How To Exclude Violent Migrants

A few commenters have wondered how Germany could go about excluding migrants who commit crimes.

I'm no expert on German or international law, but here's the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, Article 2: "Every refugee has duties to the country in which he finds himself, which require in particular that he conform to its laws and regulations as well as to measures taken for the maintenance of public order."

Beatings, assaults, and threats of murder are against the "laws and regulations" of Germany. Any country has the right to exclude foreign nationals who commit serious crimes on its territory.

I would say that Germany could pass a law tomorrow saying that any asylum seeker found liable of serious crimes on German territory has forfeited their right to asylum in Germany and may be excluded. Article 16(a)(4) states

In the cases specified by paragraph (3) of this Article and in other cases that are plainly unfounded or considered to be plainly unfounded, the implementation of measures to terminate an applicant’s stay may be suspended by a court only if serious doubts exist as to their legality; the scope of review may be limited, and tardy objections may be disregarded. Details shall be determined by a law.

The law would specify that persons who are found to have committed violent crimes in migrant shelters can be deemed to have "unfounded" cases for asylum, since they have violated the 1951 Convention and demonstrated a tendency to violence. It's a semantic stretch, since there's no necessarily link between their behavior in a German migrant shelter and the reasons for their alleged persecution back home. But any legal system is full of such imperfect logical fits; there are dozens in German law already. And in any case, the law's purpose would be very popular and would make sense, which is something you shouldn't discount.

The key thing would be to make sure the migrant got a hearing that satisfies minimum standards of fairness. Since migrants aren't German citizens, have no legal residency status, and are not being threatened with prison, I don't think you would have to give them anything near a full-blown trial on the merits. You would give them a brief hearing, an appointed lawyer, and a chance to speak. The standard of proof could be something like clear and convincing evidence, not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

The result of the hearing would be a finding that the migrant has engaged in acts contrary to the 1951 Convention, forfeited his right to seek asylum in Germany, and therefore should be immediately deported.

Of course, then you have to actually deport them, which brings a whole host of complications of its own. Some countries won't be all that eager to take back violent religious fanatics.

This, my friends, Is. Why. You. Screen. Refugees. Before. Letting. Them. Into. Your. Country.

Will Germany Change its Constitution Because of the Migrant Crisis?

In comments, HansHansen says: " I doubt that, with such high numbers of refugees, the policy of letting people stay beyond their welcome will hold."

I also tend to think that Germany is going to change its laws to try to more effectively get rid of the fake Syrians. But that's going to be only the start of a very long story. Asylum groups and/or Green party lawmakers will certainly challenge any changes, and those challenges will have to work their way through the legal system. While that happens, the changes will almost certainly be put on hold.

And there is no guarantee German courts will approve changes. Even though the new version of German asylum law (Art. 16a of the Basic Law) gives the legislator a lot of flexibility, a German court could well decide that the requirement of due process or the protection of human dignity renders some part of the new law invalid.

This means that the surest way to actually change German asylum law is to amend the Basic Law, which requires a 2/3 majority of both legislative houses. That's not impossible, but it's no picnic. The last change in 1993 was the result of the so-called 'asylum compromise', one of the most brutal political debates in post-war German history.

A Lebanese Rapist Among the Refugees

As a train with 500 Syrian refugees arrived from Austria in the German town of Freilassing, the German police carried out an identity check (g). They found someone with fake Syrian papers, and did a little more investigation. After taking his fingerprints and comparing them, it turned out this Syrian was actually a Lebanese national living in Dortmund. He had been convicted of rape and robbery but escaped sentencing. He was then sent to prison for 777 days.

This is fascinating. I wonder how many other German criminals of Middle Eastern extraction have thought of this? Just travel legally to Austria, mix yourself in with the migrants, and claim to be a Syrian refugee. If all goes well, you will be set up with a brand-new identity, and eventually a free apartment, job training, German courses, the whole works. It's kind of like a whole new chance at integration, which obviously didn't turn out so well the first time.

This guy made two mistakes. First of all, it's quite easy to permanently alter your fingerprints. Second problem was buying fake Syrian papers (current price €750). He should probably claim to have lost all his papers. This would hardly be suspicious, since about 3/4 of current migrants claim this happened. Also, he didn't necessarily have to claim he was Syrian. As we have seen from the case of Reem, the Palestinian teenager who cried on television during an interview with Angela Merkel, the status of being a Palestinian living in a refugee camp in Lebanon can also be parlayed into permanent residency in Germany, although usually not on grounds of political asylum.

