Fight and Flight


According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are more refugees or displaced persons in the world today than at any point before in human history. The majority of them are children. This summer witnessed the explosion of the Syrian refugee crisis into the Western sphere as desperate Syrians pushed westward to reach some measure of both physical and economic security—there are now more refugees in Europe than at any point since World War Two. This issue is neither a short-term nor temporary one. While it is contingent upon the situation in Syria (which is embroiled in a civil war with no end in sight), the refugee crisis will nevertheless most likely be a long-term, intergenerational issue. Yet, no meaningful efforts have been made to attempt to deal with the crisis. The European Union has been paralyzed in a state of inaction, with individual countries having vastly differing approaches to the issue. Germany has taken the most welcoming stance, using an “open-door” policy to accept its refugees. However, the resultant stream of thousands of refugees has overwhelmed the German state. Other states, such as Hungary and the UK, have taken much more conservative stances to the crisis.

It is clear there is much to be done to ensure the safety and welfare of the refugees, as well as to deal with the political crisis in Syria. In an effort to contribute meaningfully to that discussion, CPR now presents two voices discussing various aspects of the crisis.

Elif Naz Coker has written an article examining the (failed) policies of various affected countries, focusing in particular on Turkey. She analyzes the actions of the Turkish government in contributing to and exacerbating the crisis, and possible remedial policies for the future.

Matthew Zipf has written an article that attempts to understand and explain why it is Germany that has risen to the challenge of the crisis. He explains what it is about Germany’s particular history with refugees that has led to both the German people and government welcoming refugees, and the implications that this influx of people will have on the German identity and nation.


Germany and the Migrant Crisis

By Matthew Zipf

“THE problem is not a European problem,” said Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary, of the many hundred thousand asylum-seekers pouring into the Continent. “The problem is a German problem. Nobody would like to stay in Hungary.”

As it happens, many people would like to stay in Hungary, or at least would prefer it to living in a war zone. But that opportunity—Europe’s opportunity—to provide collective respite, to prove the EU offers more than moral rhetoric, is lost. In September, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, outlined a plan to resettle 160,000 refugees across Europe. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, presented a plan for five times that, in her country alone. Germany is not Europe, but for the refugees, it may as well be.

With the migrant influx, German history has once again subsumed German politics. The parliament today speaks of the 11 million refugees resettled after World War II, of the guest-worker program in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and of reunification, in 1990. Merkel, with her open-door asylum policy for Syrian refugees, is not coming out of left-field. She sees the political possibilities—an expanded national identity, new moral authority, and a restored worker base—but is ultimately building on a long history of large-scale migration.

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IN the aftermath of World War II, occupied Germany received over 11 million expellees and refugees, the majority of whom were emigrating from former German territories to accommodate the new, post-war borders. These migrants were of German descent; they may have lived abroad, but they could relate ethnically. Though tensions in the cities arose between long-time residents and the recent arrivals, by the end of the 1940s, the Wirtschaftswunder had kicked in, and economic growth quelled social tension.

As unemployment plummeted from 12 percent in 1950 to 1 percent a decade later, the West German government signed Gastarbeiter (guest worker) treaties with Italy, Spain, Turkey, and other lesser-developed economies, allowing foreign workers to enter Germany under the expectation that they eventually return home. The influx of unskilled migrants pushed native West Germans into higher-paying positions, all the while providing German factories with much-needed assembly-line workers.

Despite its economic success, the Gastarbeiter program proved a blemish on Germany’s post-war record. Many Turks, who constituted the largest national group in the program, never fully integrated, nor did they return home, as the program initially expected. Instead, they formed ethnic enclaves in Germany’s cities, separate from the mainstream social fabric. Children of the Gastarbeiter—Turkish or otherwise—gained the right to reside in Germany, but not citizenship. Integration proceeded slowly, and at times, never occurred. “We should learn from the experiences of the '60s,” Merkel said in a recent speech to her parliament, “when we asked Gastarbeiter to come to us, and make integration the top priority from the start.”

In 1990, the Germans began yet a larger migration: reunification. West Germans paid a Solidaritätszuschlag—a solidarity surcharge—to fund integration with the economically-depressed East. “The Germans were in the mood to make this enormous sacrifice,” Dr. Volker Berghahn, professor emeritus of History at Columbia University told me, “because it was for the greater cause of reuniting Germany. But whether they will dip into their pockets again and accept a sort of refugee tax, I don’t know.”

