Following is a an open letter to the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Angela Merkel, from 100 German social psychologists, on the subject of dealing with the flight to Germany from a social-psychological perspective. Wepublish it in the belief that it will be of interest to our readers. Please note that aside from minor formatting issues, the letter has been reproduced in full, with original translation by Prof Dr Ulrich Wagner, one of the letter's primary originators.
Members of the German Bundestag
The Prime Ministers of the German Bundesländer
The members of the parliaments of the German Bundesländer
Dear Chancellor Merkel,
Surveys currently show a great approval of refugees to find shelter in Germany. The German population’s support of refugees is impressive. However, these positive attitudes are at stake since they may not be stable and may shift to condemnation or even active rejection and violence, at least for parts of society. Such a development would have massive ramifications for refugees and the social cohesion in Germany and Europe. From a social-psychological perspective, some developments are alarming but – with the respective volition – also evitable. Therefore, we feel compelled to comment on the issue from a scientific perspective.
Both the support and the rejection of people and groups of people strongly depend on feelings. Empathy (i.e., the comprehension of the others’ situation and empathizing with their mental state) drives altruistic behavior. In contrast, prejudices, discrimination, and violence are especially promoted by anxiety, but also by anger. The current state of immigration to Germany is unclear. News about large numbers of people who come to Germany on a daily basis are unsettling. Many people are not sure how to assess this situation. They fetch information from friends, social networks, politics, and the media.
1. Politicians, opinion leaders, public authorities, and the media must provide clear answers and solution processes. This reduces uncertainty, anxiety, and anger. Moreover, people have a need to live in a foreseeable and just world. If we experience others or ourselves to be permanently exposed to injustice, discrimination, or violence, we tend to blame the victims. There is a great danger that refugees will be blamed for their fate if their suffering is not attenuated. It is necessary and overdue for policy makers to make a serious effort to pass legislation that enables asylum seekers to apply for refuge without having to risk their lives first. Clarification also means a humane accommodation and admission process as well as a fair and expeditious decision about the asylum application. There is a lack of alternatives for people that come to Germany and Europe out of economic hardship – asylum applications cannot be an appropriate solution in this respect. Clear answers are especially needed about how Germany and Europe deal with wars, disastrous economic conditions, and discriminations in the countries of origin, because these conditions push people into flight.
2. The radical right tries to take advantage of the uncertainty about the immigration discourse for own political goals. They create horror scenarios in order to fuel negative emotions and thus rejection in the population. Political exploitation of refugees’ hardship is unacceptable for democratic parties.
3. Negative emotions, rejection, discrimination, and violence towards others especially emerge with the impression that the others take something away from “us” or threaten important values or lifestyles that are important to us. This danger arises predominantly when deficient funding (e.g., on communal level) causes a resource conflict between the accommodation of refugees and public facilities or services. The admission of humans should be related to the least possible restrictions for the people already living here.
4. Immigration is – in the medium and the long run – a win for everyone involved, a fact that is not nearly enough considered and emphasized. The age distribution will change for the better: More young people will help to secure retirement benefits. Immigration will contribute to overcome skill shortage for many professions. Also, immigration will help to preserve infrastructure on a local level such as day care centers, schools, sports clubs, or small stores that would otherwise have to close in a shrinking community.
5. Uncertainty about how to deal with refugees is high particularly for people that have no experience with immigration – humans especially fear the unknown. Contact helps to overcome prejudice. Surveys (including current ones about the acceptance of refugees in Germany) have been showing more rejection of immigrants for people in the Eastern part than the Western part of Germany, which, among other things, dates back to a historically caused lower amount of immigration in the East and, thus, reduced chances of experience with immigration. The allocation of refugees in Germany must cover to a greater extent those federal states, regions, and neighborhoods that until now only experienced few benefits from immigration. Otherwise these regions are in danger of being outpaced in their development of intercultural competence. In addition, especially rural regions that don’t prosper can improve their infrastructure through immigration.
6. The currently diminishing solidarity of the European Union pervasively threatens its reputation, which will strongly damage the citizens’ identification and their willingness to support this community. Europe must find a collective, solidary, and humanitarian approach to the so called refugee crisis.
Dear Mrs. Merkel, ladies and gentlemen,
The above mentioned remarks are concerned with current problems. We did not address medium and long term measures. A majority of the people that come to us as refugees today will stay permanently. Success or failure of their integration will shape the future face of Germany and Europe. Also, for the moment we ignored the current situation of refugees in the reception centers and local communities. From the perspective of our discipline, improvements are also necessary in these contexts.