Now, another question would be: why wasn't this Lebanese national deported? Refugees are bound by the 1951 Convention and all national laws to obey the laws of the countries giving them shelter. But, of course, reality is more complex. Many attempts to deport violent criminals back to their home countries fail because their home countries refuse to issue the necessary acceptance and travel paperwork. So Lebanon is probably going to say: "Import a known violent criminal into our country? No thanks. He's your problem now."

This should serve as a useful reminder of the most important fact about the current refugee crisis: no matter who Germany lets in -- and the very latest numbers are that Germany has let in 135,000 (g) migrants so far in September alone -- you are stuck with them forever. Whether they're a deserving refugee or a Pakistani computer programmer or a violent Algerian drug dealer or a Lebanese convicted rapist, the chances of Germany ever successfully deporting them against their will are maybe 5-10%, if that much.

This is why most countries which have a choice select and screen for genuine refugees in need, instead of allowing hundreds of thousands of random strangers to pour across their borders, and only then finding out later they're stuck with hundreds of thousands of people who aren't refugees.

Hamza the Drug Dealer is Here to Stay, and Will Cost Germany a Small Fortune

The current state of play: Germany has received 521,000 migrants (g) so far this year. In the first three weeks of September alone, Germany received 107,464 migrants. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 35,821 per week. There are 13 weeks left in this year. If the rate of arrivals remains constant, Germany will get another 465,677 migrants by the end of the year. So yes, it looks like one million is the current best estimate of how many migrants will arrive in 2015 alone. How many will come in 2016? Who knows?

But let's look at an individual case. Yesterday we met Hamza, the 27-year-old Algerian convicted drug dealer and attempted murderer who is likely now somewhere in Germany.

What will happen to him? Well, once in Germany, he will file a claim for asylum. That will take about 6 months to be decided, at the current rate. Assuming Germany will actually be able to detect that he was lying about his background, and that he can't come up with some other reason for claiming asylum, it will be denied. But don't give up too easily, Hamza. You can always claim you were in prison for political activism, not trying to murder a rival dealer. You will have tons of convincing evidence that you were actually in prison, and there has been political activism in Algeria. If you're careful, you might just spin that into a winning asylum claim.

But assume Hamza's claim is denied. He certainly isn't going to meekly accept that decision and go back to Algeria. After all, there are probably a bunch of rival dealers secret police waiting to kill him there. So he will file an appeal. While the appeal is being decided, he will continue receiving food, shelter and a daily stipend from the German government.

The German government tries to move people out of the First Reception Centers as soon as their asylum claim is denied. They go to privately-run shelters or apartments. The government pays their rent. The rent stipend differs from state to state, but currently in Berlin, for example, it's €35 Euro per night.

A math and ethics exercise: You are a landlord currently receiving €850 per month in rent for a 2-bedroom apartment. If you kicked out the people who are there now and replaced them with a migrant family of 4, your monthly rental income rises to €4200. What do you do?

Back to Hamza. If he knows what he's doing -- and drug dealers tend to be pretty savvy -- he and his lawyer will take advantage of all of the many appeals the German legal system affords for rejected asylum claims. A fair estimate is that his case will take 2 years to decide. Plus the initial 6 months, that comes out to 912 days. Assuming very liberally that the per diem costs of housing and feeding Hamza are only €50, that comes out to €45,625. Add to that the cost of social workers, German courses, job training, free local transportation, interpreters, the time of all the lawyers and judges needed to file the asylum claim and appeals. And any medical care Hamza requires during his tenure. All of which will be provided free by the German state. 

I'd say an extremely conservative estimate of the total costs Hamza -- a man who has no legal right to be in Germany (he said himself: "I'm illegal, not refugee"), and who is siphoning resources from actual war refugees -- will cost the German state at least €200,000 during his stay.

And then comes the fateful day when all of Hamza's appeals are exhausted, and he receives a letter warning him, in advance, of his impending deportation. Hamza and his lawyer will, of course, have an independent chance to challenge the deportation order itself, which they will use. If that fails, Hamza will likely go underground, joining the 600,000 residents of Germany already here who were supposed to be deported but didn't go.

Even if they manage to get Hamza onto a plane for deportation to Algeria, all he has to do is tell the captain that he is there against his will. The captain will then let him leave the plane as a security risk. The €700 special ticket bought by the German government will go to waste.

