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World

Germany Now Tempering Its Open Embrace Of Migrants

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The migrants and refugees who've arrived in Europe are moving across countries that have welcomed them, refused them or, in some cases, done a bit of both. Even Germany, which had opened its doors to asylum-seekers a couple of weeks ago, is now reviewing its policies and tightening its borders. Our own Rachel Martin has been reporting from Berlin this week and joins us now. Rachel, thanks so much for being with us.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Sure, Scott. Good morning.

SIMON: Germany's been the number one destination for people trying to get out. What's the range of responses Germans have had? What have you found?

MARTIN: Mixed, as you might expect, but really, overwhelmingly, most Germans have responded to this with open arms. You might remember the Syrian migrants who were trapped in that Hungarian train station. And they were chanting Germany, Germany - that's where they wanted to go. And that's been a point of pride for many Germans who want their country to be seen this way - to be seen as a land of welcome and a land of opportunity. At the same time, though, there've been hundreds of anti-immigrant attacks in recent months by right-wing extremists here. This flood of migrants has inflamed that slice of German society that doesn't like the idea that Germany has become - or is struggling to become - a multicultural society.

SIMON: How's the government position changing?

MARTIN: Well, initially, as you mentioned, the German government opened its borders and seemed to be saying, anyone who wants to come here should be able to do that. The chancellor, Angela Merkel, said Germany was a country of immigrants, which was a big deal when she said that. People, and especially politicians, don't tend to talk about Germany that way.

But over the past week or so, the government is recalibrating its approach. Train service from Austria to Germany has been suspended indefinitely. Tighter border controls have been set up. And the government floated this plan this past week to curb benefits that they give out to asylum-seekers. One official we spoke with - he's the deputy finance minister - his name Jens Spahn - and he said the real challenge right now is registering people and figuring out exactly why they're here. Here's what he said.

JENS SPAHN: Not everyone can stay in Germany, can stay in Europe. If they are refugees fleeing from war, for example, from Syria, from Iraq, they definitely can stay in Germany, and they shall say in Germany, and we're going to help them. But if there are people coming out of poverty reasons - which I do understand - but that's not a reason for asylum-seeking. And we have to send them back. And that's the hard decisions that have to come.

MARTIN: But I have to say, Scott, I've spoken with several Germans who've been critical of the government. They say, despite the current wave, this has been something that the government has known about. This is not, or shouldn't be, a surprise. One woman, just this morning, put it to me this way. She said, our government has been asleep on this issue and is now getting a pretty rude awakening.

SIMON: Rachel, have you been able to meet with any of the Syrian refugees who've made it into Germany?

MARTIN: We have. We were at the main processing center here in Berlin, where we met several families who have been there every day for weeks. They're waiting for their number to be called so they can start the asylum process. And we went outside of Berlin to this small town where we met one Syrian man who's been in the country for the past three months. He has been granted asylum, and he's now getting ready to try to start a life in Germany in hopes of bringing his wife and daughter over from Syria. He wants to do that as soon as he can.

SIMON: Our own Rachel Martin and you'll hear Rachel reporting from Berlin on the migrant crisis tomorrow on WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY. Rachel, thanks much for being with us.

MARTIN: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.