkans, but it is getting more and more dif-ficult now since countries begin to close their borders. Both newspapers place emphasis on the situation on Balkans which became a transit for refugees to Germany.

At the same time, Spiegel focuses on the dramatic situation the refugees have to go through now on their journey and on the pain and the difficulties refugees have to endure on the Balkans. The route from the Greek islands to mainland Europe and across the Balkans onward to central Europe has developed into the biggest route that refugees take according to Spiegel Online.

FAZ focuses on the legal aspect of this problem that is to say under what circumstances refugees may claim asylum status and the policy of the Balkan countries. The

FAZ reports about the deportations, for example it is stated immediately in the beginning of the articles that since the start of the year almost 40% of all asylum applications were from the Balkans. Typically people from this region will not be granted asylum.

3. A fair distribution of refugees across Germany and Europe

Distributing and relocating the refugees is no easy task as each day thousands enter Germany. Germany is debating about upper limits and where refugees might live but there are still a lot of facts missing on how many refugees exactly are in Germany, how many still live in tents and how many already in flats or houses. Even the government does not have an exact overview anymore. Both newspapers complain about this problem and the current situation.

As Spiegel reflects the policy of SPD, it focuses on the social part of this problem and takes a more domestic approach. It says that refugee camps are no attractive place to stay in; sometimes they do not even keep minimum health standards set by the WHO. In some cases the refugees even outnumber the locals. This happened in Niedersachsen, where the small village of Sumte with just 100 inhabitants took in 1000 refugees in an empty office building. In the states of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Baden-Württemberg landlords cancelled the leases of renters to put refugees in their flats.

Spiegel then goes on to talk about social flats being built. But the demand is vastly greater than the supply and thus both refugees as well as Germans will have trouble to find affordable living space in future.

FAZ considers the problem of distribution quotas and points to the resistance of Eastern European nations’ governments against migrant quotas. Quotas are «absurd and counterproductive» says Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Fico [3]. So FAZ reports more about the situation across the whole of Europe.

4. More integration for refugees in the German society

There is no principal difference in the views of both newspapers on this problem. They describe the situation and suggest the number of certain actions to solve this problem.

According to Spiegel to make it easier for refugees to integrate into society the CSU suggested to ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) and ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) to bring a TV station aimed at refugees into life. One priority is to include young refugees into school life, so as soon as one is capable enough of following in class, he or she will be put into a normal German school class and will be treated just as any other student.

However there are also infrastructural problems for refugees, for example in opening a bank account. Without a bank account, you will not receive a flat, neither a phone con-tract, not even membership in a sports club.

The FAZ suggests free German courses for refugees to make it easier to integrate them into society. The requirements for this were enabled by the German government in a set of laws that is set to be put into practice on November 1st. Preparations for the courses have been finished already. This is crucial as the amount of refugees without work is ever increasing. Another article tells about that refugees could be put into the voluntary service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst) in Germany. Refugees that are set for a longer stay in Germany should bring something back into society that took them in.

5. The attitude toward refugees among the German population

The materials of both newspapers have controversial tendencies about this problem.

Spiegel Online surveyed the mayors of the 30 biggest cities in Germany and asked about their opinion – with quite surprising results. Only 3 speak of a negative situation as of now. This interview focuses on positive attitude toward refugees among the German population but from the other hand both newspapers notice the increase of aggression to refugees. Attacks on refugee homes have been increasing a lot lately.

However, according to a Spiegel report not only refugees are the victims of such attacks, also helpers can be targeted. This happened in Halberstadt in Sachsen-Anhalt, where teenagers threw stones on an employee of the Red Cross [2].

The FAZ has also been reporting about the attacks on refugee homes. Although much less. The FAZ has published the articles that say about the police work and their call on the population for help. But the options to solve this problem both newspapers don’t suggest.

The problems that were analysed in both newspapers are the same but there is a dif-ference in the presentation of the material that indicates their ideological political orien-tation. But both seem to criticise the actions of the government although they represent different political parties.

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