Opinion: Germany needs to think about the long-term impact of migration

It is barely possible to analyze how the high number of refugees will affect Germany's political culture in the long term. It is time to do some serious thinking, says DW's Kerstin Knipp.

The level-headed side of German media has decided to foster new language use in its debate about refugees and asylum: certain metaphors will no longer be used; for instance, terms like "flood of refugees" or "wave of refugees." They imply that migration is a force of nature, or even a natural disaster; such images fuel fears. So these terms will be discarded. As the saying goes, fear is a bad adviser.

Yet even without insinuating anything, the large scale of uncontrolled migration now raises a few unpleasant questions, no matter what the answers are. The figures themselves speak volumes: Germany's Ministry of the Interior expects 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers to enter the country by the end of the year. And looking at the regions where most of them come from, it seems highly unlikely that fewer refugees will go to Germany compared to the past.

Where do the refugees come from?

The largest group of migrants to Germany comes from the southern Balkan states, accounting for almost 40 percent of all migration. In the foreseeable future, their numbers will shrink greatly. Life in their home countries may be difficult, but they do not face war or persecution, so they do not fulfill the decisive criteria for receiving asylum.

Another 40 percent of the refugees and asylum seekers come from war zones in Africa and the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea and Nigeria.

In numbers it means that 320,000 new people will arrive in Germany this year. The figure cannot be seen as a cause for concern at present, but it could be in the long term. The most important question in an asylum application is whether or not the applicant is a victim of persecution in their home country.

But the question does not ask about the person's views. How does the applicant relate to religion and secularism? How are relations between genders viewed? How does the person feel about a secular state? What means do they use to solve conflicts? The questions are legitimate, considering conservative attitudes and widespread violence prevailing in their home countries.

Germany would like to remain a liberal society

Of course, all these questions make it sound like the refugees are being spied on. Besides, many of the answers are open to different interpretations: how does one define liberal or conservative, or reactionary?

People should not be indifferent about these matters because, apart from the numbers of people entering Germany this or next year, each person has values, traditions and opinions. If Germany wants to maintain a tolerant and liberal society, then it must hope that the migrants share these views.

At the moment, Germany is busy tending to the refugees' basic needs. When considering the high numbers, it is anything but an easy task. Pretty soon, however, someone will have to begin the debate about what the numbers mean for Germany's political culture. Will they stabilize the liberal identity of the country? Or will they change it? The only sure answer is: we do not know. The country has graciously welcomed the refugees, yet at the same time, it must assume responsibility for the future of all of its citizens.

Have something to say? Add your comments below.