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Why Germany's Voice Of Support For Refugees Is Waning


German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Turkey today, looking for help to stem the flow of migrants into Europe and, specifically, Germany. She has offered Turkey a deal. Germany will give financial aid and support for EU membership if Turkey encourages refugees not to migrate. Back home, Merkel is under pressure as migrants continue to stream into the country. Small towns are overwhelemed by new arrivals, and support for Germany's open-door policy has begun to fray. Critics are putting the blame on Merkel. We are joined now by Stefan Kornelius, foreign editor of Germany's largest daily newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung. Thank you so much for being with us.

STEFAN KORNELIUS: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: It seemed like only a few weeks ago, Germans were out by the thousands, welcoming migrants and refugees, handing out food and clothing, even opening up their homes. But public perception has changed. Why are people getting exasperated at this point?

KORNELIUS: Well, my guess is at the beginning there was a huge outpour of help and support for those people, but from a minority of the public. Those who were quiet at that point have now taken the center of the stage and are voicing their opposition.

MARTIN: We were in Germany a few weeks ago reporting on the migrant crisis, and lawmakers at that point were talking about streamlining the process and making sure Syrian refugees were given priority to apply for asylum and that others who were coming into Germany - migrant workers just looking for a better economic reality - that those people, in many situations, were turned away. Has that made a difference?

KORNELIUS: Lots of things happened over the past weeks. Just on Thursday, the German Parliament has passed the biggest migrant bill in, I would say, 15 years, putting up many, many regulations and changes to the existing asylum-seekers laws. On the European level, most European countries have accepted that this is a problem confronting the entire European Union, so everyone should have a share in solving it. So a lot of things have changed, but you can't feel it on the ground. Still 4,000, 6,000 people are crossing the German border each day. Most villages and tiny hamlets and towns have their public sports arenas filled with makeshift beds, with homes for those people. So people want to see how this should end at one point because definitely the system is overburdened.

MARTIN: Angela Merkel's critics say her party has no plan, that she has essentially lost control of the situation. How do you see it? Is there any truth to that?

KORNELIUS: Well, the critical situation for her is that her own party is criticizing her most. She has lost most sympathies within her own ranks. So this has become a really serious problem for her and she's under attack as she has never been in 10 years of chancellorship. I think it's wrong to blame her for the situation, but what she neglects entirely is to show empathy to those people who feel threatened of their jobs, of higher taxes, of their housing, of whatever problems those many, many people bring along. Even though the country is overwhelmingly sympathetic and positive towards the refugees, people feel the strain and they are afraid. And Merkel is not giving a proper answer to them.

MARTIN: Is she likely to face any long-term political fallout as a result?

KORNELIUS: Quite honestly, not now at the moment because she - there is no clear opponent. Tactically, she's not facing any threat. However, over the long term, she's burning political capital. Her support rates are down 4 to 5 percentage points. Her own party's falling in the polls. So there will be a political fallout probably as early as the next regional elections we have and she will be blamed for it.

MARTIN: Stefan Kornelius is the foreign editor of Suddeutsche Zeitung. He joined us from Munich. Thanks so much for talking with us.

KORNELIUS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.