About That German Open Border Policy

I was born and raised in Germany, and I lived there for the first 28 years of my life. That is not to say that I feel particularly German. I have always been an individualist. What ties me to Germany is more family and friends rather than a patriotic feeling about this artificial political construct. But with all of my family still living there, I still have strong ties and I visit often. That is why, even though I never want to go back and live there again, I think I still have a good idea of what is going on in the country.

These days, at political gatherings, when I mention to strangers that I am from Germany, I get often worriedly asked, how horrible the place must have become, since Merkel opened those borders at the start of the refugee crisis. There seems to be a theme in certain political circles that Germany is almost on a verge of destruction and civil war, thanks to the crazy policy of open borders. And for some strange reason, these circles overlap with the libertarian movement. To many, it proves that open borders just do not work. In other words, Germany would have done better if it had had stricter government regulations of people.

This is a very strange perception. The basic facts seem to be false and it is a wrong analysis of what the problem is. Let me assure you that Germany at no point in this century had anything even remotely resembling an open borders policy. That is to say, at no point was it legal to enter and live in Germany without the government regulating the whole process. What is referred to as open borders, in reality was something very different. Here are the facts: People licensing in Germany is very strict. You will not just be checked for a valid Government license going into Germany from a non-Schengen country, you are also checked going out. Even if you are a full citizen in Germany you have to register all your homes with the government. You also have to carry a valid identification card with you at all times.

It is very difficult for a non-Schengen citizen to obtain a license to live and work in Germany. A foreigner would usually need to have a high income job offer, which requires high qualifications. To obtain a citizenship, and therefore being freed from future visa requirements, is even harder. Someone would need to live in Germany for at least 8 years to apply. And even then, he or she would usually need to give up any other citizenship in return for a German one. So, far from having open borders, the picture is actually very grim for freedom of movement in Germany.

One of the few positive things however is that Germany has signed a lot of international law. Under this law, everyone fleeing political prosecution and violence has the right to seek refuge in a save state. And Germany definitely qualifies as one of the latter. This forces the state to not deport people whenever they are not save in their home country. People like Syrians, who are fleeing the civil war in their home region.

At least on paper, this looks good. In practice however, the government has even made that a difficult endeavor. If a person wants to apply for refuge in Germany, he or she will have to be on German territory. It is impossible to make the application from abroad. However, without a visa, crossing the border is illegal. That means someone who wants to make use of the right to seek asylum, first has to break the law.

One could make an argument that this is actually not as bad as it looks. The harshest punishment for breaking this law is that the person can be deported. But this can only happen, if there is no valid reason for seeking asylum. That means that if someone does have such a valid reason, it does not matter whether he or she breaks the law or not.

Unfortunately, that is not the whole story. This law matters in a different way. Because of it, everyone who does help someone to enter Germany without a license, even if that person has a valid asylum reason, does also commit a crime and potentially faces punishment. This is especially the case if that help is frequent and organized. Therefore, airlines, and other professional transport service providers, are not allowed to transport people without a valid visa. That is why we are seeing scary looking hordes of refugees marching through Europe, instead of simply taking the next Ryanair flight. Clearly the purpose of this law is to make it very difficult for anyone in need of asylum to actually reach a secure country like Germany. In other words, there is in practice a very cynical regime in place, in which on paper the state pretends to be a humanitarian, moral actor, while at the same time having all sorts of policies in place that reveal those gestures to be essentially a scam.

Another important restriction to the right of asylum is the so called Dublin agreement. It demands that refugees can only apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter. This is because all EU countries count as save. So if the goal is safety, it technically does not matter where they seek refuge. But in practice of course it does matter. Since no one is allowed to help a refugee entering a country like Germany without a visa, most refugees have few other choices than to walk. That way, there is hardly any chance that a refugee first enters the EU via Germany, since Germany is surrounded by other EU countries and Switzerland. On the other hand, states on the outer part of the EU, like Greece, Italy or Spain, have to deal with almost all refugees entering the union.

And when it comes to that alleged German open border policy that people ask me about, this was the real problem. Since violence escalated in the middle east, a huge amount of people were fleeing simultaneously. Most of them entered the EU through Greece. Greece is a very small country. In addition to that it had, and still has, a lot of economic problems. So it simply was not able to handle the large numbers of people coming in. And most refugees where not really keen to stay in Greece anyway, since there are no opportunities in this ruined state. Hell, even a high number of Greeks do not want to stay in Greece at the moment. So most refugees headed for the richer, northern countries, like Germany, since this is where the opportunities are.