Believe it or not, this is a pretty accurate depiction of the typical German procedure for deciding asylum claims at this point, pending any changes. Feel free to correct me if you think I've gotten anything wrong. If you ask me, this system is not only expensive but broken. It would have a hard time fairly and efficiently processing 20,000 asylum claims. Faced with 1 million, it will melt down spectacularly. In fact it's already doing that right now. 

Germany is Powerless to Deport Migrants, Everyone Who Arrives Gets to Stay

When skeptics grumble in comments to German newspapers that 'nobody will ever get deported once they reach Germany', they are right.

This fact is important, since it means that the German state is unlikely to ever successfully deport any significant number of the migrants who are coming in now. So all of those Pakistanis, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Moldovans, Moroccans, etc. who are mixing in with the Syrians and riding the coattails of the current immigration wave will be able to stay for years on end, receiving government welfare and diverting scarce resources from actual Syrian war refugees. They will be permitted to do this even though they have no legal grounds for asylum. 

You would think this fact would be vital to understanding what's really at stake in the German immigration debate, and you'd be right. Nevertheless, mainstream German newspapers ignore it, so it took the Washington Post to explain why the German legal system fails here. (You may notice that the Washington Post refrains from using the misleading term 'refugees' for people who aren't.)

Even in the United States, deportation cases of undocumented migrants can linger for years. But because the migrants coming to Europe in dramatic waves are largely applying for legal asylum, they are benefiting from a catalogue of appeals and pseudo-statuses including a precarious right to remain that is simply called “toleration.” If they can stall long enough, German codes potentially allow them to beat the system and win permanent residency. And even when deportation orders come through, there are ingenious ways around them.

Hassan was one of the unlucky ones.... [L]ike most of the hopeful refugees arriving here, he first entered Europe in a different country. In his case, it was Bulgaria, a no man’s land for migrants where he was slapped in jail. Under E.U. law, Germany does not have to listen to his claim. It can just send him back.

It tried to do just that on the cold December morning last year when police hauled him to Frankfurt Airport.

But once aboard a flight, Hassan managed to block his deportation. German policies restrict the use of force during expulsions, and some deportees have taken to kicking and screaming inside plane cabins to thwart take-off. Hassan said he merely informed the crew that he was leaving involuntarily. The result: Citing a possible safety risk, the pilot allowed him to disembark. With no grounds to detain Hassan further under German law, frustrated authorities released him.

Back in Kassel, his lawyer found him a shield against another deportation attempt: Church asylum. Hassan packed up and moved into a welcoming Catholic church.... If he can avoid deportation for four more months, a loophole in the asylum law would compel the German government to hear the merits of his case. Because the Germans — citing logistical and safety issues — are generally not deporting Somalis to their home country, he has a good chance of being allowed to stay.


Germany last year managed to return only 4,700 of the 35,000 migrants who were told to go back to those nations — in part because deportations are difficult. Commercial and charter flights can be expensive. Also, many of the migrants coming now don’t have passports or travel papers, making expulsion a bureaucratic and logistical mess.

The new law, however, would not close the important loophole being used here by Hassan and others to avoid deportation to transit countries. If an asylum seeker can manage to fend off deportation for six to 18 months, the German government has no choice but to reopen their case.


Germany has already sent back thousands of rejected asylum claimants from Balkan countries. But for many rejected asylum seekers, a final ruling can, or often does, take years. If they can stretch out their cases for up to six years, a law here allows many to apply for permanent status — suggesting that Germany may be forced to absorb the majority of those seeking asylum.


“Deportation is always difficult, but maybe you have to remove 100,000 to help the other 600,000 find a way to stay,” said Demetrios G. Papademetriou, president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. “Europe needs to develop a backbone, to say that on principle, if you are an unauthorized immigrant, an economic migrant, we are going to identify you and send you back.”

The upshot: You can manipulate German law to gain permanent residency and even citizenship long after your unfounded claim to asylum is rejected. Only the very foolish or short-sighted ever get deported against their will. The German state simply lacks the will to enforce its own immigration laws. Even if those laws actually do change and become harsher, there's no guarantee they'll survive court scrutiny.

So under current trends, at least 90% of the million migrants due to arrive this year alone are going to be able to find some way to stay in Germany for the rest of their lives. And many will earn the right to bring 3-4 family members with them.

