The Irish Times view on German immigration
A clear distinction
German interior minister Horst Seehofer, struggling to hold back tears on Tuesday, promised to keep perspective in serious, populist times. Photograph: Getty
Journalists are quick to call out politicians who yield to populism but slow to credit those who don’t – like Germany’s federal interior minister Horst Seehofer.
Last Monday morning in Frankfurt a 40-year-old Eritrean man shoved a young mother and her eight-year-old son in front of a train arriving at the city’s central station. The mother rolled out of harm’s way but the child was killed. Germany’s far right, quick with the populist catnip, condemned the incident as further, fatal proof of Angela Merkel’s flawed refugee crisis response in 2015.
But the suspect was not a recently arrived asylum seeker in Germany. He secured refugee status 11 years ago in Switzerland, was a married father of three, had found a job and even featured in a firm brochure as a model example of integration. Suffering psychological problems of late, the man reportedly threatened a neighbour in Zürich last week and had since been on the run.
On Tuesday Mr Seehofer interrupted his holiday to hold a press conference and put the far-right populists back in their box.
He promised to boost police presence at train stations but said populist calls for border checks were illusory given Germany and Switzerland are in the Schengen free-travel area.
Most importantly, Mr Seehofer urged the public to “separate cleanly” the country’s crime and immigration debates. Crime in Germany is at its lowest level in 30 years, but violent crime has risen slightly since the refugee crisis in 2015.
Non-nationals in Germany are, proportionally, more likely to be involved in crimes such as pickpocketing, assault and rape. And young male asylum seekers and refugees in Germany have clocked up a depressing charge sheet in recent years. But a year after Mr Seehofer tried – and failed – to exploit the refugee issue for state election gain in his native Bavaria, the interior minister said the political challenge is “not to instrumentalise crime by non-nationals and not to play it down either”.
Battling tears on Tuesday, Germany’s 70-year-old federal interior minister promised to keep perspective in serious, populist times. Not bad going for someone critics once dubbed “Crazy Horst”.