This follows the example of historical migrations, which always tended to be from poor economic areas to richer ones. It is the market in action. People leaving unproductive areas for productive ones is employing existing capital more productively, and is beneficiary for everyone.

Because of the solvency crisis in Greece, there were, and still are, a lot of tensions between the mediterranean state and Germany. The Greeks accused Germany for behaving like a dictator, for insisting that they had to cut spending in return for new loans. The German public on the other hand, perceived the Greeks to stealing their money. There is certainly some truth to the latter, but what the German public did not understand was, that it was a bit too late to save their money. The government in Berlin had a big interest of bailing out Greece, since German banks were already holding a lot of Greek dept. That meant that German savers would have been in danger if the government in Athens had become insolvent. In other words, the German government really wanted to bail out the banking system rather than Greece. In addition to that, a bankrupt Greek government was likely to leave the Euro, which could have caused a loss in confidence in the relatively young currency.

And that is where German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted. She announced that everyone who reaches Germany with a valid asylum reason will be granted asylum in Germany instead of Greece. She added that people from Syria are automatically seen as having a valid asylum reason.

She must have though, ok let’s kill two birds with one stone. We take the refugees off the shoulders of the Greeks. Germany can handle the refugees, and Athens in return will be pleased. In addition to that, the very unpopular solvency crisis will disappear from the headlines in Germany and replaced by news about refugees. Once out of the headlines, Greece, and the banking system can be secretly bailed out. And that is exactly what happened. At least at first.

It is important to understand that non of the German people licensing laws where at any point repealed. The borders remained just as closed as before. The only agreement that was broken was the Dublin agreement. Merkel did not say, everyone can come to Germany. She merely said, if you somehow make it to German shores, and you are a Syrian, we will not send you back to Greece, and give you asylum in Germany instead. That is all, no open borders here. It remained illegal to enter the country without a visa, making anyone essentially a criminal that helped refugees across the border. And if someone wanted to stay in Germany, they still needed a valid asylum reason or a visa. Since many people had neither, there have been a lot of deportations since.

What about the consequences?

Some people might now say that this is even more a reason against open borders. Merkel just liberalized the laws a tiny bit and you already have this disaster. How bad would the situation be, if there were truly open borders and everyone could come.

Not so fast. I agree there are problems with refugees in Germany, and many Germans are not happy about Merkel letting in those people. But the reason for the problems is not too few regulations. The reason is that there are way too many. A lot of the problems came from the attempt to regulate the situation. I warned about this in my article “Soviet Migration Chaos” which I wrote at the time.

As an asylum seeker in Germany, you first of all only have a right to be on German territory. This does not come with the right to choose where you want to live, seek employment or run your own business. For the first 3 month, asylum seekers are forced to live on taxpayer money. They have to live in an accommodation that the government provides. After that, they can apply for a very limited amount of jobs. But every time they do, the employer has to proof that there is no German who can also do the job. This is a hassle that few employers want to go through, when it comes to low qualifying jobs. So this regulation affectively prevents that refugees are able to work. It is only after 18 month that people with a valid asylum reason are allowed to freely work in Germany. That is a lot of time of forced inaction.

The whole thing is essentially a completely centrally planned endeavor. And so we are seeing the same problems we are always seeing with central planning. It appears that there is not enough space and work for all these people. This however, is unlikely a real problem. Short of super abundance, there is always more than enough work to do, if only the government does not put in work prohibitions of any kind.

But it is this welfare chaos that Germans in my experience are most unhappy about. They see all these poor people coming in, getting all this free stuff from the government. The government has even closed schools and outright confiscated private flats, in order to house refugees. This is the main cause of a lot of anger among Germans. But remarkably, many are blaming the ‘lazy’ refugees, who ‘only come for the welfare’, instead of blaming the real villain, which is the government trying to control everything. Unfortunately, we see this all too often. The government creates a big problem and then the market gets blamed for it. As a consequence, more regulations are proposed as the solution. Sadly, even some ‘free market’ people have fallen for this nonsense. But in order to fix a problem, one needs to have a correct analysis of what the problem is. And it ain’t open borders, as we do not have those.

What about security

Besides welfare, another concern of some people is security. On all kinds of nationalist blogs, I can read how places like Germany have apparently turned into war zones. This is largely based on individual report of bad experiences with refugees. Individual cases however, do not necessarily present an accurate picture of the overall situation. Of course, Germany too has an active, and in parts even violent, nationalist movement. These people never liked foreigners, and are now out on the internet, completely misrepresenting the situation. These are the kinds of people that describe the migration from unproductive and dangerous, to save and productive areas, as an invasion. ‘Invasion’ is of course a military term, which describes a forceful and hostile takeover of a territory.

