Merkel Combatting Both Refugee Crisis And Public Skepticism

50 minutes ago

At the Thursday, October 15 EU summit, European leaders will continue scrambling to confront the ongoing refugee crisis. 

For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has stuck to her principled stance that Germany can take in hundreds of thousands of refugees this year-- without raising taxes, she reaffirmed this week-- the political cost of that position is becoming apparent.

Polls show that the widespread optimism on display a few weeks ago is being eroded by an increasing skepticism among the German public about the country's ability to confront the refugee challenge, while local officials struggle to find refugee housing more appropriate than tent cities as winter approaches. The issue has hurt Merkel's approval rating, opened rifts in her governing coalition, and prompted fierce criticism within the ranks of her own party, which has slid in the polls.

It has also renewed fears about the growing power of the far right, as attacks on refugee centers topped 500 this year. On Monday an estimated 8,000 people turned out at a Dresden rally organized by PEGIDA, an anti Islam group whose support has been rekindled in recent months. PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann blamed Merkel's welcoming stance towards refugees from the Middle East for leading the country towards "a European civil war," while the former PEGIDA candidate in Dresden's mayoral elections called for Saxony to secede from Germany.

Now there are reports of an impending deal between Merkel's conservative allies to set up "transit zones" along the border where asylum-seekers would be held provisionally in order to weed out those from countries with little chance of being granted asylum.

Several weeks ago the manager of a refugee shelter in Berlin told me that a great many people fall into that category who are effectively slowing down the system. Maintaining public support for refugees with valid claims to asylum, he said, would require a more efficient mechanism for expelling those who don't.

Nonetheless, critics of the plan compare the transit zones to prison camps and question their viability.

On Sunday, October 18 , Merkel will head to Turkey, the gateway to Europe for Syrian refugees, where she and other EU leaders are hoping their Turkish counterparts will help ensure that fewer people ever make it to such transit zones-- by intercepting more migrants and preventing them from ever reaching Europe's door.