Fifteen years after reunification, the German parliament formally designated Germany an “immigrant nation.” It has since been de jura multicultural and accepting. But more pressing, according to Berghahn, is the de facto question of integration: “Can a society like Germany, who said they’ll accept 800,000 migrants, actually cope with that?”


BY 2060, according to Federal Statistics Office, the German population will shrink to between 68 and 73 million people. At the same time, the percentage of working-age residents will fall by ten percentage points, so that of every eight Germans, one will be 80 or older. “We need people,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced, at a state event in early September. “We need young people. We need immigrants. All of you know that, because we have too few children.”

Germany’s social security program depends on young workers, and, like in the United States, the proportion of net contributors to net recipients has declined in the past two decades. But the migrants could change this. As Michael Clemens and Justin Sandefur of the Center for Global Development note in Foreign Affairs, Germany will reap “tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lifetime added-value from each Syrian that is successfully integrated into its labor force.” Resettlement, on average, will cost $14,000 per person.

The effect on wages, meanwhile, will be minimal. KNOMAD, a World Bank research agency, estimates that a 1 percent increase in a population—exactly the projected growth of Germany after the influx of asylum-seekers—on average depresses wages by only .1 percent. Moreover, asylum-seekers are typically more productive than other classes of migrants: In 2004, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that refugees in the United States earn up to 20 percent more than non-refugee migrants.

But Germany will benefit from more than just the demographic and economic boost. There are international ties to be formed. There is cultural diversity to be gained. The Syrian refugees, many of whom are well-educated, from Syria’s middle class, could help expand the Middle Eastern market for Germany’s export-dependent companies, and could further integrate Arab states into the international order. And then there’s the street life of Germany’s cities: Berliners now delight as much in their Turkish restaurants as in their Currywurst. Why not let Munich have falafel and schawarma?


IF you understand Harlem’s reaction to gentrification, then you understand conservative Germans’ reaction to the migrants. They fear displacement and cultural loss. They fear they will no longer recognize the towns and cities they grew up in. And in Germany more so than in America, there is a dialogue over these fears, and over how the culture should proceed.

In 2000, Friedrich Merz, then leader of the center-right Christian-Democratic Union, wrote in Die Welt of the need for Leitkultur, or leading culture, by which immigrants would assimilate to certain guiding national norms. Immigrants to Germany, Merz argued, had a duty to adopt and respect Germany’s values.

Ten years after Merz, the prominent Islamophobe and former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin added to the debate on Leitkultur, offering the prognosis that the waves of post–World War II Islamic immigration have caused Germany to become, on average, less intelligent. Sarrazin’s message resonated with some, but the rebuke was much stronger. Germany—unlike neighboring Austria, Switzerland, and Denmark—has no major far-right party, and thus no real, mainstream home for reactionaries like Sarrazin.

But Berghahn, the professor of History, suggests that Sarrazin reflects how race remains a part of the debate over assimilation. “This is where the ordinary German majority still has problems: to see themselves as a multicultural, multiethnic society,” he told me. “For centuries, since the rise of German nationalism at least, they saw themselves as ethnically homogeneous.”

“So it will be very interesting,” Berghahn added, “to see whether German society takes this opportunity to show that we have really changed, and are no longer as our grandfathers were in the 1930s, when they rounded up Jews and murdered them.”


WHAT is Germanness, and who is it for? If it is only for whites and Christians and those of native birth, then Germany is no different from Hungary. But they are not the same countries, nor do they have the same politics. German politicians differ—they have a sensitivity to history that their Hungarian counterparts lack. They understand that while the desire to preserve the German identity may be benign, parts of that identity have historically been toxic, and must be countered. They recognize, critically, that while a functional society will have shared values, a healthy society will regulate what those values are.

The success of this migration rests on the ability of everyday Germans and their politicians to manage the German national identity, to assert that being German has nothing to do with blood or birth. But as much as the Germans must accept the migrants, they must also be honest about which parts of their identity they are not willing to sacrifice. Full multiculturalism cannot be the policy anymore than full assimilation can, or there will be the same general anomie and unrest that exists now in France.