But immigrants, including refugees, are usually neither armed nor hostile. To the contrary, they come in order to better their lives, and because they are attractive to the place they go to. Most of them are completely unpolitical. The use of the term invasion to describe such a peaceful market process is very revealing in my view. It shows that these people are predominantly driven by fear rather than good rational arguments.

Let us look at the facts. How dangerous are the refugees really. On the surface, there seem to be slightly more crimes being committed by them compared to locals. There is no statistic however that shows that a high number of asylum seekers are criminals. The vast majority are completely peaceful. So we are talking about a small group of trouble makers.

At a closer look, it turns out that this group of trouble makers, percentage wise, does not seem to be bigger than criminals among Germans. A significant portion of the crimes being committed are dodging public transport fares and forging documents. The latter has to do with the fact that there are people licensing laws in the first place. So these are crimes that Germans do not have to commit. And the former, while not ok, is not a damage that could be prevented with closed borders. After all, if they are not in the country, they would not pay for a ticket either. Both are crimes that more come from poverty and desperation rather than real criminal energy. If you deduct these crimes, the difference between criminal Germans and refugees disappears.

In addition to that, a lot of crimes committed by refugees are being committed in the state run accommodation facilities. So the victims are also other refugees. It turns out, locking up a lot of healthy young men of different backgrounds in small facilities, and condemn them to do nothing all day, is not a recipe for harmony. Who would have though. And once again, this is a result of state planning and not of too much freedom. If we had free migration, which of course includes free association, these people would just go out of each other’s way.

As recently released numbers show however, there is one area of crime in which the latest refugees are disproportionately often involved. And that is sexual motivated crimes. This goes from sexual harassment to rape. The difference is not huge, but at least according to crime statistics, it is there. This seems to indeed have something to do with different cultural attitudes towards women. There can of course be no tolerated for this in any shape or form. But again, we are not talking about a large number of trouble makers. Overall, the vast majority of refugees are not engaging in any criminal activity. So the correct way to deal with this type of crime is on a case by case basis and not with collective punishment.

None of these things seem particularly dramatic or worrying. And yet there seems to be some Germans who are very worried about an increase of crime. The number of licenses issued for carrying defensive weapons has gone up significantly over the last few years. I however, have yet to meet one of those people who is really altering his or her behaviors, because of a fear of refugees. The facts do not seem to merit this. Objectively, Germany remains a fairly save place with the usual western levels of crime.

What about terrorism

But then of course there is terrorism. Last year, there were a number of terrorist attacks in Germany, some of which were indeed committed by immigrants. The most lethal one was the one on 19th December at a christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 55.

The reason why terror is so scary is, because our brain is inherently bad in dealing with probabilities. People see this and think their own lives might be in danger. The reality however is, that even in the bloody year of 2016, the chances of being caught up in a terrorist event in Germany are statistically negligible. Terrorism is factually one of the smallest problems on earth. And yet we are constantly spending a lot of time and resources solving this none problem. All because of our brain being unable to handle probabilities.

Terrorism on the whole is almost a non problem. And it certainly is not any kind of serious problem when it comes to the free movement of people. Over 1 million people have made it to Germany with asylum reasons in the last few years. But we have not even seen a handful of terrorist attacks resulting from this. The only rational conclusion to draw from this is that the number of terrorists among those coming in is indeed negligible.

The humanitarian disaster caused by closed borders

What is not negligible however, are the tens of thousands of people who have died trying to get into the fortress Europe. These people die, because they have nothing to lose, and we have nothing better to do than to put stones in their way. This has now lead to the building of huge criminal mafia organisations in northern Africa, who earn handsome returns ripping off these poor, desperate people. We are even literally seeing slave trades re-emerging in Libya.

Whoever wants to argue that we cannot have open borders, needs to make a case that open borders are worst than the humanitarian horrors we are witnessing on the outer borders of the fortress Europe. These are a direct consequence of the government trying to license people, and they seem to completely dwarf any kind of crimes and terror we have seen from refugees in places like Germany. And as we have seen, most of these problems too come from government intervention and not from free movement, which Germany never had.

So even if one wanted to argue that there was a distinct security problem with immigrants, clearly the immigration controls are not creating better outcomes. In fact, people licensing is probably the most destructive state policy after war. It just increases the misery. Unless of course, the argument is that only the misery of Europeans count. We should not care about the misery of all the other people. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to take away their freedom. This is essentially what the nationalist argument comes down to at the end. But do not call them xenophobic or racist! That is offensive and not PC. Although, even that is a too generous representation of this agenda, for they do not even care about Europeans either. They also want to tell us that we cannot associate ourselves with these foreigners. I am sorry, but as a libertarian, who believes in individual liberty for everyone, I have no respect for this line of arguing whatsoever. It is collectivism at its worst.

