Give Us Your Refugees!
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
A welcoming attitude toward Europe’s multicultural refugees could go a long way toward easing tensions on the continent.
By Ulrich Exner
Situated on the edge of the Harz mountains in central Germany, the town of Goslar may be one of the prettier stopping points for a cross-country tourist, with street after street of beautiful half-timbered homes, evidence of a prosperous mining industry a century ago. But with those days long gone, this town’s boyish-looking mayor finds himself dealing with an issue that is keeping so many other city leaders up at night: a decreasing population and sinking wages.
Only this mayor, 39-year-old Oliver Junk, is testing out a curious solution. While most of Europe is becoming increasingly unfriendly toward immigrants, Junk is asking nearby cities to bring ’em on.Goslar, like several other Harz communities, has more than its share of vacant apartments and small hotels, and it faces a manpower shortage. So Junk announced at a recent event at one of the city’s museums that Goslar is asking German authorities to ship in more immigrants who enter Germany from North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
This comes at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is spreading like wildfire in Germany. A shocking 15,000 people showed up at a December rally protesting immigrants, with much of the anger targeted at Muslims. Last year, Germany’s immigration rates hit record highs, drawing the attention of many frustrated locals to the influx.
It’s not the mayor’s first inventive proposal. In the three years since he moved to Goslar with one purpose — to become mayor — Junk has taken the unusual step of merging Goslar with nearby Vienenburg in order to give both communities at least a temporary breather in the constant battle against demographic and wage problems. He has also rehabilitated the city budget, partly through draconian cuts. “We think this is great,” Detlef Johannson, spokesman for nearby Göttingen, told OZY.
No businessman in his right mind would want to be based in a town that is facing extinction.
In person, Junk is a man of exceptional exuberance. He’s married with four daughters. With his round glasses, his trimmed, floppy brown hair and a jacket and tie, he looks like a perpetual prep school student. A trained lawyer and businessman, he moved to Goslar from the south of Germany. A political man, he saw an opportunity and headed for it. And interestingly enough, his small-time mayoral opportunity might put him on the map … precisely because he’s so contrarian.
Junk believes that immigrants need to be quickly integrated into society and the workforce and that mass accommodation facilities are no solution. Giving immigrants housing “fit for human beings,” he argues passionately, would help not only the refugees but also the locals facing a demographic crisis. In any case, Goslar has been a destination for immigrants in years past, drawn first by the once-lucrative ore mining and then by displacement after World War II.
But Junk’s ideas aren’t popular with everyone — not just because of anti-immigrant feelings in the country but also because they could be a bureaucratic nightmare to pull off.
So for now, while Junk is still lobbying for a top-down endorsement of his ideas, he’s focusing on seducing as many immigrants as possible, one by one. It’s a high-stakes game. Local and regional businesspeople are watching the demographic downturn with concern, even though there are now only slightly more than 20,000 jobs for the town’s 50,000 inhabitants. The best Junk can say about his new home? “You definitely don’t have to take antidepressants if you move here. But it’s my job to see to it that it stays that way.”
- Ulrich Exner, OZY AuthorContact Ulrich Exner