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Germans Impatient With Angela Merkel's Migrant Response


More often than not, the migrants now making the dangerous trek from the Middle East and Africa to Europe have one destination in mind - Germany. That country is expecting 800,000 asylum-seekers to enter this year. German citizens have been staging angry, sometimes violent, demonstrations against the newcomers. Faced with these pressures, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that European officials will be looking for, quote, "rapid changes in the EU's asylum system." Journalist Maximilian Popp is covering the migration crisis for Der Spiegel magazine. He joins us now.

Thanks so much for being with us.


MARTIN: How is she handling this crisis? Are Germans satisfied with how the Merkel government has responded?

POPP: No, not at all, and I think the problem is that she was waiting far too long and that her response has been too timid, so far. So, I guess, she was just trying to sit it out. And when it became obvious that this is not a strategy and that this won't work this time and - she started to act. But so far, we cannot see a real solution. I think that's why many people are angry in Germany.

MARTIN: She's calling for rapid changes in the way the EU processes asylum-seekers. What kind of changes to the system would make sense, especially for Germany?

POPP: Well, I'm not what sure what Merkel has in mind, but I'm definitely sure that has to be done something. And I think the most crucial issue is to create safe and legal ways to Europe because I think that's the number one issue - that almost every day people are dying, either in the Mediterranean or on the land routes, on their way to Europe. And this, I think, has to be the very first thing that has to change.

MARTIN: We've heard about arson attacks on migrant shelters, violent protest sometimes, like the one last week in Heidenau. Is it possible to gauge how most Germans feel about this situation, about the refugees in particular? I mean, this is a country, obviously, that has a complicated legacy when it comes to dealing with outsiders.

POPP: Absolutely, absolutely and it's shocking and outrageous to see what is happening right now in Germany, to see neo-Nazis on the streets again, shouting, insulting migrants, threatening migrants. And you see that there is - like within a majority of society, you have a huge solidarity with the migrants and with the refugees, but you certainly have a serious group - a serious amount of people that are just, like, spreading hate and violence. And I fear honestly that like the German government seems not ready and not prepared enough to deal with this. What we're seeing now actually is a huge political failure by the Merkel government, and I think that will damage her legacy and that will stick with her for years.

MARTIN: We're talking about 800,000 people expected to come to Germany - asylum-seekers - in the next year. Many of these people obviously looking for all kinds of resources - jobs, food, shelter. It's a lot to ask of one country, even Germany. Does Germany have the capacity for these people?

POPP: It absolutely has. I mean, you're right. Eight-hundred-thousand people is a lot, but it's do-able for a country like Germany that has one of the biggest economies in the world and it's one of the most richest countries in the world. I mean, look at Turkey. This country has 2 million Sunni refugees and it does very well in dealing with them. With the past Germany has, it's their responsibility to act here, and it can act.

MARTIN: Maximilian Popp is a reporter and editor covering German affairs for Der Spiegel magazine. Thank you so much for talking with us.

POPP: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.