The Great Migration

"The ultimate demographic impact on Europe of the present wave of migration is totally unpredictable"

Germany is basking in a warm glow of self-congratulation, after Chancellor Merkel’s decision to accept up to 500,000 Syrian and other refugees per annum for the next few years. As we go to press, Berlin had abruptly closed its borders, in effect suspending the Schengen agreement, to restore order. Assuming her policy endures, at least two million migrants will make their homes in Germany, adding to the five million German Muslims mainly of Turkish heritage. Thus Muslims, as a proportion of the German population, will have doubled in a decade to some 10 per cent. In England, the proportion of Muslims now exceeds 5 per cent, having likewise doubled in a decade. France is already around the 10 per cent mark. The ultimate demographic impact on Europe of the present wave of migration is totally unpredictable, but the newcomers are on average much younger than the host population.

Over the next generation, Muslims in Europe are certain to multiply rapidly, due not only to migration but to higher birthrates. It is true that Muslim fertility is gradually falling in Western countries, but it has so far remained consistently well above that of non-Muslims. Another factor of growing importance is conversion. A Pew report estimates that Muslims will number “more than 10 per cent” of Europe’s population by 2050, but in France, Germany and England the figure is bound to be much higher. The Islamisation of Europe is no longer a far-Right fantasy, but a real possibility. As the migration crisis unfolds, it becomes more likely by the day.

How will Europe in general, and Germany in particular, react to this crisis in the short and longer run? Douglas Murray examines some of the implications elsewhere in this month’s issue. Perhaps we should consider what happened in recent history when war and other upheavals provoked large-scale migration. In the 1990s, for instance, millions were displaced during the civil wars in former Yugoslavia; half a million sought refuge in Germany.

This influx was small compared to population movements from East to West Germany: some 3.8 million before the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, and more than two million in the 25 years after the Wall fell. But all other migrations are dwarfed by the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern and Central Europe immediately after the Second World War. Some 12 million Germans were deported from Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere to Germany. According to Sir Ian Kershaw, in his new book To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (Allen Lane, £30), their welcome was “anything but warm”. In 1949, about 60 per cent of the host population and 96 per cent of the immigrants said that relations were bad. To this day, they have rejected the term “refugees” (Flüchtlinge), preferring “expellees” (Vertriebene). Yet these disparate masses, over a fifth of the then West German population, were eventually integrated. Another 1.4 million ethnic Germans were absorbed between 1950 and the 1980s. In 1988 a new resettlement programme brought three million more ethnic Germans from the Soviet Union and Romania. Up to 200,000 former Soviet Jews also moved to Germany.

The background to these migrations was Germany’s ageing and, without immigration, shrinking population. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a rising population meant that emigration was the norm. War and Holocaust left Germany more ethnically homogenous than ever before. Even today, many Germans are in denial about the fact that theirs has long been an “immigration country” (Einwanderungsland). The need for workers to sustain the thriving economy has driven policy on immigration, although only in the last two decades has it been made easier for non-Germans to acquire citizenship. Most new citizens were German-speaking, making integration easier. The new wave of Muslim immigrants may not be accepted so readily: polls suggest that about half of all Germans are sceptical of Angela Merkel’s open door to refugees. In Britain, a clear majority disagrees even with David Cameron’s more limited gesture. Successful integration is built upon common ground. If Muslim migrants are prepared to adopt Western values, their religious and cultural identity will be accepted by host nations. If migrants refuse to adjust to the West, identity will become a battleground.

An underlying factor in the German insistence that all EU member states must accept compulsory quotas for refugees is the need to atone for the Nazi past. In a celebrated radio talk of 1956, the historian Hermann Heimpel coined the ponderous term Vergangenheitsbewältigung, “coming to terms with history”. “Only thus will we finally be free, even those of us who will never be dispensed of guilt for the past and its mistakes.” Heimpel, like most of his compatriots, had supported Hitler. He was seeking an elusive absolution that time has not granted even to later generations. Their response to the present influx reflects the fact that the Germans were responsible for Europe’s worst-ever refugee crisis: in 1945, some 50 million people were left homeless. This time, they want to do the right thing by embracing the millions fleeing from the horrors of Syria and beyond.

The problem is not so easily soluble, however — certainly not by bullying unwilling hosts to take in reluctant guests. Syria’s catastrophe, ignored by most of the Muslim world, is hardly Europe’s fault. Not all the new arrivals accept Western civilisation. Should European Jews, for example, once again face anti-Semitism, this time from Islamists? Should Saudi Arabia be funding 200 new mosques in Germany? By sowing the seeds of social conflict at home, the Germans with their good intentions may be paving the road to a new European hell.

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