Defendants in the Court of Düsseldorf. (Speigel Online)
We do not need to be reminded of the lasting political debacles of 2016—but the news cannot help but highlight the fallouts from Brexit and a Trump presidency. What we do not hear enough about is what went right.
Next week is the one year anniversary of the attacks at the Brussels airport. Despite the pain and anger, the Belgians refused to elect their Trump at the end of last year. They refused the far right and opted in favor of a party with a more open mind towards immigration.
This year, as Britain plans its exit from the EU, three other nations face a similar dilemma. France is facing a “Frexit” vote if Marine Le Pen wins the presidency. It will also look at Trump style immigration bans. In the Netherlands, the far-right leader Geert Wilders—who has been on trial for hate speech and discrimination—has said if elected, he will “de-Islamize Europe” by imposing bans (thankfully the latest poll results of the Dutch election seem to deny him this opportunity). And then we have Germany.
Merkel is up for reelection in November. She has faced a blowback from her open immigration policy from within her party and without. Germany has seen security problems – arguably as a result of this open policy. Even so, Germany remains ardent in supporting refugees. In 2016, Germany took in 280,000 asylum seekers—a 70% decrease from the 2015 intake of 890,000.
Despite facing a lot of public dissent for her open policy, Merkel has schooled Trump on the requirements of the Geneva Convention on refugees and maintains the moral and legal obligation of the more developed nations to take in those in need from around the world. All German government functions outwardly support this policy.
In June of last year, a fire broke out in a refugee shelter over a dispute over lunch during Ramadan. Ramadan is the Muslim month of fasting, and some refugees insisted on getting a hot meal midday—before dusk when the fast breaks. This angered other refugees who saw it as a sign of disrespect towards those who were fasting. This was the reason behind the argument, which led to a fire in the asylum center, causing 10 million euros worth of damage. The building has since had to be gutted and repaired.
Two of the accused arsonists, an Algerian and a Moroccan man, both aged 26, were arrested and appointed a public defender in their case. After a long trial, the two asylum seekers were released without reprimand. The court admitted that there was not enough substantiated evidence to convict the accused.
So while this ruling gives hope that Germany will not follow in the Trump path, we do not know what will unfold in the coming months. What we do know is that by November, the shape of Europe will be very different.