BERLIN (Reuters) - Just weeks after politicians from Germany’s mainstream parties embraced Angela Merkel’s unusually warm welcome for refugees, the tone has turned sober, reflecting growing fears about the scale of looming problems.
Merkel’s own popularity has taken a hit from her handling of the crisis and unrest within her conservative ranks about how to absorb an influx of about 800,000 people this year is growing.
Even her center-left Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners are worried about the integration of asylum seekers and police have warned about violence between groups of refugees.
“The welcome party in Munich, Berlin and elsewhere was nice. It showed a generous and open Germany to be proud of with Merkel at the top... But now the light has gone on and every day life goes on,” wrote the center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung this week.
That, it said, meant overcrowded refugee shelters, local authorities and police being stretched to the limit, some Muslims attacking Christians and some men preying on women.
Support for Merkel, one of Germany’s most popular post-war chancellors, is waning.. Some right-wing conservatives are even whispering that the crisis could raise questions over the future of the woman who has ruled since 2005.
With up to 10,000 arrivals each day fuelling voters’ worries, President Joachim Gauck, who has a non-political role, hit a nerve with a speech on Sunday, saying there is a limit to how many refugees Germany can absorb.
His speech spurred on others, led by Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer who said politicians had an “urgent duty” to point out the limited possibilities.
Even SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel told lawmakers on Tuesday it is clear Germany has limits, especially in the short term.
He has also stressed the importance of integration, saying Germany has translated into Arabic the parts of the constitution which outline rights like freedom of speech, for refugees.
“People who come here must not only learn the German language, but also learn the rules of the game of living together,” he told top-selling Bild.
Merkel’s “We will manage” refrain may have reassured some Germans and saw her depicted on the cover of Der Spiegel weekly as Mother Teresa but some say the words ring hollow.
“From solidarity, disappointment can quickly grow. And anger. The state must take this danger seriously and ensure good will doesn’t turn into frustration,” wrote Bild on Wednesday.
Warnings about the potential exploitation of cheap labor and predictions that new arrivals could push up unemployment by 70,000 next year have replaced euphoria about how newcomers could help solve shortage of skilled labor.
The Labour Office says 80 percent of refugees arrive without formal qualifications by German standards and only 8 percent of refugees tend to find employment in the first year. Aware of the looming problems, the government has responded.
It has reintroduced border controls with EU neighbors to stem the flow after throwing open its doors to Syrian refugees.
It is rushing through a supplementary budget so it can transfer 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) next year to the 16 states clamoring for support to look after refugees as winter nears. And it is cracking down on migrants from the Balkans by making Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro safe countries of origin. ($1 = 0.8953 euros)
Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Keith Weir