Merkel and the Burqa
Vladimir NESTEROV | 25.08.2016 | WORLD / Europe

Merkel and the Burqa

In 2015, 1.83 million migrants arrived in Europe, of which 1.1 million officially wanted to seek asylum in Germany. And that’s not all – there are also the illegal immigrants, of which there are hundreds of thousands in the country, according to Alternative for Germany leader Frauke Petry. It was hoped that Europe would get some respite after such a powerful migration explosion that would allow the situation to get back to normal, but the findings of researchers are discouraging.

Experts at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development analysed the situation in 19 Middle Eastern and North African countries and discovered that the number of migrants travelling from there to Europe will increase rather than decrease in the next few years, the Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger has reported.

In this regard, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen present the greatest danger to Europe. Grouping these countries together into the MENA region (Middle East North Africa), German academics have referred to this region as a «powder keg at the gates of Europe». The combined population of these 13 countries is 363 million and continues to grow rapidly, creating demographic pressure amid an economic slowdown that is turning into stagnation. The bitter experience of the Arab Spring tells the young people in these countries that there is only one way out – to seek their fortune abroad.

It can be assumed that the ruling elite in these Arab countries are probably happy to see the most restless and easily excitable members of their population depart. This is perhaps why the Egyptian authorities, for example, are turning a blind eye to the fact that local smugglers have been organising the transportation of refugees to Europe on fishing boats holding up to 500 people each. The journey to ‘European happiness’ costs an Egyptian 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,300), Syrians and other Africans have to pay a lot more, and the cost for a family with two children is $10,000.

The social and economic factors of migration from MENA countries are closely linked to environmental factors, the most significant of which is the increasing lack of fresh water, leading to a reduction in cultivated land and food shortages. In these circumstances, the rich countries of the Persian Gulf turned to ‘agro-colonialism’ following the 2008-2010 food crisis. The agricultural expansion of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait in Africa is focussed on Mozambique, Sudan and South Africa, and in Southeast Asia on Thailand and Laos (primarily for the cultivation of rice, fruit and vegetables). The majority of MENA countries, however, devastated by wars and colour revolutions and, in some cases such as Libya, also beset by anarchy, do not have this option.

The global food market is dominated by four multinationals (Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus), which control up to 70-90 percent of the production and distribution of basic foodstuffs. This makes the diversification of food procurement at a reasonable price extremely difficult. Rapid climate change is further exacerbating the issue of water and food shortages.

It is perhaps the first time that Egypt has appeared on the list of countries that pose a threat to Europe in terms of rising migration flows. While nearly a fifth of the land in each MENA country is suitable for farming, in Egypt this is only 4 percent and the country has to import more than 40 percent of its food. In addition, all of Egypt’s agricultural products are grown using artificial fertilisers, which are made from phosphate rock that contains cadmium and heavy metals. The Nile is becoming shallower. The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile will reduce the Nile’s water flow by a further 20 percent. In the meantime, virtually all of Egypt’s food is produced in the Nile Valley and the Nile Delta. This is why a mass exodus of Egyptians is unavoidable.

The first powerful wave of Middle Eastern refugees could hit Europe as early as this autumn, if the European Union does not abolish Schengen visas for Turkish citizens by the end of October.

How should Europe prepare itself for this new wave of migration? The example of Germany is revealing in this regard. After Angela Merkel declared «We will cope» at the end of July, there have been heated debates on the issue of Muslim women wearing the burqa. In an interview with Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, the German chancellor suggested that a fully covered woman has little chance of integrating in Germany. Merkel avoided giving a direct answer to the question of a total ban on the burqa, however, leaving it to the discretion of the Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, and his colleagues in the federal states.

On 19 August, a conference between the heads of the German Ministry of the Interior and the federal states decided to ban the wearing of full face veils in schools and public institutions. The conference also decided to increase the number of police officers to 15,000 and called for the powers of intelligence agencies to be expanded. In addition, it was determined that German citizenship may only be held in combination with any other citizenship in exceptional circumstances.

The forthcoming state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin in September will show what Germans are worried about more: women wearing the burqa or an uncontrollable influx of migrants. A detail of the problem or the problem as a whole. The right-wing opposition Alternative for Germany party, which held a small party conference in Kassel in mid-August, believes that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees should be turned into an agency responsible for re-emigration and start deporting illegal immigrants.