The list of horrors swells. Last week, 71 migrants were found asphyxiated in an abandoned truck in Austria to add to the tally of hundreds of migrants drowning almost by the day in the Mediterranean. The few in Calais who die trying to get to Britain are but tragic notes in the margin of an unfolding narrative of death. The migrants know the odds; nonetheless, the UN says in the next few months the numbers will grow to 3,000 every day taking the risk and successfully entering Europe alive.
It is not Britain, the alleged “soft touch”, which is the favoured destination for what is emerging as one of the great movements of people in history, fleeing the mayhem of Syria, North Africa, Afghanistan, Eritrea or northern Nigeria aided and abetted by sinister, organised gangs of people traffickers. Instead, they prefer Germany. In the last 12 months alone, it has received some 300,000 asylum claims, 12 times more than Britain, on top of the immigration it receives within the EU under the freedom of movement rules it defends to the last. During 2015, the number of asylum seekers to Germany is set to rise to 800,000. Germany is becoming a country of immigration, the most popular destination for the global dispossessed.
If this happened here, the hysteria would be overwhelming. Ukip would perhaps have more than 100 MPs in the House of Commons. There would be a huge majority in favour of leaving the European Union. The air would be thick with calls for ever-tighter controls of our borders, the creation of mass detention centres and forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of migrants. British Conservatives and their press allies would be adopting attitudes ominously similar to the darkest periods in European history.
Yet last week, Chancellor Merkel visited a centre for asylum seekers in Heidenau in east Germany where there had been rightwing extremist rioting a few days earlier.
“There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people,” she said, standing in front of placards accusing her of being the people’s traitor. “There is no tolerance of those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due.”
Confronted by forces that would overwhelm British leaders, the woman the Greek left (and many on the British left who should know better) mistakenly accuse of being the leading advocate of conservative neoliberalism has stood up to be counted. Being the country to which so many want to migrate should be a source of pride, she says. She wants to keep Germany and Europe open, to welcome legitimate asylum seekers in common humanity, while doing her very best to stop abuse and keep the movement to manageable proportions. Which demands a European-wide response. So far, her electorate and her press back her.
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