If statistics alone are the judge, then the staggering 800,000 to one million refugees who are expected to apply for asylum in Germany this year have put the country streets ahead of all its neighbours in the EU’s response to the worst refugee crisis to hit Europe since the Second World War.
But even in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted that the nation is well equipped to meet the refugee crisis, not everything is perfect. While across the rest of the European Union, the reaction has been decidedly chequered.
Germany continues to be plagued by far-right attacks on refugee accommodation and police say there have been at least 200 such incidents this year alone. Asylum-seekers’ homes have been torched or surrounded by mobs of local residents and right-wingers screaming “filth out”.
The latest suspected firebomb attack was on a refugee home in Heppenheim in the west of Germany on 3 September, in which several refugees were hurt and one seriously injured after being forced to jump out of a second-floor window. Meanwhile, the country is braced for a huge new influx of some 14,000 refugees over the coming days.
A newly-published survey has shown that the country is divided. While 36 per cent of people in the former West Germany fear the consequences of the refugee influx, in the former communist East Germany, 46 per cent said they were worried or felt threatened.
Across the rest of Europe, Sweden appears to be the only EU country with a majority positively disposed towards foreign non-EU immigration. Between 71 and 77 per cent approve, according to a recent Eurostat survey. At the bottom of the list come Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia where only between 15 and 21 per cent welcome immigrants.
They are followed closely by Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece, where between 22 and 28 per cent of the population is positive towards non-EU immigration. Anti-foreigner sentiment in these countries may explain why their governments adopt a similarly hard line and have resolutely refused to accept the idea of refugee quotas.
Robert Fico, Slovakia’s Prime Minister, recently echoed his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, by insisting that his country was a “Christian” nation which did not want to accept Muslim refugees. In the most heavily populated EU member-states including Britain, Ireland France, Spain, and Belgium, a range of between 49 and 29 per cent have a positive view of non-EU immigration.
Eurostat statistics for the beginning of the current crisis give the number of first-time asylum application throughout the EU during the first quarter of 2015.
Germany, as expected, registered 73,000 applications during that period which accounted for up 40 per cent of the total - half of which were made up of Syrians, Afghans and Kosovars. That was followed by Hungary which, despite the hardline attitude of its government, accepted 32,000 new applications, 13 times the amount for the same period last year. Italy came third with 15,300 applications, followed by France with 14,800 and Sweden with 11,400 applications. Austria registered 6,200, while Britain took seventh place with 7,330 applications.
Spain, Portugal and the EU’s Eastern European members, with the exception of Hungary, were all towards the bottom of the list.
With no end to the crisis in sight, the EU is under mounting pressure to come up with a refugee distribution system that will enable Europe to shoulder the influx more fairly. The Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is reported to be considering fines for EU countries which refuse to take part.
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