Civil wars and repression in the Middle East, Africa and Asia resulted in millions of refugees seeking protection and better futures in Europe. Their path was marked by many difficulties, not least of which were efforts by the EU to stop their movement.
The EU external border control agency, Frontex, estimates that in 2015 1.8 million migrants entered Europe by land or sea. While not every individual petitioned for asylum, those that did largely applied in Germany. Germany took in nearly one million refugees with over 400,000 applying for asylum – the most of any EU state.
In the early months of 2015, there were scenes of Germans welcoming refugees at train stations and airports and Chancellor Angela Merkel touted the country as open to all Syrians fleeing war. Soon, however, the Wilkommenskultur (Welcome Culture) was met with opposition from right-wing groups opposed to Germany’s acceptance of refugees. Anti-immigration groups expressed concern over the integration and cultural incompatibility of the newcomers. Violent crimes targeting refugee shelters and individuals rose: in 2015, 1,031 attacks on asylum shelters were reported, five times greater than the previous year. In September 2015 Germany closed its border with Austria, one of the main routes used to reach Germany. Around the same time, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière proposed giving migrants small travel stipends and then deporting them back to the European country they entered from.
Within the EU, Germany was embroiled in heated discussions on how to manage migration flows. Southern border states demanded financial support to oblige their Dublin II Regulation responsibilities (see: Passage of Dublin II Regulation, 2003) while richer northern states where refugees preferred to travel, like Germany, pushed for a EU-wide quota system to share intake. Talks for a comprehensive migration policy stalled.
Facing dysfunction in the EU, the strengthening of nationalist parties (see: Rightward Political Shift in Europe and EU Parliamentary Elections, 2014), and growing social discontent, Germany, like many EU states, quickly began to tighten its borders and constrain its asylum policies.