NOT LONG AGO I TOLD YOU GERMANY WOULD GREATLY BENEFIT FROM TAKING IN SO MANY REFUGEES FROM SYRIA.... THIS ARTICLE IN "THE ECONOMIST" OF OCTOBER 2015 SHOWS I WAS NOT MISTAKEN - Keith Hunt
The migrant crisis
No one was sure Germany could handle its migrant crisis. It turns out it can
WHEN Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, made her case in August that the country could manage its record inflow of refugees, she added an exhortation. "German thoroughness is super," she said, "but now German flexibility is needed." A snigger went through the room; Germans rarely consider flexibility a national virtue. Yet they are doing admirably.
Between 800,000 and 1.5m refugees will arrive in Germany this year, straining every part of Germany's usually orderly administration. The problems begin in the processing centres where asylum seekers are registered. Many are overwhelmed, leaving some refugees unrecorded and raising fears that terrorists may enter. The federal government wants to hire thou-; sands of staff, but training them takes time.
The next challenge is housing. "Terrible," is how Michaela Vogelreuther de-ascribes the situation in the Bavarian city of Furth, where she is in charge of accommodating refugees. When its reception centre ;filled up, she added satellite facilities in 'surrounding towns and requisitioned a gymnasium. Schoolchildren must now do without physical education. Ms Vogelreuther also lacks beds, showers and lavatories. Security is understaffed; fights among refugees are frequent, often between different religious or ethnic groups.
Refugee children must attend school, tone teachers' association reckons an additional 25,000 teachers are needed. Some [schools simply place the refugees, most of whom speak no German, in regular classes. In elementary school this approach may be better than separate "welcome classes", says Ludger Wossmann at the Ifo Institute, a think-tank; children pick up languages quickly. But in large numbers, refugees can lower the academic level for German children. "Welcome classes", by contrast, may be necessary for older children, but can keep them from integrating. Eyup Yildiz, the deputy mayor of Dinslaken in North-Rhine Westphalia, worries that segregated classes will leave refugees unemployable and susceptible to extremism.
Refugees of university age face different problems. They are entitled to study just as Germans are, but in practice they lack school records and language skills. This gave Markus Kressler, a psychology student in Berlin, the idea to found Kiron University, a transitional academy where refugees can take online courses before being placed in a regular university. Donors and sponsors cover the fees (€1,200 per student). About 150 have enrolled, and there is no upper limit, Mr Kressler says.
For educated refugees, the prospects are good. After three months in the country they gain permission to work. For the first 15 months they must prove that no unemployed EU citizen wants their job, but this is usually feasible: German industries face major labour shortages. Such young, skilled newcomers represent an antidote to Germany's shrinking population.
Integrating unskilled refugees is harder. The World Bank estimates the illiteracy rate among those aged 14-24 at 4% for Syrians, 18% for Iraqis and 53% for Afghans. Germany's new minimum wage of €8.50 does not help. Asylum applicants who fail to get a job end up on welfare. The latest figures from the federal labour agency show that the number of refugees in work was up by 8% year-on-year in July, but the number of those on the dole was up 23%. Among Syrians, who often cannot read Latin script, the figures are even higher.
Most economists think the economic effects of the refugee crisis are positive. Germany's additional spending to house and feed the refugees-estimated at €4 billion this year and €10 billion next-acts like a stimulus programme. Commerzbank, Germany's second-largest bank, reckons that this will lift German growth from 1.7% to 1.9% in 2016. Germany's local, state and federal governments will still have a budget surplus of €23 billion this year and €13 billion in 2016, according to an estimate by four leading German think-tanks.
In its logistical response, Germany is thus proving itself more flexible than Germans could have hoped. Whether the country can avoid long-term cultural alienation is harder to measure. ■