These migrants did not simply appear in Europe, let alone in Germany. They crossed the Mediterranean on packed dinghies and paid smugglers and hiked along highways and rode in stuffed trains and suffered. Germany is their paradise, Merkel their guiding light—that much we saw at Budapest’s Keleti Station, as hundreds of migrants chanted her country’s name. If Germanness can be for all those who love Germany, for all those who cannot think of a better home, then the migrants might just fit.

Matthew Zipf is a first-year at Columbia College with prospective majors in Computer Science and Political Science. As a dual citizen of Switzerland and the United States, he participates in both European and American politics. He can be reached at:

Humanity Washed Ashore: The Failures of Turkey and the European Union

By Elif Çoker

On the morning of September 30, 2015, a refugee camp in the Franco-Italian border town Ventimiglia was raided by the Italian police. The refugees were forcibly drawn away from their shelters, and were promised to be taken to the Red Cross facilities nearby. When the students of French university Sciences Po’s Menton campus (located on the French side of that border) tried to bring basic supplies like food, water, and blankets for shelter, they were refused access to refugees by the police forces and the material they brought was piled up in a corner instead of being distributed. For the first time in years, a Schengen zone border was policed again, and passport and residence permit checks resumed.n September 2, 2015, the lifeless body of a three-year-old Syrian refugee from Kobane washed up on the shores of a resort town in Turkey. He was with his family on an inflatable boat that would be capsized with 12 people on board. The boat was one of the many trying to make it to the Greek island of Kos, and Kurdi was one of the many infants who lost his life on the journey. It took the devastating photos of the three-year old being displayed on media outlets and the Internet to finally spur some European leaders to react.

Had anything changed in these 28 days besides the release of countless statements expressing remorse and vague calls for action? Had any concrete improvements been made in handling the refugee crisis that now affects a region stretching from Iraq to the United Kingdom? The answer is a resounding no. The world is failing to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis; Europe seems unable or unwilling to ensure the refugees’ safety, to provide them the asylum they demand, to establish a consensus within public opinion regarding governmental policies, or, in short, to preserve humanity. The grave failure is caused by a significant delay in the global recognition of and response to the crisis. This paper will attempt to analyze a few of the many causes of that delay: the false prediction of the length and scope of the Syrian conflict, a collective and insinuated refusal to accept and integrate the refugees, and a lack of a decisive stance against the clashing parties in Syria.

The Western media has only recently started to cover the details of the Syrian refugee crisis proliferating over these past few months. However, the country has been mired in a constant state of civil war since 2009, and the refugee crisis began back in 2011. According to current United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, in the past four years, a total of 4,052,703 Syrians have been affected by the conflict and were forced to move. Of those, 1,938,999 refugees have been registered in Turkey, and accounting for unregistered individuals, the total number of refugees in Turkey is believed to push 2.5 million. Turkey serves not only as a host, but also as a transit hub for many of the refugees, and its policies are directly affecting the scope of the crisis in Europe. The open-door policy Turkey has adopted since 2011 has allowed the aforementioned millions to enter the country—but that is not the end of the story.

Previously, existing mechanisms issued temporary ID cards to would-be asylum seekers while they were in the process of registering with the UNHCR and obtaining refugee status. As the crisis escalated,Turkey’s Law on Foreigners and International Protection, allowing large number of fleeing refugees to legally stay in Turkey, was passed, and a new migration management agency was created to monitor the influx of Syrians and provided them a status of “temporary protection” which had an undefined time limit. The mechanism soon proved inefficient as UNHCR failed to respond to the refugees’ demands and began scheduling appointments for applicants for as late as the year 2020.

The UNHCR currently has very limited working capacity in Turkey and very few Turkish NGOs are partners with UNHCR. According to former spokesman for UNHCR and current president of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration (IGAM), Metin Çorabatir, the Turkish government drastically reduced its level of collaboration with the agency and started establishing its own refugee camps along the border, creating a bureaucratic duality. The agency is understaffed, underfunded, cannot offer educational or vocational services, and provides only temporary shelter at the camps, giving no aid with respect to integrating into Turkish society. The government takes pride in its well-equipped border camps, but neglects to mention that two thirds of the refugees in Turkey actually live outside of these camps and in various cities like Istanbul, Gaziantep, and Hatay. Moreover, while the government does provide access to healthcare for the refugees, it does not facilitate their search for shelter, and rent prices skyrocket wherever refugees tend to concentrate in the country. The real estate market takes advantage of the vulnerability with clear price discrimination against Syrians, forcing refugees to pay higher rents, down payments, and security deposits, and sometimes requiring a Turkish guarantor to sign the lease. In terms of education and opportunity, while some Syrian high school diploma holders can get into Turkish universities, there is as yet no system designed to let younger children into the primary schools, let alone any opportunity to educate them in their native Arabic.