'Spiegel TV' Trashes the Rights of Criminal Suspects

The German press usually takes some care to try to preserve the anonymity of people charged with serious crimes. They are identified only by their first name and last initial, and while they are still suspects in a criminal case, their faces are obscured either by a black bar or by pixelation. Whether this is required by law is a complicated matter (g) but usually even tabloids take steps to hide the identity of alleged criminal wrongdoers who aren't already the focus of major publicity and whose lives would otherwise not be newsworthy. While the foreign press broadcast the face and last name of Andreas L., the man who crashed a jet plane into the side of a French mountain, the German press declined to do these things. Even so, German press commentators were outraged (g) about the tone of the reporting.

In fact, the press and police often hide the face even of wanted suspects whom they are trying to identify, as in the case of this man alleged to have abused young girls (g).


But apparently that all depends on what sort of person the accused is. A German channel, Spiegel TV, just broadcast a clear image of the face of an alleged criminal, and even hounded him over and over to confess his guilt of his alleged crime, right there on the street. The suspect allegedly yelled right-wing slogans and urinated on migrant children on the Berlin subway, and has been charged with various crimes for this alleged act. Needless to say, this is a despicable action, if proven, etc. etc. Despite what you may have heard, I strongly disapprove of urinating on children. On anybody, for that matter. Unless it's consensual, and really, not even then.

In this (so far unembeddable) video at the 11:30 mark, Spiegel TV urinates on this man's rights, if you will. The reporters (1) show his face clearly; (2) inform the viewers of all of his previous criminal convictions; and (3) pursue him and his friend, asking over and over 'Why did you urinate on those children? Why would you do something so inhuman? Why did you urinate on those children?' Obviously, any answer to this question could have serious legal consequences for the suspect. And since Spiegel TV chose not to conceal his face or voice in any way, the whole world now knows who he is.

Let's conduct a thought experiment. Just few weeks ago, a group of five foreigners allegedly gang-raped (g) a teenage girl in Mönchengladbach, Germany. We know they're not ethnic Germans because the police have announced they have a 'southern complexion', which is code for darkish skin. What if Spiegel TV found one of them, broadcast his unconcealed face, and pursued him down the street and into a building, yelling 'Why did you rape that girl? How could you do something so inhuman? Why did you and your buddies rape her?'

I imagine there would be a tsunami of twitter outrage and complaints to the German Press Council in seconds, and that would be completely appropriate. But in this case ...crickets. So far.

Why is German Immigration Policy the Solution to Albania's Domestic Problems?

I have already pointed out that Elisabeth Raether's front-page article in this week's Die Zeit contains a factual error. But what about the rest of her argument?

Let me sumarize it. Raether points out that the Federal Migration Ministry has gotten 5,000 applications for asylum from Albanian migrants since July, and has not granted a single one. As we know by now, since Die Zeit apparently doesn't fact-check its articles, we can't really take this for granted, but let's assume it is accurate.

Raether notes that at the upcoming migration summit, Germany may declare Albania a 'secure country of origin,' which would make it easier to process asylum applications and deport those who have no grounds for asylum. She argues that this should not happen, because Albania has 'deficiencies in the rule of law', which after all explains why it has yet to be accepted into the EU. She argues that the 'biggest problem' for Albanian women is the Kanun, an orally-transmitted body of customary law that 'for simplicity's sake' can be called Albanian sharia. According to Raether, under Kanun law, women are treated as 'nothing more than a tube through which goods can be transported.' Important components of Kanun, she states, include 'blood revenge, forced marriage, and taking the law into your own hands'.

So far, Raether has not provided no citations to proof for any of these assertions.

She then moves on to state that Albania had no laws against domestic violence until 2012. This is false. But even under this (not-so-new) law, Raether claims, there are rarely consequences for wrongdoers, since women frequently withdraw their request for protective orders. The Albanian government does not adequately protect its citizens from human traffickers, and Albanian women are being forced into prostitution. So many female fetuses are being aborted that the sex ratio of society has seen lasting changes.

Still no proof for any of these assertions. Nor does she provide numbers to quantify how serious a problem human trafficking or domestic violence is in Albania.

Finally, Raether gives a source for these assertions: We should 'listen to Albanian women' applying for asylum. She claims that Belgium did so, and decided to revoke Albania's designation as a secure country of origin and even before that granted 17.2% of asylum applications. Germany already recognizes threats of violence from family members as a valid ground for asylum, but is not taking this responsibility seriously.

