Letter from Germany

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Christine Buchholz, socialist MP and member of die Linke, reports on the refugee "crisis" in Germany.

As new refugees have reached Germany over the past few weeks there has been a very positive response from many ordinary people. The government did not provide the support refugees needed, so people mobilised to fill the gap.

Members of die Linke have been part of this — greeting refugees, supporting the initiatives in different cities to give them a proper welcome, decent housing and a supply of food.

I am impressed by the courage of refugees — they physically broke down the walls keeping them out. We demanded the government should open the borders, provide homes and a future in Germany.

There should be an immediate house-building plan so that refugees can move near to their relatives and communities.

In Saxony in the east of Germany there have been fierce protests by Nazis and racists attacking refugee homes and the police. So it was very important that die Linke demanded the government take action.

Putting pressure on chancellor Angela Merkel worked: more people were allowed in. It was an important blow against Fortress Europe.

The minister of the interior announced the re-establishment of border controls between Austria and Germany on Sunday 13 September, arguing that this was necessary for security reasons. This feeds into the racist narrative that the refugees are not victims of war but the aggressors.

I accompanied a convoy from Austria to the German border. At the main station in Vienna many refugees were assembling, often confused, angry and afraid. We offered to take them with us to the German border so they could register and access help.

It is not the case that Germany can’t cope with an influx of people. Finland, for example, introduced an extra tax on the rich to pay for it. Germany has a huge budget for the military. The rich are getting richer. It’s not a question of money or capacity; it’s a question of priority.

The refugees we met were from Syria. They had crossed the Mediterranean, were stuck in the camps on the Greek islands, travelled through the Balkans, were detained in Hungary, and were hoping to reach safety in Germany. When you witness the situation in Greece and Hungary it is quite obvious that this is not the Europe we want.

One part of the ruling class is arguing that there is a demand for highly qualified workers and young people and that they can benefit from refugees, especially if they can also drive wages down. Another part of the ruling class is playing the race card, saying refugees are a security risk.

They are trying to set workers against each other. Crèche workers have been taking strike action over wages. Now the representatives of regional governments are saying, “I’m afraid we won’t have more money for the crèche workers because we need it for the refugees.”

This is a very dirty game. It’s important that we assert that we don’t judge people by how “useful” they are to the economy. People have the right to come to our country because they are fleeing from war and injustice.

We had the first round of austerity ten or 15 years ago when our government introduced labour market and pension reform. So while German capital is benefitting from the European crisis the working class in Germany faces a lot of problems — for example, low wages and precarity.

The “debt brake” — a policy which has made any public debt unconstitutional — holds down public spending.

The problems now with registering the refugees and building homes are partly due to job cuts in the public sector: the refugee “crisis” is partly caused by austerity.

Last year Pegida, an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant organisation, mobilised thousands on the streets — but also triggered many counter-demonstrations.

Now Pegida has begun to march again. Last Monday it had 5,000 on the streets of Dresden. And the AFD (Alternative for Germany, the equivalent of Ukip), even though it is in an internal crisis, is rising in the polls in Saxony.

If you don’t fight racism and challenge the unequal distribution of wealth, on both a national and international level, the right wing will provide their own answer.