Clearly, Turkey’s open door policy remains flawed. While the country still accepts the Syrian citizens flowing in at the borders, it needs to do more to assist and integrate them. When first initiated, the open door policy was an attack against Bashar Al-Assad, after the incredibly close friendship between him and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ended very bitterly. The welcoming of the refugees was initially motivated in part by a desire to create a pro-Turkish lobby within Syria for the hoped-for post-war period. However, neither Turkish government officials nor the refugees themselves had predicted the length and intensity of the conflict. The measures that were designed to be temporary, like camps and asylum seeker ID cards that do not allow travel outside of the city they are assigned to, did not correspond with the long-term needs of the refugees, like vocational training, access to education for young children, or housing aid, and created discontentment and need for mobilization. Thus began the illegal and dangerous journey of families such as that of Aylan Kurdi, who were denied exit visas, towards Greece and further into Europe.

One of the reasons why the Syrian refugee crisis only recently started to become a focal point in Western media and politics is because the influx into these countries significantly increased in the second half of 2015. As UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres put it to Reuters at the end of September, “Unfortunately only when the poor enter the halls of the rich, do the rich notice that the poor exist.” When the refugee crisis was contained within the borders of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq (the four countries with the largest population of Syrian refugees), it was a Middle Eastern conflict and not of primary concern for the West. But once the Greek islands, the Franco-Italian border, and Balkan countries saw the mass arrival of refugees, then the problem began to be recognized.

The EU countries were, and still are, afraid of the massive influx. With the exception of Sweden that has an open door policy for those applying for refugee status, European nations are against the idea of accepting the refugees, granting them appropriate status, and initiating an integration process. In a New York Times report from September 30, 2015, German senior official Volker Stanzel explains the reluctance of governments in responding to the demands of the refugees: “We’re in a process that is ugly, that some people call ‘refugee poker,’ with everyone horse trading and fighting for their own skin, but doing so in the framework of existing European mechanisms.” Indeed, these past months have witnessed government brutality towards incoming refugees in Hungary, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban claiming that the “men from the Arab world who look like warriors” tried to enter his country, and that this was “forced upon” Hungary, according to the Associated Press. Another group of refugees were being sent back and forth in trains at the Franco-Italian border for months as neither country wanted to accept them. These European countries are missing the point that the first country of asylum that a refugee enters does not necessarily have to be their new homeland. Çorabatir insists that while the refugees’ rights of choosing which country to seek asylum in is not unlimited, their decisions and preferences need to be respected and accounted for, stressing that Greece and Eastern European countries have been acting in an “egotistical manner” in the handling of the crisis.

Given the scope of the current crisis, even the well-intended governmental attempts to offer solutions remain too naïve and inefficient. On September 9, 2015, the International Peace Institute published the Salzburg Declaration on the Refugee Crisis, drafted by the likes of Amr Moussa, Ghassan Salame, Lloyd Axworthy and Rita Hauser. Some of the bullet points from that declaration include:

Create humane, properly resourced and equipped reception centers in key hubs in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe where refugees are congregating; ensure that these centers provide for the basic needs of those seeking protection, and assist them in the process of resettlement; devise criteria for indicative quotas against which Member States throughout the world should be asked to accept refugees; treat all nationals fleeing violence from Syria as eligible for temporary protection status.

A brief comparison between these points and what Europe has been doing so far demonstrates a clear contrast. While the declaration suggests establishment of reception centers in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, the EU has agreed on pledging to give one million euros in funds to UNHCR projects in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The EU is still refusing to confront the fact that there is a very significant refugee presence in its territories and is desperately trying to contain the crisis in the Middle East instead of responding to imminent needs of people suffering in their trains, at their borders, and on their streets. French President François Hollande’s statement to France 24 that “It is close to the scene of the tragedy that the refugees must be kept, welcomed, supported” reflects the collective denial of the European leaders that the crisis is far too intense and spread out to limit it to the imminent periphery of Syria.