So that's the argument. Let me point out the problems with it.

First, uncorroborated first-person narratives from persons currently involved in a legal proceeding in which they have a strong incentive to exaggerate threats to them are not reliable evidence, period. Saying that immigration policy should be based on trusting these narratives is like saying that you should judge a criminal-justice system by how many prison inmates claim they are innocent.

Second, Raether says we can't consider Albania a safe country of origin because it's not in the EU yet. But of course there is no either-or here, virtually all countries in the world are in the category of neither EU members nor unsafe countries of origin. There are literally hundreds of reasons a country might not be a candidate for EU membership (infrastructure, fiscal policy, foreign policy) that have nothing to do with whether it's a safe place to live.

Raether says the main reason Albania isn't in the EU yet are problems with the rule of law. Although she doesn't cite any proof of this, it could well be true. The obvious response is that Albania should improve its performance in this regard. Should the European Commission help? Perhaps so. And in fact it is: By granting Albania € 320 million in assistance from 2014 to 2020 devoted to improving governance, democracy, and the rule of law.

€ 320 million.

And that's only half of the entire IPA (Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance) II EC spending package for Albania in 2014-2020, which has a total of € 650 million. And as the name indicates, IPA II is the successor to IPA I, another huge EC aid package which ran from 2007 to 2013.

Now is all of this money going to effective programs? Of course not, we all know there is some corruption and inefficiency in government aid packages. But € 320 million is a lot of money. And Albania has made significant progress in recent years. Of course, that progress is slow, and politicization and corruption of the public sector (pdf) are still big problems, as they are for most countries in that part of the world. And there is a distorted sex ratio (pdf) in Albania. And there are still some blood feuds in Albania, a favorite subject for the Western media.

But the key question is this: why is German immigration policy a good response to Albania's domestic deficiencies? The existence of an informal quasi-feudal code of conduct among a small proportion of Albanians is not Germany's problem. The weak prosecution of alleged domestic abuse in Albania (we're not told exactly how prevalent it is) is not Germany's problem. The preference of Albanians for male children is not Germany's problem. The continuing existence of corruption in Albanian domestic politics is not Germany's problem. These problems exist to some extent in dozens of countries all over the globe.

In fact, these problems exist in EU countries. A recent study documented domestic violence all over Europe (g) and identified what the authors consider to be inadequate legal protections for victims, including in Germany. In fact, Germany itself (g) does not have a special section of its criminal code directly addressing domestic violence. Germany, like Albania before 2007, prosecutes abusers under normal criminal-code provisions that apply to everyone, such as assault, insult, etc. Besides getting the date wrong, Raether never explains why Albania should be condemned for waiting too long to pass a law that Germany has yet to see the need for.

And in any case, the phenomenon of women withdrawing domestic-violence complaints and men getting off with light punishments is universal, also in many EU countries. This problem indicates a need for better enforcement methods. It does not indicate that the entire country is unsafe.

In any case, Albanian problems are all overwhelmingly internal to Albania, just as India's skewed sex ration is internal to India. If they are ever solved, it will be by cultural changes within Albania. The outside world can perhaps play a limited role in encouraging these changes. Which is precisely what the outside world is doing right now, by providing billions of euros in assistance and massive outside diplomatic pressure to Albania. I think that approach is likely to be a lot more effective than tinkering with Germany's immigration laws.

German Prisons 'Astonish' American Visitors

A delegation of Americans just visited several German prisons this year and came back impressed:

Earlier this summer, we led a delegation of people concerned about the United States criminal justice system to visit some prisons in Germany and observe their conditions. What we saw was astonishing.

The men serving time wore their own clothes, not prison uniforms. When entering their cells, they slipped out of their sneakers and into slippers. They lived one person per cell. Each cell was bright with natural light, decorated with personalized items such as wall hangings, plants, family photos and colorful linens brought from home. Each cell also had its own bathroom separate from the sleeping area and a phone to call home with. The men had access to communal kitchens, with the utensils a regular kitchen would have, where they could cook fresh food purchased with wages earned in vocational programs.


But for all the signs of progress, truly transformative change in the United States will require us to fundamentally rethink values. How do we move from a system whose core value is retribution to one that prioritizes accountability and rehabilitation? In Germany we saw a potential model: a system that is premised on the protection of human dignity and the idea that the aim of incarceration is to prepare prisoners to lead socially responsible lives, free of crime, upon release.


