The German foreign ministry has launched a website to discourage would-be migrants from making their journey to Germany: "Rumours about Germany: Facts for Migrants". It aims -- In English, French and Arabic -- to debunk "some of the most common false promises made by traffickers", such as:
- "Every refugee receives a welcome payment of 2,000 euros",
- "Germany grants a house to every refugee" or,
- "The ship for the crossing is very big, it even has a pool and a cinema."
The new website comes in the wake of "AWARE MIGRANTS", a similar project jointly developed by the Italian Ministry of the Interior and the International Office for Migration(IOM) in July 2016. Whereas the goal of "AWARE MIGRANTS" was to raise awareness about the dangerous journey across the African desert and the Mediterranean, "Rumours about Germany" focuses mostly on the economic aspects of asylum seekers' lives in Germany -- which the website paints as one of hardships and dismal prospects:
"Those entering Germany illegally will not be able to get a job. Also note that the German government does not provide refugees with jobs. ... Contrary to rumours and misinformation deliberately spread by human traffickers, Germany does not provide a welcome payment. Nobody will be given his own house. In fact, finding a place to live has become more and more difficult in Germany, especially in the big cities. Also note that you cannot choose freely where to live while you seek asylum and may have to stay in remote places where no one understands your language."
"With the website www.rumoursaboutgermany.info," the foreign ministry explained in a press release, "the foreign ministry continues an information campaign of the same name which it started abroad in the fall 2015".
This information campaign, however, must have been carefully hidden from the German public – no major newspaper reported it at the time. To find information about it, one has to go to the foreign ministry's website and find a press release from January 2016 in which the ministry describes its anti-migration campaign in Afghanistan:
"During the first phase at the end of 2015, large billboards were placed in in Kabul, Masar-e Scharif and Herat on locations with a particularly high volume of traffic. They contain questions in the local languages Dari and Pashtu: 'Leaving Afghanistan? Are you sure?' and 'Leaving Afghanistan? Have you thought this through?'"
Obviously, the billboard advertisement did not have the effect the German government was looking for -- probably why it had to launch the new website. The foreign ministry's press release quotes Andreas Kindl, the ministry's "Agent for Strategic Communication", as saying:
"The website is optimized for smartphones and speaks in simple, clear language to people who are thinking about coming to Germany, who are on their way or who already are here."
Kindl, a graduate in Islamic Studies was, until September 2017, Germany's ambassador to Yemen. The German government might think that the job requires a certain kind of cultural expertise, but there is a problem: even if a would-be migrant happens to go to the "Rumours about Germany" website -- which seems unlikely -- why would he be convinced by claims such as this:
"Many asylum seekers do not qualify for protection and their applications are rejected -- they are not allowed to stay and have to leave Germany. Then they return [home] with no money and have to start from scratch."
Every German knows that hardly any asylum seekers whose applications are rejected are forced to leave Germany. If their application is rejected and they decide to return to their home country, they are rewarded with an with an allowance of between €1000 ($1,200) and €3000 ($3,600). Thus, contrary to what "Rumours about Germany" claims, making the journey to Germany still appears as a win-win proposition.
To the German reader, the whole campaign and its central messages must seem disturbing. Since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany's borders to more than a million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the German public has been kept under the impression that every single migrant entering Germany was a refugee who had fled a war zone such as Syria or Iraq. To keep up this fiction, politicians and journalists never speak of migrants, immigrants or illegal aliens, but only of "refugees" (Flüchtlinge) or "protection seekers" (Schutzsuchende).
As soon as someone without legitimate papers sets foot on German soil, he becomes, by definition, a "protection seeker". According to the German statistics agency (Statistisches Bundesamt), for instance, there are 1.6 million asylum seekers currently in Germany. So far, so good. But the foreign ministry's new campaign now raises a puzzling question: How can the idea that every newly-arriving migrant is an asylum seeker be made consistent with the new finding, according to which many are actually seeking jobs, housing or money?
Moreover, critics were quick to point out another contradiction. In 2014, the government's own Agency for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) produced a 17-minute-long promotional video supposedly describing the arrival of a fictional refugee from Iraq: how he files an asylum request and is admitted to an refugee shelter. In the entire film, there was no mention of any obstacles or unpleasant situations. Instead, the fictional refugee encounters smiling officials who have seemingly have been waiting just for him -- their only client -- to show up. One of them even speaks Arabic. Also, the refugee shelter in the film is not an overcrowded hot-spot of violent crime, but a cozy place with just two other residents who happen to be friendly and smiling: "One of them also speaks my language. Arsalan has already been here for a few weeks and offers me his help."
A promotional video produced in 2014 by the German government shows the arrival of a fictional refugee from Iraq, with no mention of any obstacles or unpleasant situations; just smiling officials who have seemingly have been waiting just for him. (Image source: Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge)
Henryk Broder, a columnist with the daily Die Welt and publisher of the popular blog Achse des Guten ("Axis of Good") commented on the promotional film:
The only authentic and honest thing about this movie were the closing credits [with the disclaimer]: "The asylum-seekers shown in this film are actors with a fictional escape story."
As to the government's new efforts to scare away migrants by painting a somber picture of the situation of migrants in Germany, Broder says: "It's as if a drug dealer were advising his customers not to buy from him."
Stefan Frank is a journalist and author based in Germany.