Germany’s Refugee Inflow: All Under Control Now?
If immigration remains at the level of recent years, about 20% of the populations of France, England and Germany will be Muslim in the foreseeable future.
- If immigration remains at the level of recent years, about 20% of the populations of France, England and Germany will be Muslim in the foreseeable future.
- Germany, due to its high attractiveness for migrants, could well have a larger proportion of Muslim residents than the former colonial powers France or England by 2050.
- For now, key European countries have been comparatively open to immigration, according to poll numbers published by Pew Research Center.
- A worsening of economic conditions can lead to abrupt changes in the attitude of the given country’s population towards migrants.
Almost 190,000 refugees came to Germany last year. This is a dramatic reduction compared to previous years – 700,000 less than in the crisis year of 2015 and 100,000 fewer than in 2016.
But the number is still significantly higher than Germany is used to. In 1999, 138,319 asylum seekers entered the country. The then Interior Minister Otto Schily (SPD) found that this number exceeded the “limits of resilience through immigration,” adding: “The boat is full.”
It is important to note that, even with a smaller number of refugees, the number of Muslims in European countries, including Germany, will increase sharply over the next few years. That is indisputable.
Muslims on the rise in most of Europe
Last November, the Pew Research Center presented data that give a clear indication of the levels of increase of Muslim populations in Europe.
In order to deliver reasonably realistic forecasts, the institute’s demographic researchers developed three possible scenarios: If, for example, the influx of Muslims remains at the very high level of the years 2010 to 2016, their share of the total population in Germany would rise from 6.1% to 20% by the year 2050, and in Europe from 4.9% to 14%.
If this scenario were to bear out, by 2050 Germany, due to its high attractiveness for migrants, could well have a larger proportion of Muslim residents than the former colonial powers France or England.
But even if one were to assume considerably lower migration pressures which, especially in the Middle East, is optimistic given the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the proportion of Muslims in Europe, according to the Pew study, would still rise by 2050 to 11.2%, and to 10.8% in Germany.
Due to the comparatively high fertility rate of Muslim women, the proportion of Muslims in Europe will rise even without any more immigration, from the current level of 4.9% to 7.4%. That would be close to 36 million people, just under 6 million of them in Germany, equal to 8.7% of the total population.
Consequences are incalculable
The numbers presented by the Pew Research Center are scenario-based projections. As with any study of demographic trends, there are uncertainties. For example, all those currently in Europe (and Germany) who are unrecognized as asylum seekers as of now are not included in the study.
This exclusion can change the numbers given above considerably, since it can hardly be assumed in the case of Germany that even rejected asylum seekers will be deported on any large scale.
Whatever the eventual outcome in terms of the percentage numbers, the Pew study makes one thing clear: Political decisions in the coming months and years will play a decisive role as to the size of the future Muslim population in Europe.
If the wave of immigration is indeed significantly curtailed, the proportion of Muslims in almost all European countries remains around 10%.
However, if immigration remains at the level of recent years, about 20% of the populations of France, England and Germany will be Muslim in the foreseeable future. In Sweden, according to the Pew estimate, that number could even reach one-third. The consequences of such a development for the social systems and the inner peace of these countries is incalculable.
The mood can change quickly
Much is at stake. For now, key European countries have been comparatively open to immigration, according to poll numbers published by Pew. For example, the proportion of people in Germany calling a large number of refugees “a major threat” is among the lowest in all European countries surveyed (at 28%).
Pew has also found that, to date, the German population has a predominantly favorable (55%) or even very favorable (10%) image of Muslim immigrants.
Conversely, these figures also mean that even in today’s very prosperous Germany, with its standard of high social security and against the background of a positive image of Muslim migrants, one-third of the population still sees Muslim immigration as a major threat. Only 22% see no danger.
As Pew researchers have observed in other countries in Europe, a worsening of economic conditions can lead to abrupt changes in the attitude of the given country’s population towards migrants.
All of which is why policymakers are well-advised not to test the limits of tolerance that has been brought to bear by their populations to date. They need to focus on stabilizing the social situation.
This includes being mindful of already very tight housing markets. At the lower end of the market, refugees compete head-on with low-income workers for available apartments.
There is already a palpable sense among these low-income workers that they are unduly squeezed. Some of them even feel like “second-class” citizens – as compared to refugees (who have never paid into Germany’s social security system, yet receive benefits that are at par with those of German workers who have paid into the system).
Fuelling the right-wing
Notably, it is this sense of unfairness that has given the Front National in France such a powerful boost in recent elections. In that regard, German politicians must be mindful that, if policies don’t change, the right-wing AfD party stands to score more votes in the future.
That is also why the issue of lifting the suspension of family reunification rights for migrants with limited protection status is such a virulent political matter.
For that reason, it is most curious to note how top SPD politicians, such as Ralf Stegner, a deputy party leader, push so hard for more family members of refugees entering the country. That is clearly not something that his party’s traditional working-class voters favor.
Editor’s note: Adapted from a German-language article by the author in Cicero magazine.