It is a difficult and upsetting subject to discuss but, if you plan to visit Munich, it is important to be informed about the consequences of the 2015 migrant crisis upon this, Germany’s most southern major city, and, therefore, the recipient of a disproportionate share of the up to 1.5 million migrants expected to arrive in the country during 2015 (during September, up to 13,000 per day were arriving at Munich’s central station). There is nothing here which should affect your enjoyment of this marvelous town but, when traveling, it is always wise to be aware of local context.
Also, be aware that the more visible side effects, such as migrants sleeping in the central train station, will ease over time as most of them are redistributed to other German provinces and as more accommodation is found for those who remain in Munich. This article will explain the background to the crisis and, then, the affects upon Munich, including practical advice on how to adapt your behavior and dress to be culturally sensitive to migrants who are unfamiliar with Western culture.
The Background to The 2015 Migrant Crisis
The migrant crisis had been brewing for many years but gathered momentum when a prolonged drought in Syria, from 2006 to 2010, pushed 1.5 million rural people into the cities, which had already been struggling to cope with the one million refugees who had already arrived as Iraq collapsed. The lack of employment, facilities, services and basic utilities such as water and electricity led to unprecedented levels of fear and frustration, a situation already primed to explode when the “Arab Spring” swept the Middle East.
This led to a massively complicated civil war, in which a bewildering array of factions were armed and funded by other Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia. From this mess, one particularly brutal faction emerged triumphant: “Islamic State” or “Daesh”, established a “Caliphate” that stretched across broad swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Daesh’s aim is to bring about the end-of-days, a massive showdown between Islam and the devils of the West which will result in the destruction of all human life. They also have some interesting ideas on wind power generation.
Part of their strategy, which has proved to be entirely successful, was to provoke a war of such intensity that it would push a unprecedented number of migrants across the Mediterranean, overwhelming Europe’s hopelessly inadequate borders. Their publicly stated plan was to use this opportunity to spread thousands of Daesh fighters throughout Europe and use them to assist local Muslims in carrying out terrorist attacks (the first with the known participation of a crisis migrant was the November 2015 Paris attacks, during which 137 people died and the tourist industry, which accounts for 8% of the French economy and is a major employer of unskilled workers, was heavily damaged).
Daesh were not the only ones to take advantage of the crisis. The initial initial, panicked response of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, to the crisis was to announce that Germany would take in as many Syrian refugees as arrived, an announcement created with delight by people all over the Islamic world who cheered, promptly threw away their passports and declared themselves to be Syrian. The European Union’s own estimates are that more than 80% of those successfully gaining asylum in Germany as refugees from the Syrian war were, actually, from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Albania, Yemen, Iraq, Eritrea and, even, Nigeria. Independent estimates of the percentage of non-Syrians are even higher and, anecdotally, many genuine Syrians refugees reported being massively outnumbered by fake Syrians.
We do not know if Merkel’s surprising decision was due to lingering guilt over Germany’s past mistakes, but it was greeted with horror by other governments sharing the Schengen Area (the 26 European countries which, until that moment, had a shared emigration policy and no border controls between them), by members of her own government and by members of the German public once they understood just how many were now arriving and that, under German law, each would be entitled to bring over their families in the coming years. It took Merkel less than a month to backtrack on the open-door policy but, by then, a far larger number than anticipated were already in the country.
In November, following the Paris attacks, an Islamic State operative claimed that they had successfully infiltrated 4,000 fighters into Europe as migrants and said we should “just wait”. This could simply be propaganda, but even just a few hundred fighters organizing Jihadis from local Muslim communities and carrying out hit-and-run attacks throughout Europe would be problematic. Money to buy guns and explosives is certainly not a problem, as the Islamic State has several billion dollars at its disposal, mainly from oil sales.
Is Munich a Target?
Although Germany is on Daesh’s official list of targets, France’s military involvement in Mali, Libya and Syria, its highly vulnerable tourist industry, and the large number of local Muslims willing to assist, make French cities a far more attractive target. German cities generally tend to be better managed, richer and more effectively policed than French cities. Munich, in particular, learnt important lessons as far back as 1972, when Islamic Terrorists took over the Olympics and slaughtered the Israeli delegation, so, it is fair to guess that Munich is relatively unlikely to be the target of a major attack.
The Smaller Consequences
The lower likelihood of an attack does not, however, mean that life in Munich continues on as normal. Any large influx of people from a radically different culture impacts a city’s daily life. We must be aware of the culture sensitivities of people, many badly traumatized by years of indiscriminate warfare in their own countries, the horrors of refugee camps and the brutality of the journey to Europe. Many of these people will need years of intensive counseling and Psychiatric help before they can even start to adapt to life in the West. It is a lousy situation, but the best way we can support them is to change our own day-to-day behaviors.
For people vacationing in Munich, it is important to stick to the precautions that are normal in any major city. The crisis has temporarily led to a large increase in the number of men hanging around certain areas of the city with not much money and a lot of time on their hands. The United Nations estimates that 72% of the crisis migrants are adult males, 13% are adult females and 15% are children. If you enjoy alcohol while on vacation, it is important to remember that our new guests are unfamiliar with public drunkenness and may react unpredictably. Smoking, however, is fine.
Wise Precautions for Tourists in Munich
For women, it is now important to dress with an understanding of Islamic sensibilities.
Remember, not all Muslims have strict views on female clothing but many of these migrants are from the poorest, least-educated sections of their countries and more likely, therefore, to be ultra-orthodox, particularly those from Pakistan and Yemen. Cover as much of your body as possible in loose clothing.
If going out to socialize, try to avoid traveling alone on public transport, behave modestly and definitely avoid being obviously intoxicated in public. It will take time for these new Germans to learn that Europeans have different perceptions of sexual harassment and assault.
In this photo, Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland demonstrates that it is entirely possible to dress in ways that will not make Muslims angry, while still remaining fashionable. Why not consider this colorful ensemble for your next weekend night out?
For gay visitors, the same applies: please understand that it will take time for some migrants to catch up with Western concepts of personal freedom. Munich has a terrific gay scene and some truly excellent clubs, but be tactful in public and aware that some migrants may be greatly offended by what you consider to be harmless fun. Homosexuality is illegal in all these countries and, often, even the slightest suspicion that someone is gay is sufficient to result in a severe mob beating.
Our natural instinct is to be offended by such backward views on sexuality but, again, we must accept these cultural differences with open minds. Don’t forget that it has taken our society a long time to reach the point at which, now, pretty much everyone knows that, when a friend comes out, we should be encouraging and supportive. In the Islamic State, they throw them off tall buildings.
Lesbians should also be aware that some hardline Muslims believe in a concept called “corrective rape”, in which it is not wrong to rape a woman if you are doing it to straighten her out. If possible, this is best avoided.
Despite these challenges, the entire world has been impressed by creative effort that the people of Munich put into welcoming these surprise guests to our city, including beautiful hand-drawn posters and free lollipops. We must all continue to work together to react maturely to any problems that do arise in the coming years and ensure that we live up to the generosity that German people have always shown towards minorities.