Germany Reevaluates Open Door Policy


By Claire Li (CMC ’19)

Two days ago was the 15th International Day of Peace (IDP). The world once again turned its attention to finding peaceful solutions to the problems of war. One of the greatest problems the world faces today is the relocation of refugees from the Middle East. While humanitarian agencies are hoping for more support from developed countries, Germany has begun to change its tone regarding its open door policy.

Germany, which has proudly kept its reputation for decades as being the most welcoming European shelter for refugees and asylum seekers, signaled that it may no longer be able to live up to its reputation. On Monday, Angela Merkel admitted that the country made several mistakes in carrying out its open-door policy. “For some time, we didn’t have enough control,” Chancellor Merkel said to her audience, indicating the increasing difficulty of accommodating more refugees. [1] She also expressed a wish to “play back time” so the German federal government and leaders “could have been better prepared.”[2] Though the international community may find Merkel’s change in tone concerning given Germany’s important role in handling the refugee crisis, her words resonate with many within the German public.

In 2015, under Merkel’s open door policy, the government officially approved 140,910 asylum applications but let in over a million refugees. Most of these people were from the Middle East. Germany officially approved almost half of the total refugees accepted by the European Union that year (292,540) and seven times those accepted by France (20,630)[3].

Refugees receive many benefits once approved by Germany, including temporary housing, daily stipends, work permits, and language training. Though government policies imply everyday Germans are welcoming of refugees, much of the German public tends to depict refugees as intruders and criminals. They believe that the refugees disturb the social order and challenge the security of their communities. These worries were vindicated by reports confirming that the notorious 2015 New Year’s Eve attack on German women in Cologne was perpetuated in large part by newly arrived refugees. [4]

What is especially striking is that the influx of refugees seems to have triggered a strong nationalistic and xenophobic campaign within Germany. Throughout 2015, Germany witnessed a soar in the number of people participating in far right-wing organizations and rallies, demanding protection of the traditional German identity “defined by blood and ethnicity.” [5] Similar to the issue of race in the United States or that of corruption in China, the topic on “who is a German” is extremely sensitive in Germany today. The refugee crisis has fundamentally challenged the concept of German identity. It is worth noting that the refugee crisis could not only pose a policy challenge to the national government, but also start a process of Germany redefining its national identity.

Merkel’s change in tone can be seen as a response to a large push against the open door policies from the German public. After years of defending their policies, Merkel and her party are beginning to question their famous phrase of “wir shaffen das” (we will manage). [6] The international community will be keeping a close watch on Germany’s policies and how the government balances public opinion with humanitarian responsibility. Merkel’s speech might signal a shift towards the nationalistic policies that other European countries have adopted in response to the refugee crisis.





[1] Osborne, Samuel. “Angela Merkel Admits She Lost Control of Refugee Crisis in Germany and Would ‘turn Back Time’ If She Could.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 21 Sept. 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] News, BBC. “Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts.” BBC News. N.p., 4 Mar. 2016.

[4] Smale, Alison. “As Germany Welcomes Migrants, Sexual Attacks in Cologne Point to a New Reality.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Jan. 2016.

[5] Delcker, Matthew Karnitschnig and Janosch. “Germany’s Identity Crisis.” POLITICO Germany’s Identity Crisis Comments. N.p., 12 Oct. 2015.

[6] Ibid.







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