The process of training and hiring corrections officers is more demanding in Germany. Whereas the American corrections leaders in our delegation described labor shortages and training regimes of just a few months, in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, less than 10 percent of those who applied to be corrections officers from 2011 to 2015 were accepted to the two-year training program. This seems to produce results: In one prison we visited, there were no recorded assaults between inmates or on staff members from 2013 to 2014.


In Germany, we found that respect for human dignity provides palpable guidance to those who run its prisons. Through court-imposed rules, staff training and a shared mission, dignity is more than legal abstraction.

The question to ask is whether we can learn something from a country that has learned from its own terrible legacy — the Holocaust — with an impressive commitment to promoting human dignity, especially for those in prison. This principle resonates, though still too dimly at the moment, with bedrock American values.

At conferences the question often comes up whether the dedication to 'inviolable' human dignity that starts the German constitution has real meaning. The prison example shows it does, in my opinion. Nevertheless, many English and American lawyers claim that human dignity is not a meaningful legal value. Justice Thomas, a black conservative justice who voted against gay marriage, explained:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

One American law professor even cautioned readers concerning the 'danger' of human dignity:

The word dignity eludes narrow definition, or for that matter, any generally agreed upon definition. The Court itself has not provided a clear definition of dignity. One scholar, William A. Parent, declares, “[D]ignity is to possess the right not to be arbitrarily and therefore unjustly disparaged as a person.” In another article on “the Jurisprudence of Dignity,” Leslie Meltzer Henry writes that there is no single definition, but that dignity includes various conceptions including institutional status, equality, liberty, individual integrity, and collective virtue. She concludes, “dignity’s conceptions and functions are dynamic and context-driven.”

If dignity is defined so elastically, then conservatives judges might invoke it to strike down not only gun-control laws, but also other progressive legislation. Libertarian groups invoked the “sweet-mystery-of-life” my [sic] language in Casey to argue that the Obamacare healthcare mandate unconstitutionally violated the dignity and autonomy of Americans by forcing them to buy health insurance. In the future, cigarette smokers might argue that anti-smoking bans violate their ability to create an individual identity. And conservative Christian wedding photographers could claim that anti-discrimination laws compelling them to photograph gay weddings violate their dignity and ability to define themselves as conservative Christians. What courts would do when confronted with the clashing dignitary rights of the religious wedding photographer and the gay couple, or the hunter and the victim of gun violence, is anyone’s guess, because dignity is such an abstract concept that its boundaries are difficult to discern.

I find the different attitude toward 'dignity' pretty interesting and have written about it in a few contexts, but I'll spare you the boring details. It's the kind of issue that, to do it justice, requires you to lay down a bunch of ground rules, collect historical examples, and carefully delimit your claims with a bunch of caveats. In other words, to write like a boring academic. If that doesn't deter you, head on over to my page. But don't say I didn't warn you. 

Why Are People Leaving Kosovo? (With Pictures)

So, thousands of Kosovars are getting on buses to Germany, filing claims for political asylum, and being accommodated in German shelters. The trend started in 2014, and has skyrocketed in 2015. Tens of thousands of Kosovars have applied for political asylum in Germany in the past two years. Considering Kosovo has a population of only 1.83 million people total -- half the size of Berlin -- these are gigantic numbers.

So, what has happened in Kosovo to prompt this wave of emigration? Has there been a recent crisis?

The answer is no. Kosovo is classified by the World Bank as a lower middle income country. According to the World Bank (which keeps good numbers regardless of what you think of its policies) Kosovo's Gross National Income per capital has increased 60% in the last decade. Average life expectancy has risen by 2 years over the last decade, to 70.8. That is close to the average for developing countries in Europe, and four years longer than the entire group of lower-middle income countries. Its poverty rate is 29.2%, down from 45% in 2006. Kosovo receives millions of dollars in development aid from a number of sources.

I visited Kosovo for over a week in 2010. A friend of mine was a development worker there, and gave me plenty of tips. Kosovo is easy to get around in because it's so small, but has some dramatic mountain scenery. It was very easy to chat with people, because Kosovars love Americans because of the role the US played in achieving independence. Main streets in Prishtina are named after George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and there is a massive sculpture of Bill Clinton downtown. Most younger Kosovars are trying to learn English, and many have learned it pretty well. Kosovo was the only country in Europe I've ever visited where being an American earned me spontaneous hugs, handshakes, and free gifts in stores. Like everyone in that part of the world, Kosovars are generally extremely friendly and hospitable.

