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Germany: Growing dissatisfaction with migration policy

September 29, 2023

A majority of Germans want fewer refugees to be accepted into the country. That is according to the latest Deutschlandtrend survey, which also shows that dissatisfaction with the government remains high.

Police officer holding up a stop sign as a small van approaches on the border from Poland
A majority of Germans are keen to see border controls reintroducedImage: Tino Plunert/picture alliance/dpa

The European Union is planning a major reform of its asylum laws. The measures, a response to a sudden inflow of asylum-seekers, include making it possible to extend the period during which refugees can be detained at the external borders and applying strict immigration criteria to include more individuals.

In Germany, the environmentalist Greens are the most migration-friendly party in government and oppose tough restrictions. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz, of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has put his foot down and decided that Germany would not veto the EU plans.

According to the latest survey of 1,302 eligible voters conducted last week by pollster infratest dimap, two-thirds of the electorate believe it is right for the German government to seek a solution at the EU level in dealing with refugees.

Around one-third of those surveyed would prefer national solutions — these are mainly supporters of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which wants a radical reduction in the number of immigrants to Germany.

How are German towns dealing with refugees?

A majority of those polled were skeptical there could even be a European solution: 70% said reforming EU laws effectively would not be feasible in the near future.

More than 220,000 people have already applied for asylum in Germany up to August this year, an increase of about 77% compared to the same period last year. More and more cities and municipalities, whose job it is to house and care for the arrivals, say they have no more capacity.

Some 73% of respondents to the Infratest survey believe that the distribution of refugees in Germany is functioning poorly, while 78% say the integration of refugees into society and the labor market is not working well, and 80% agree that authorities are failing to carry out deportations of rejected asylum seekers.

The growing number of asylum applications has revived the political debate over Germany's immigration policy. Add to this the fact that crucial state elections are coming up in Bavaria and Hesse on October 8, the political debate has become somewhat overheated.

In the Deutschlandtrend survey, two-thirds of respondents were in favor of limiting refugee numbers.

There is also mounting skepticism of immigration in general — especially among supporters of the AfD, the conservative Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union CDU/CSU, and also the Free Democrats (FDP), a part of the center-left coalition under Chancellor Olaf Scholz that caters to a more conservative and neoliberal voter base.

Meanwhile, though economists say the German labor market needs an annual immigration of 400,000 skilled workers, only 27% of respondents said overall immigration was likely to benefit Germany.

What can be done to curb irregular immigration?

Around eight out of ten respondents supported increased border controls as well as reaching agreements with African states to accept rejected asylum seekers.

Markus Söder, Bavaria's state premier and leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), recently began calling for an "integration limit," a ceiling on the number of refugees admitted to Germany. Critics say imposing such a limit would violate international law, but 71% of respondents support the proposal. The approval runs through all parties except for the Greens.

Some 69% of German respondents said they think classifying Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia as "safe countries of origin" to be the right measure to reduce immigration.

Poor marks for the government

Meanwhile, Scholz's three-way coalition remains unpopular: 79% of respondents said it was not doing a good job. Only Green Party supporters said they were mostly satisfied with the government's performance (57%). SPD supporters are split, and of FDP voters, 77% expressed dissatisfaction with the government.

This is reflected in the overall approval ratings for the parties: With just 6% support, the FDP is a long way from the 11.5% it won in the September 2021 federal election. The Greens — currently at 14% — have returned to their 2021 levels after an interim spike.

The CDU/CSU is in the lead with 28%, followed by the AfD with 22%, and Scholz's SPD with 16%.

The Left Party would fail to make it into the Bundestag if its current 4% were translated into a national election. The populist Free Voters, the junior coalition partner in the state government in Bavaria, could win 3% three percent nationwide.

This article was originally written in German.

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