German Precedent: the Decision to Take in Refugees


In early September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel signed a landmark agreement which granted nearly 800,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war asylum in Germany. This comes as a surprise to many, who have long seen post-Cold War Germany stay out of major world problems, especially those which hadn’t actively involved the home country, until now. So what is behind Germany’s decision to take in so many refugees, and how will it affect the country’s economic future?

Many politicians view Chancellor Merkel’s decision as purely humanitarian and altruistic; others see it as a way for Germany to become more involved in international occurrences, and possibly to foster a more formidable military force, by showing the international community that Germany is different from its 19th century past. Her rationale regarding the issue is “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, it won’t be the Europe we wished for.” While those reasons are, generally speaking, very broad in scope and only work for the short-term, there is a more long-term reason for Germany’s decision, which involves refugee acclimation into Germany’s labor force.

Germany’s population currently sits at about 80.6 million people. They are the country with the largest population in all of Europe, excluding Russia. However, just 12 years ago, Germany hit its highest population of 82.5 million people. That means Germany had a population decline of 2.3% during that time span. German research even expects the population to decline as low as 67 million by 2060. Those demographics represent a larger international population growth trend, which has seen populations in most developed and modernized nations, such as that of Germany, actually decreasing as a direct result of increased education and decreased infant mortality rates. People find themselves having fewer children as a result. This has been particularly true for Germany, which has experienced the effects of this trend to the highest degree. Germany has one of the lowest population growth rates of any developed nation, reaching its lowest annual decline, -1.7%, in 2013. What this means from an economic standpoint is that workforce in Germany is rapidly decreasing, and that is especially detrimental for an industrious nation like Germany, whose GDP relies primarily on the output of its factories.

A leading example of immigrant populations bolstering a country is the United States, which has seen a significant increase in Central American immigrants as a result of 1980’s hardships in their native lands. The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) highlights how these migrant populations have contributed to the American economy. According to the MPI, “Central American immigrants participated in the labor force at a higher rate than the overall immigrant and native-born populations”, and that “In 2013, about 75 percent of Central American immigrants ages 16 and over were in the civilian labor force, compared to 67 percent and 63 percent of all foreign and native-born, respectively.” Immigrants positively contribute to the workforce, but it could be insinuated, and politicians often do, that these immigrants are taking away “American” jobs. However, the MPI concludes that “Central American immigrants were significantly more likely to be employed in service occupations (34 percent); natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (22 percent); and production, transportation, and material-moving occupations (18 percent) than both the overall foreign- and native-born populations.” This undermines the aforementioned claim about American jobs, because immigrants are often willing to complete the jobs that most Americans don’t want. These often relate to the agricultural industry and the increasing demand for cheap yet industrious workforces. German advisors could view this particular circumstance as an opportunity for them to jumpstart their own declining economy with cheap and skilled labor from Syria. As the remaining number of Syrian refugees conclude their voyage to Europe, and specifically Germany, it will be increasingly important for them to acclimate themselves with the surrounding community by simply finding any job that is available to them. After all, in a refugee’s mindset, any job is better than no job.

While Germany’s voluntary decision to single-handedly accept more Syrian refugees than every other European nation combined may seem altruistic, it is important to understand the rationale behind it. Germany is an exceptional example of how a post-war country can overcome their war-torn past to become the most economically powerful country in the Euro zone, all without a single bullet being fired. They also have a reputation of productivity to uphold; with a declining population and recent controversies, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Germany to maintain it. Accepting refugees very well could be Germany’s solution to some of its contemporary problems.

Please leave comments below.