Assignment for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL in September 2023
Photographs by Nadja Wohlleben
Text (excerpt) by Elizabeth Findell
GIESSEN, Germany—The refugee crisis that shook Europe almost 10 years ago never really ended in Germany. Now the country is struggling to cope.
More than 322,000 migrants requested asylum here last year, according to the United Nations, numbers second only to the U.S. globally. Germany receives nearly half as many asylum requests as the U.S. despite having just a quarter of the U.S. population and less than 4% of its landmass.
On the front line of this slow-boil crisis are midsize cities such as Giessen, whose processing center sees about a thousand new arrivals every week. There officials and residents are trying to continue a tradition of being a haven for refugees in an increasingly difficult political climate.
The challenges have come in waves, said Manfred Becker, director of the intake center. They started in 2015 when the influx began in earnest and state employees worked long hours scrambling to process arrivals. The next challenge was Covid-19, when close quarters proved a test. Then came the Ukraine war, when families fleeing Russian aggression began to arrive, often driven by a father who would drop off his wife and children before saying goodbye and going back to fight, Becker said.
Every day large numbers of people arrive from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Vast dormitory tents first installed for social distancing are now needed simply for space.
The steady inflow partly reflects a choice by Germany, whose government continues to embrace refugees despite increasing public skepticism. Berlin sees the newcomers as a potential solution to an aging population and a shortage of workers, but resentment of migration has intensified among voters, spurring support for far-right forces.
Slow-Boil Refugee Crisis Takes Its Toll Even in Germany
The country received 322,000 asylum requests last year, second only to the much larger U.S., and is struggling to cope.