Kosovo is quite safe. I like to wander around alone in cities, and I could do this everywhere I went without any problem. The only place that felt a bit sketchy were in the north, where I went to visit Gracanica, a monastery whose magnificent Orthodox cathedral whose interior is covered with 14th-century frescoes. There were a few UN or OSCE security guards there to prevent intercommunal violence, but they looked bored. If you wander into one of the few remaining Serbian enclaves in Kosovo, you'll know it, because the colors of the Serbian flag are everywhere, and you can buy pork. Serbs stared at me a bit in Gracanica, but only with curiosity. Needless to say, I didn't go around telling everyone I was an American up there. Kosovar politics are corrupt, just as they are in virtually all countries in that general region. Many political parties are based around shady millionaires or former paramilitary captains from the liberation war. Some parts of the country are still mined.

Most Kosovars are Muslim, but not at all fanatical about it. Many will say they were forced to convert by the Ottomans, and so their heart really isn't in it. Kosovo has its own kind of rakia, just like every other country in that region. And just like every other country in that region, they insist theirs is the only drinkable version and the others are horse piss. You see very few headscarves, and women in summer wear skimpy clothing. If you make the mistake of thinking that means they're available for a one-night stand, you will be immediately corrected by a brother or cousin. Bridal boutiques are literally everywhere; you get the very strong impression this is a country in which young people's only chance at regular sex is getting married.

Overall, Kosovo is about in the middle in terms of developing countries I've visited. It has all the problems developing countries have -- and there are a lot of those -- but it's not falling apart or in crisis. Starvation and malnutrition is rare, and there is an educational system that functions at a primitive level. If you can possibly afford it, you try to send your kids to private school -- just like in other countries in the region. Nevertheless, illiteracy is disappearing among younger generations, as is the literacy gap between men and women.

So, to sum up: Kosovars are not leaving their country because of war, starvation, epidemics, ethnic cleansing, or other similar issues. There is simmering low-level ethnic conflict between Albanian and Serbian ethnicities, and minorities such as Sinti and Roma do very poorly compared to the majority, which is the case in all socieities. Kosovar is not poor, it's lower-middle-income and making slow but steady progress. It is also received hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid, although there's a lively debate about whether that's done much good.

The reason Kosovars are traveling to Germany and claiming asylum is that (1) their country is relatively poor, compared to wealthier Western European neighbors; (2) Western Europe is incredibly easy to reach by plane, bus, or even informal taxi (g); (3) they have been told they will get 'welcome money' from Germany (false) and a monthly stipend of €140 while they're here (true). They have nothing to lose. If their asylum claim is rejected, as it will be, they may be able to escape repatriation any number of ways, either legally or through concealment. Odd jobs or petty crime may well earn them more money here than they could get at home. And there's always the one-in-a-million shot (almost literally one-in-a-million) that they will actually get asylum or another grant of legal status. If they are repatriated, they will simply return to whatever high-rise they lived in with their families before. I don't blame them for trying to get to Germany. I might even try this in their situation. But, in my view, that doesn't mean Germany has any moral, ethical, or legal obligation to grant them permanent legal residency status.

Here are some pictures I took on my trip to Kosovo. Interesting place! Info in hover text.

027 - Prizren - Barber in Hut
027 - Prizren - Barber in Hut

028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall


072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1

069 - Prishtina Memorial Fence 2

Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag

Germany Receives Highest-Ever Monthly Number of Migrants in July 2015

Germany just broke a record: 79,000 people arrived in Germany and filed claims for political asylum in July 2015 alone (g). This is the highest monthly total ever recorded in Germany. According to the Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees, 450,000 migrants will arrive in Germany in this year alone. If those numbers seem almost unbelievably high, that's because they are. As of right now in Germany, 209,000 asylum applications are being processed. 90,000 of them were filed by migrants from the Balkans, over 99% of whom have no valid grounds for political asylum. In the past few weeks alone, 30,000 Albanians applied for political asylum. 99.9% of these claims are rejected, as Schmidt reports.

The FAZ also notes that members of the Green Party, who are twice as likely as other Germans to endorse open borders, tend to live in expensive urban areas (g) of German cities in which you find almost no migrants. Fancy that!