Almost a million migrants arrived in Europe in 2015, over 800,000 of them in Germany. Most have come through the Balkans, most recently arriving in Austria from Slovenia. If Germany shuts its gates, Austrians worry they'll be the ones left without a chair when the music stops. Analysts suggest Europe could see three million migrants next year, and government agencies are struggling to provide places to house all the newcomers whilst calming the fears of their own citizens. "Is Germany full?" asks an Iraqi asylum seeker at the Sentilj migrant camp in Slovenia. "Have they closed the border?" He gets swept up in the human tide surging toward the spot lit gateway to Austria. Slovenian border guards working 17-hour shifts are threatening to strike. A father tries to shove his baby into my hands, pleading with me to argue his case with the guards who have thrice rejected him and his wife. Newcomers erect their flimsy tents in a dusty field as children strip tree for firewood. People are anxious about the unknown journey ahead as winter is rapidly approaching. "Say it loud, say it clear; refugees are welcome here!" Just over the border, four hundred students and anarchist activists carry their "Refugees Welcome" placards into the hills. Police pursue them in a scramble up and down vineyard while an anti-refugee rally carries Austrian flag, taunting the other demonstration with the national anthem and yodeling folk music. Chanting "From Paris to Rome; refugees go home!" they wave anti-Islamist pendants. Police arrive just in time to separate the two factions.
"Train of Hope", a Facebook-inspired aid group, works with refugees at Vienna's Hauptbahnhof. Volunteer Benjamin Fritz (26) says: "We started back in early September handing out food and water from a desk". Tents, clothing and food have been donated; there's a kindergarten and psychologists on hand. Punjabi volunteers of "Sikh Help" dish out 230kgs of rice and curry daily.
At Wegscheid on the German border a huge white tent stretches along the Austrian side of the border. Migrants take their first steps onto German soil, escorted by police. Officials are struggling to process so many undocumented migrants. "99% of these people carry no passport or ID card" says one. Each of five border-crossings between Austria and Germany allow 50 migrants per hour.
"Bavaria [is] handling the influx admirably, given the hand they have been dealt" says Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) in Berlin. Gone now are welcoming crowds at Munich's main train station. On the outskirts of villages across the state prefabricated shipping container homes are appearing – housing for around one hundred people which can be constructed in a matter of days.
Some locals are worried. Stephan lives in Munich and works in the financial IT industry: "To be honest, we have the capacity, but we do not have the capacity to take in people who don't accept our ways." Simone (36), a technical college teacher adds: "This issue will split our society and we'll always be arguing with each other… Businesses are rubbing their
hands at the prospect of an influx of cheap labourers who don't know their rights."
In Dresden, another weekly PEGIDA rally rails against immigrants and 'islamisation'. Mattias (25) works in a supermarket in the depressed suburb of Heidenau: "Germany is full, it's hard enough for us Germans to find work; what do these foreigners expect?"
The Landesamt fur Gesundheit und Soziales is a government agency under siege. Staff work their way through over 200,000 open cases, sent down to them from the Office of Migration. A spokeswoman admits: "There are no more places to put people. We have 35 sports halls in Berlin - all full." Incidents of mass brawls between the different nationalities are increasing as migrants' lofty expectations come up against a solid wall of Teutonic bureaucracy.
Benner at the GPPI concludes: "The most pointed question is 'Is Germany still open to receive refugees?' and right now, it is." But many are wondering for how long?
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