Berlin and Paris

Paris Attacks Fan Refugee Debate

Support and condolences: Germans lay flowers and light candles outside the French embassy on "Pariser Platz" in Berlin.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • The Paris attacks will likely ignite a debate in Germany over the use of military force against IS, and fuel an already anti-immigrant political debate over whether to stop their country’s open-door policy towards asylum seekers.
  • Facts


    • Three teams of gunmen launched a brazen attack on Paris Friday night, killing 129 people in restaurants, a concert venue and near the Stade de France stadium.
    • Thousands of people laid flowers outside the French embassy in Berlin, an act that was repeated by mourners around the world.
    • German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière warned against linking the attacks to the refugee crisis, but some politicians immediately seized on the killings to call for a reversal in the country’s refugee policies.
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It was a moving tribute. The Brandenburg Gate, perhaps the most recognized symbol of modern Germany, which was built as a monument to world peace more than two centuries ago, was lit up Saturday and Sunday night in the blue, white and red “tricolors” of the French national flag.

Thousands of Germans and visiting international tourists in Berlin laid flowers and left messages outside the French embassy, which is located adjacent to the gate on Pariser Platz, or Paris Square.

About 500 people walked in pouring rain Saturday in a peace march through central Berlin, while a memorial service was held in French and German at an 18th century French-Huguenot dome in Gendarmen Markt square.

The messages left at the French embassy in the German capital expressed support and condolences for the French people, but also concerns over what lay ahead for Germany and Europe in the aftermath of the attacks, in which at least seven gunmen slaughtered scores of innocent people in Paris.

As of Sunday night, the death toll in the attacks still stood at 129, with more than 300 injured, including nearly a third in critical condition. According to news reports from the French capital, at least two of the attackers bore passports that suggested they came into Europe through Greece as refugees. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

The suggestion that IS may be using Europe’s human refugee highway – most of which ends in Germany – as a transport route for its murderers was immediately seized on by right-wing politicians in Europe, including in Germany, who want the country to seal its borders to the refugees.

The political debate was displayed on many of the signs carried by demonstrators in Berlin. Some read: “We are Muslims. We are also against terror.” One message left among the flowers by the embassy stated the obvious: “This is what refugees are fleeing.”

More than 1 million refugees have poured into Germany this year, and some government estimates say Europe’s largest economy will take in 1.5 million in 2015. The flood of arrivals – the equivalent adjusted for population sizes of more than 4 million refugees entering the United States in a few months – is roiling the political debate in Germany and pressuring its chancellor, Angela Merkel, to reverse her open-door policy to the refugees.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière made "the urgent plea, ... to not prematurely draw any kind of line to the debate over refugees."

German politicians roundly condemned the Paris attacks and promised support for France. Ms. Merkel said she “weeps with the French people.” The attack “was aimed not just at Paris, it targeted and it hits all of us,” she said, in signing a condolence book with other German officials in the French embassy in Berlin on Saturday.

While Ms. Merkel appeared to be holding firm to her open-door policy toward Syrian war refugees, her own cabinet ministers hit the airwaves and talk shows to push back against a growing xenophobic tide in Germany led by her own political allies in Bavaria, and members of anti-immigrant splinter parties such as the Alternative for Germany.

The interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, on Saturday urged Germans not to see the Paris attacks as a reason to reverse the country’s policies on accepting refugees. Mr. de Maizière said he was making “the urgent plea, as federal interior minister and as a responsible politician in this country, to not prematurely draw any kind of line to the debate over refugees.”

“The situation is serious,’’ the interior minister said. “Now is a time to stand together – in government and parliament, in Germany and in Europe.”

A range of buildings across the world were lit up with the “tricolors” over the weekend. Source: Reuters


But opponents pounced on the attacks. Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, who also heads Ms. Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said “we need to know, who is coming through our country.”

Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder told German paper Die Welt on Sunday that the uncontrolled influx of migrants into Germany had to stop.

“Paris changes everything,” Mr. Söder, also member of the CSU, said, and demanded closer checks of those entering the country. “The time of uncontrolled immigration and illegal immigration cannot continue,” Mr. Söder told the newspaper.

Mr. Seehofer later rebuked his finance minister, calling the comments “completely inappropriate” and agreeing with Mr. de Maizière that the issues of refugees and terrorism should be kept separate. But Mr. Söder’s comments were echoed by populist groups, including the governor of the state of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, who heads the former east German state that has been home to a series of xeonophobic, anti-immigrant political movements, such as Pegida in Dresden.

But calls to take a hard line with Syrian refugees and adopt the close-door policies of most of the rest of eastern and western Europe were strongly rejected by other German politicians.

“Paris does not change everything,” Ralf Stegner, a member in the Bundestag of the Social Democrats, Ms. Merkel’s junior coalition partner in government, told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.

“Most of the refugees are running away from those that carried out the attacks in Paris,” Mr. Stegner said. He urged public officials to refrain from politicizing the attacks.

A tough political debate can also be expected over how Germany might step up its role in the fight against Islamic State, or IS, the extremist Islamic militant group that claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and controls large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that any response by the NATO alliance of western nations would have to be considered “with calm and deliberateness.” Ms. Merkel was in Turkey over the weekend with other world leaders from the Group of 20 nations.

As the political debate raged in the German media, Germany stepped up security in the wake of the French attacks – not just to prevent follow-on attacks but to prevent reprisals against refugees or asylum-seekers.

The German justice minister, Heiko Maas, said there would be a visibly heightened and armed police presence across the country in the coming days. German intelligence services are also stepping up the monitoring of Islamic extremist groups.

The measures were in part driven by reports that a possible accomplice to the Paris attackers may have tried to reach Paris in a car through Germany.

Bavarian authorities said a man with a passport from Montengro was apprehended eight days before the attacks on November 5 near the Austrian border during a routine traffic stop that revealed a car full of guns and explosives.

His GPS satellite navigation system was reportedly programed for Paris.

A hunt for possible accomplices and any gunmen that may have escaped from Paris was carried out throughout Europe over the weekend. Seven people were arrested in Belgium in connection with the attacks and two cars with more ammunitions were discovered by police in and near Paris. Two of the assailants carried French passports and had been staying in Brussels before the attack was carried out.

At least one of the alleged terrorists passed through Greece in October as a refugee coming from Turkey, authorities in Athens said Saturday night.

Mr. de Maizière acknowledged the severity of the situation and noted that “Germany too still strongly stands in the cross-hairs of international terrorism.”

At least one German was also killed in the Paris attacks, the foreign ministry said. It was not yet known whether any Germans were among the injured.

Germany’s national soccer team was playing a friendly against France in the Stade de France on Friday when the attacks began on Friday.

A security guard prevented a man from entering the stadium, having discovered his suicide vest, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A match between Germany and the Netherlands planned on Tuesday in Hannover will go ahead, according to the country’s soccer association. But security has been stepped up for sporting events across Germany.

This year security will also be visible at Christmas markets set to open across Germany over the next two weeks, Berlin’s interior minister, Frank Henkel, told German television station n-tv.


Christopher Cermak is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. Correspondents from Handelsblatt and its sister publication Tagesspiegel contributed to this story. To contact the author:

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