  4 comments for “About That German Open Border Policy

  1. Paul Marks
    May 7, 2017 at 12:20 am

    It is quite true that the German state is a recent construct – 1871 (the old Kingdoms and Free Cities should have had their independence restored after the First World War – but too many Allied leaders, especially President Wilson, were dominated by progressive notions). However, German language and culture are much older than that – in various forms (yes the language varies widely).

    It is also true that Europe has been under Islamic attack for more than 13 centuries – it is hard to know what to say to people who think that this is either not true (has not happened) or is not important, or was the creation of states (as if all raids were organised by states – or if towns and villages built walls and so on for no reason) – difficult to know what to say other “you are mistaken”, Why the Germans (a very intelligent, creative and hardworking people) killed millions of Jews, who had done the Germans no harm, and are now opening the gates to the forces of Islam (indeed have done for many years now) who are committed to do the Germans harm, is a question I will leave to future historians (if there are any). Nothing to do with “Muslims” (as some sort of ethnic term) of course – Islam is a set of doctrines laid down by the teachings and practices of Muhammed, again those who deny this (with some sort of relativist take on reality) are just wrong. I leave to David Wood and others the careful description of these teachings and personal deeds of Muhammed. “I am a Muslim because my family are Muslim” sounds more like ethnic identity than a expression of belief in the doctrines of Islam. An obvious question would be “should people be allowed to mock Muhammed?” – if the answer of a person is “yes” then “Muslim” is an ethnic term, as the Islamic answer is “no – those who mock Muhammed must be punished” (by death).

    As for Greece – it is insolvent in the sense that its government can not afford the public services and benefits it has promised the people. I do not see what bailouts have to do with this. If the German government wanted to give German banks money (to cover the savings of people or whatever) why do not do so directly, rather than via Greece.

    “We must give them X amount of money so they can pay us back X amount of money” is insane – utterly insane.

    We can agree on that at least.

  2. May 7, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Many years ago I was somebody who supported the EU. A series of events unfolded that eventually destroyed my preconceived notions how great the EU was.

    One of the most important events was the so-called ‘migrant crisis’. I really believed that in order to respond to a serious problem, it would be a good idea to have a club of European countries that could act in a unified and decisive way to address that problem. Some issues are indeed impossible to successfully solve within the bounds of just one country.

    In response to a large number of people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa, I expected the EU to come up with some sort of humanitarian solution. What actually happened was some countries literally erected fences to impede the advance of some of the most desperate people on earth, whilst other nations begrudgingly accepted the idea that they should allow a fraction of the migrants to settle within their borders. But not without going through a torturous and humiliating asylum process first.

    The idea that the German government willingly accepted the masses of people coming into Europe is a myth.

    The EU as a whole and nations more generally have not come up with an ethically acceptable solution to this issue.

    The real ‘migrant crisis’ is not that many people have arrived in Europe. But that Europe as a whole has not accepted them.

  3. Leigh-Anne Wain
    May 8, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    The only realistic solution to the vast suffering caused by the Syrian Civil War is to end the Syrian civil war. Nico makes an eloquent case for open borders but surely he must realise that public opinion in the West is firmly against open borders and increasingly is hostile to even the limited amount of immigration currently being permitted.

    What do you think is more likely individual western leaders intervening to bring the Syrian Civil War and consequently it’s refugee crisis to a close, or individual western leaders acting in complete defiance of the direction of public opinion opening up its borders to upwards of 5 billion potential migrants? One policy prescription is inside the overton window, the other is just a pipe dream.

    • Nico Metten
      May 8, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      Neither of both is likely. Syria is in a mess because of western intervention. The West has no means to end this, other than staying out of it. So this is no solution.

      By far not all of the people trying to get into Europe are from Syria. There are a lot more places like that, where no sane person would want to stay.

      If I only said what was likely, my agenda would be reduced to demand 5% less income tax and easier process for highly qualified visas. That would not be worth the effort.

      I am saying what is the correct policy to have, which is anarcho-capitalism, in the hope that in the long term this will make people change their minds. We need to defeat the state, so that people who promote destructive policies like people licensing, will not have any means to pursue their destructive agenda.

      But don’t be so sure that no one wants open borders. On the so called left I find many partners for this policy.

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