The third point in the declaration calls for indicative quotas that are supposed to ensure some sort of equal distribution of refugees. While close to 4 million refugees are currently living in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, the 28 countries of the EU recently made a pledge to redistribute only 120,000 refugees in Europe, though the UNHCR estimates a total of 477,000 refugees are actually already present on the continent. Not only are European countries not attempting to accept quotas that accurately correspond to the refugees’ demand and the countries’ own capacities, they are clearly not “treating all fleeing violence from Syria as eligible for temporary protection” either. On the contrary, one of the few measures that the union has agreed on includes asking Greece and Italy to reinforce their border controls against the influx of refugees, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressing the need for “fully operational European border and coast guard” and the commission and other member states censuring and pressuring the two countries for allowing too many refugees to move north without being identified and thereby making it easier for them to successfully seek asylum in northern Europe. The European Union is not treating the refugee influx into its borders as a humanitarian crisis that needs to be alleviated through collaboration and sacrifice, but as a threat to its society and economy that needs to be averted.

The second half of 2015 has observed the Syrian refugee crisis take on a whole new dimension, spreading out to dozens of countries and affecting millions of people, not only the dislocated Syrians but also the residents of the countries to which they have immigrated. The crisis has also demonstrated many structural flaws in the European and international political systems, which have impeded a successful response. The lack of funding and operational strength within UNHCR and refugee relief NGOs became evident as the number of refugees increased and their needs were not met. Turkey’s rushed policies, fueled more by anger and hatred towards Bashar al-Assad than humanitarian concerns, proved that opening borders to two million refugees in order to construct the image of an omnipotent, charitable regional power counterbalancing the tyranny of the Syrian Baath regime without having the sufficient infrastructure, humanitarian aid resources, and long-term integration plans would sooner or later cause discontent on the part of both the refugees and Turkish citizens, and trigger a second wave of massive movement.

Indeed, Fulya Ozerkan of Agence France Presse claims that “Turkey’s refusal to give [Syrian immigrants] refugee status is among the factors driving the current exodus to Europe.” Suffering from the repercussions of economic crises and in a state of anxiety, European societies started to lose faith in their ruling parties and favor more extreme political movements, especially those in the right wing. The January 2015 attack to Charlie Hebdo offices in France created a xenophobic backlash against Muslims and Middle Eastern immigrants and residents, further enforcing the support for Marine Le Pen’s Front National and other extreme right parties by some groups. European governments, worried about the effect on welfare programs, anxious about changes in the dynamics of the labor market, still facing issues of integration and equality with the existing body of immigrants, and facing reactionary pressures from their voters, are showing an understandable but clear lack of willingness to grant asylum to Syrian refugees, who in turn must resort to setting up camp at the borders or using illegal forms of transportation, which can result in great physical harm and, all too often, death. Yet now that the refugee crisis is getting the media attention it deserves, and the personal stories of survivors are making the news and being shared on social media, the pressure on Turkey and the EU countries to respond more effectively may increase.

As long as strong and collective political action, including possible direct military intervention in Syria itself, is not taken to resolve the conflict in Syria, no measures to help the refugees will be enough. The disagreement between European leaders about whose side, if any, to take in the Syrian conflict delays urgently needed concrete action. While Chancellor Angela Merkel calls for an “inclusive peace process,” President Hollande says that political transition can only happen with the final departure of Assad; as air strikes are being launched by France, Turkey, Canada and the United States, the lack of a corresponding political intervention to support them is making the efforts lose impact. Unilateral agendas are taking precedence over collective interests, as we see with Turkey attacking the Kurds on the pretense of fighting ISIS. While violence is on the rise in the region, there can be no expectation of refugees going back home. On the contrary, the number of Syrian citizens having to leave their homeland will only increase. Will Turkey and the EU finally recognize the long-term nature of the crisis and decide to sacrifice immediate political benefits for extended humanitarian aid and integration measures? Or will the world community continue to witness more infant deaths and ruined refugee camps surrounded by police at what once used to be symbolic and uncontrolled borders? •

Elif Naz Çoker is a junior at the Columbia School of General Studies as part of its Dual BA Program with French social sciences university SciencesPo. Having majored in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies in France, Elif has now shifted her focus to Neuroscience and Sociology. Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and currently the Middle East and North Africa representative of the CIRCA Academics board, Elif is emotionally attached to and academically interested in the political and social issues of the region. She can be reached at: