Far right meets “concerned citizens”: politicization of migration in Germany and the case of Chemnitz

by Birgit Glorius, TU Chemnitz

Part IV: The geographical localization of societal conflict

From a social geography perspective, also the geographical dimension of the „Chemnitz incident“ needs to be integrated in the explanatory frame. Space and place on the one hand play a role as actual locales where specific events take place. On the other hand they are a result of perceptions and imaginations and thus appear as part of the social construction of reality. Perceptions about spaces and places are individually constructed on the basis of personal practices, memories and emotions. Place meaning and place identity are produced and reproduced on an individual but also collective basis, and they are not static but reflect changing materialities, contexts and practices (Harvey 1993; Cresswell 1996). The sense of place is also a crucial part of identity formation. Generally speaking, regional or local identity can be understood as part of the personal identity that results from the subjective self-localisation in a spatial context as a sense of belonging (Weichhart 1990, p. 23). Regional or local identity can develop on an individual basis, but also as collective understanding of representation, which displays a high degree of persistence. The transformation of geographical settings over time or of norms referring to the consumption of public spaces can cause a sense of insecurity and resistance among locals, who perceive that the actual situation does not fit to their imagination of a specific place.
Applying those thoughts to the “Chemnitz incident”, we first need to identify the main places under debate, which are the Karl-Marx-Monument (for public demonstrations), the “Zentralhaltestelle”, a central tram and bus station which serves as a central node in public transport, and the “Stadthallenpark” (as central park and public “showroom” of the city), which is in close vicinity to the “Zentralhaltestelle”. During socialist times, the Karl-Marx-Monument and the adjacent streets (Brückenstraße and Straße der Nationen) were designed as central routes and places for political demonstrations which were an important element of state representation during the socialist regime (see Part I of this blog). Also the protests against the regime during 1989 can be localized in this area. Until today, the Karl-Marx-Monument serves as a stage for the public expression of opinions.

Karl-Marx-Monument in Chemnitz: Currently, road construction at the foot of the monument prevents the conduct of demonstrations. Behind the monument, a banner gives testimony of the recent confrontations (“Chemnitz ist weder grau noch braun” / “Chemnitz is neither grey nor brown”). Source: B. Glorius 2018

After the end of the socialist regime, the city center of Chemnitz underwent physical transformations, especially in the very core of the town. The central bus and tram station was built, which today serves as important transit point but also as entry point to the shopping area of the old town center. Between the central bus and tram station and the Karl-Marx-Monument, the “Stadthallenpark” serves as public green and is – especially during the summer months – a much frequented public space and location of countless open air events.

Chemnitz, Stadthallenpark, with the Karl-Marx-Monument in the back. Source: B. Glorius 2018

The arrival of asylum seekers and their gradual integration in the city is clearly visible at those central locations. During the week, especially the teenage asylum seekers meet at the central bus station and hang out in front of the shops which offer free WLAN. In and around the park, groups of men with migration background meet for a chat, while during the weekend, families with migration background are strongly present in the park and use the public green for meeting, picnic and as playground for the children. As Chemnitz has a very low proportion of foreign population, the effects of the increased immigration of asylum seekers are most visible in those central public places. Thus, questions of legitimacy of asylum migration and the German asylum politics materialize in those spaces and trigger critical reactions by the sheer presence of persons with a visible migration background. Like one participant in the roundtable discussions of the local newspaper “Freie Presse” puts it: “The bad thing is that the asylum seekers are constantly lured to the city center - for example, with free Wi-Fi. That’s why they hang around there; it’s clear that a woman feels insecure there.” (Chemnitz resident, male, 46 years) Another male citizen, who was interviewed by a TV station, claimed that he used to hang out in the “Stadthallenpark” and have a beer on one of the benches, but since “the foreigners took over”, he feels less attracted to the place. When the journalist asked about negative experiences, the interviewee reported of male migrants abusing the benches by sitting on the rest and placing the feet on the seat.

Since many years, the “Stadthallenpark” is presented as a dangerous place in the public media, with a high occurrence of drug delicts and deviant behavior related to alcohol abuse. The local press is frequently reporting on security issues related to the park and the central bus station. Local shop-owners started employing more security personnel, and the police is frequently present and carries out controls of individuals in the area. During the round-table meeting organized by the local press, a police officer explains that a high proportion of delicts are committed by a small number of delinquents, without referring to their ethnic background, but emphasizing the minority situation of delinquency among the visitors of the “Stadthallenpark”.
In the public debate, arguments regarding the security in the town center mingle individual experiences, emotions and perceptions. While some (female) citizens are expressing their general discomfort with groups lingering in public places without referring to their ethnicity, or criticize sexualized behavior with reference to cultural otherness of delinquents, there are also quotes which generally blame foreigners for bringing criminality and insecurity in the city:

“I am afraid of gatherings of certain groups. They might not even notice me, but I still have that feeling.” (Chemnitz resident, female, retirée)

“It’s not acceptable that men who stem from the Islamic culture think that I am an offer just because I wear a short skirt. They whistle and call "Sexy Hexy", and I think this is bad.” (Chemnitz resident, female, 53 years)
“The security situation in the city center has changed rapidly. Three years ago, no weekly police missions were necessary in the Stadthallenpark, no video surveillance and no concrete blocks on the Christmas market. My partner was harassed in the evenings in the city center by foreigners - that was my key experience.” (Chemnitz resident, male, 46 years)

Frequently, individual experiences with discomfort or sexual harassment of women in public spaces in Chemnitz are embedded in the wider context of asylum migration to Germany and its consequences. In the last quote, for example, the concrete blocks on the Chemnitz Christmas market, which are mentioned to underline the deterioration of the security situation, were introduced to many Christmas markets in Germany after a Tunisian asylum seeker committed a terrorist attack with a van on the Berlin Christmas market in 2016, killing 12 people and injuring 55. Thus, the subjective perception of the security situation in Chemnitz is argumentatively linked to the asylum migration since 2015.

During the round table debate of the local newspaper, some participants also reflect on the subjectivity of their perceptions and claim that those are shaped by a disproportional representation of criminal incidents in the local press and the large activities of Neo-Nazi activists who exploit those incidents for their purposes.

“But fear also develops in our imaginations. Therefore we need to criticize the media which only report on negative incidents. They could also report on positive events. But fear sells better.” (Chemnitz resident, male, 43 years)

“I don’t feel unsafe in Chemnitz. Therefore I ask myself: Why is the perceived security so much worse than the actual one? I do not know anyone who was attacked. Nevertheless, everyone of my acquaintances speaks of a queasy feeling. In Germany, especially in Saxony, there is a strong right-wing movement, which blows up every incident - it creates the feeling that there is no more security.” (Male, 66 years, lives in the vicinity of Chemnitz)

Conclusion and outlook

Reflecting on the „Chemnitz incident“, it becomes clear that there is no easy answer to the question why those developments occurred, not even a common frame for the interpretation of what exactly happened. The violent death of a local citizen who was perceived as member of the “own” group and the fact that asylum seekers (“the other”) were suspected to having committed the crime, together with a specific communicative framing of immigration and contextual factors derived from recent history, and the specific political culture of the Chemnitz region all have to be considered for explaining the incident. However, even though this development seems to be unique in its process and outcome, we can draw some generalisations: First, the model of politicisation, consisting of increased salience, diversity of opinion and the appearance of new actors, is well applicable to this case, and we can see furthermore the cross-connections between the three aspects. Second, we could show the effects of shifting the communicative frame on migration. The populist tone which was introduced by PEGIDA and AfD, but quickly adopted by more moderate political actors, facilitated the normalization of extremist statements and prepared the ground for action. An increase of violent attacks against foreigners and foreign restaurants in Chemnitz since the “Chemnitz incident” is the direct and telling result. Third, and this is definitely not a singular development, we can see the effectiveness of right-wing extremist networks, who are very well organized, are able to mobilize a large number of members within a short time, and manage to integrate “ordinary citizens” in their forms of protest, profiting from the expansion of populist and extremist discourse.

Today, in Chemnitz, debates on the interpretation of the „Chemnitz incident“ are still ongoing. The mayor of Chemnitz is assaulted by citizens for not taking their side and defending them against public voices who label the Chemnitz citizens as extremists. Since the “Chemnitz incident”, two further foreign restaurants have been attacked and the restaurant-owners injured, and a new Neo-Nazi-group was arrested in Chemnitz and accused of preparing terrorist attacks. While many German citizens complain about perceived insecurity, foreign inhabitants report increasing violations of their personal integrity in public space by verbal and physical assaults.
My wife and my three children are not going out alone any more. I always accompany them, because we are always insulted, for example as a social parasite, even in our allotment. Once I was almost beaten up. It is really stressful to be a foreigner in Chemnitz. That was already before the city festival (and the fatal incident of August 26. B.G.). After that it has increased. I really respect old age, but most of the time, retirees insult us. (Chemnitz resident with migration background, male, 45 years)

However, to finish this article with at least some positive outlooks, we would like to mention two aspects which could improve the situation over time: First, since the incident, all political actors on local and federal level take effort to organize public meetings in order to improve communication between citizens and political elites. Second, civil society organisations have even increased their activities to raise awareness for democratic principles and activate citizens to express their thoughts in this regard. For example, a local activist initiated a music event as a reaction to the Chemnitz incident in order to demonstrate the strength of democratic groups in Chemnitz which oppose racism. The concert, which took place one week after the fatal incident and the neo-nazi-demonstrations, gathered over 65,000 visitors, which gave a strong illustration of the concert’s motto “Wir sind mehr / We are more”. Since then, cultural activities increased which aim to raise the public awareness of the merits of democracy. For example, several activist groups from the cultural sphere performed in the “European Balcony Project” on Saturday, 10 November, and proclaimed a democratic “Chemnitz Manifesto” in front of the Karl-Marx-Monument.

Third, as some foreign citizens of Chemnitz reflect, the mobilization of right-wing representatives seemingly also mobilized parts of formerly passive citizens. While before “Chemnitz”, foreigners were frequently left alone when being insulted in public space, now, also the tolerant or xenophilic citizens are showing their face. Maybe also this group can be labeled as new actors within the politicization framework and represent an important counterweight to extremist attitudes and policies.

Cresswell, T. (1996): In Place/Out of Place: Geography, Ideology and Transgression. Minneapolis.
Freie Presse (06.10.2018): Documentation of Citizens Dialogue “Chemnitz diskutiert” at 05.10.2018, organized and moderated by Freie Presse Chemnitz.
Harvey D. (1993): From space to place and back again. In: Bird, J., Curtis, B., Putnam, T., Robertson, G., Tickner, G. (eds.), Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change. London, pp. 3-29.
Weichhart, P. (1990): Raumbezogene Identität. Bausteine zu einer Theorie räumlich-sozialer Kognition und Identifikation. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart.

Part 3: The “Chemnitz incident” and the specifics of a post-socialist reception environment

by Birgit Glorius and Melanie Kintz, TUC

Today is the 9th of November 2018. In Germany the 9th November is the anniversary of several important historical events. Today it marks the 100th anniversary of the German revolution of 1918/1919 that replaced the constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary democracy, later known as the Weimar Republic. Today is also the 95th anniversary of the Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch, in English known as the Munich Putsch, a failed coup d’état by Adolf Hitler. Further it is the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht, a pogrom carried out against Jews in Nazi-Germany in 1938. With democratic institutions under pressure in Germany, with anti-Semitism on the rise including a recent attack on the Jewish restaurant Schalom in Chemnitz we ought to take a minute to remember and reflect. Last but not least, however, today marks the 29th anniversary of the Fall of the German wall which paved the way for German unification. For today’s entry we use the latter event to reflect upon the specifics of Chemnitz’ location in the East of Germany and how this may explain the lacking distance between „concerned citizens“ and violent right-wing extremists.

As already mentioned at the start of our blog series, East Germany, just as all other post-socialist European states, was hit by a severe economic crisis in the years following the revolution of 1989/90, resulting in economic downturn, mass unemployment and a huge and (in terms of age and education) selective internal migration wave from East to West. Economic differences between both parts of the country are still visible, starting with the slightly higher unemployment rate (over 6.4 percent in the East, 4.5 percent in the West, Agentur fuer Arbeit 2018 ), the lower incomes in the East (monthly average gross salary is 2600 € in the East, 3339 € in the West, Tagesschau 2018a) to the slightly higher risk of poverty in the East (17.8% of the people in the East, 15.3% in the West, Statistisches Bundesamt 2018). The dismantling of economic and public infrastructure produced a sense of loss and frustration. For many, the observable disfunction of the former structures was connected to an individual sense of failure, as the personal biography, which was strongly connected to one’s position in work life and the societal and political micro-structures which were embedded in the working environment, was not valued any more.

Due to the harmonization of East German administrative structures and regulations to the West German system, many leading positions of the multilevel governance system were initially taken by West Germans, as well as political positions in the East German Federal States. This created the impression of being controlled by external forces, and facilitated a fundamental distrust of elites. Although German unification is almost 30 years in the past now, the underrepresentation of East Germans in elite positions is still present. While with Angela Merkel, an East German holds the most powerful political position in the country and 4 out of 5 Eastern Länder are led by an East German as their State Prime Minister, if one looks beyond that we find that Easterners are still underrepresented in leadership positions. For instance, in the current cabinet only one more out of the 16 cabinet members is from the East. Even though the size of the population of in the 5 Eastern Länder (excluding Berlin) is fairly similar that of Bavaria, they hold only 1 further ministry post (Franziska Giffey, Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, SPD), while Bavaria sends 3 ministers to the cabinet. Further, previous studies found that when it comes to leadership recruitment in the political sector beyond just holding a Bundestag mandate, East Germans are disadvantaged (see Kintz, 2011). Specifically, when looking at first-time recruitment into political leadership positions, it seems as if the feature “East German” is a disadvantage in the selection process (Kintz, 2014).

Outside the political sector the situation is even worse. As Raj Kollmorgen from the Zittau/Görlitz University of Applied Sciences points out, outside of politics (for instance judiciary, business, or the military), their representation in leadership positions is about as low as 1 or 2 percent in some elite sectors, even though East Germans make up about 17 percent of the population (see Kollmorgen cited in Nehring 2018). Even in the East, where they make up 80 to 85 percent of the population, they only hold about a quarter of leadership positions, ranging from 5 percent in the judicial and administrative sector to 80 percent in the fairly open political sector). This in turn not only strengthens the feeling of being a second class citizen, but also hurts the trust in Elites and increases alienation and receptibility to populist arguments. Such feelings and resentments are then reflected in collective action on the street as the following quotes from a public debate, initiated by the local newspaper “Freie Presse” as a reaction to the “Chemnitz incident” show:
I was surprised by the mass that joined the right wing demonstration. I think the politicians forgot to talk to the citizen. People joined because they have the impression they are not seen nor heard. So they thought, now we will show it to those up there. I, for example, I wrote several letters to Stanislaw Tillich (the former president of the Federal State of Saxony, B.G.), but I never received an answer. It would have been his job to at least answer me. (Chemnitz resident, male, 67 years)

People go out on the street because they are dissatisfied, whether left or right. Since the systems change (of 1989/90, B.G.), life has changed negatively: Lack of infrastructure in the countryside, different wages in East and West, better childcare in the West. We accepted it, we thought it would get better. But the politicians are only concerned about themselves. What happens now is a call for help from the population. People are dissatisfied already for a long time. In GDR times, there was more care for poor people, there was more neighborly help. (Chemnitz resident, female, 73 years)

I see some deeper causes in the present developments: Our society is divided into poor and rich. That makes people dissatisfied – and they make the minorities feel it. (Chemnitz resident, male, 31 years)

The distrust does not only extend to individual people, but trust into established institutions is lower in the East than in the West. As a recent opinion poll found out, only 50% of East Germans trust the courts, while 69 % of West Germans do. Further, only every other Easterner agrees that the rule of law is working well in Germany, while in the West 73% percent believe so (ARD-Deutschlandtrend September 2018). Support for Democracy, despite being very strong in both parts of Germany, has also been lower in the East - 82 percent of Easterners think democracy generally speaking is the best form of government, while 90 percent of Westerners do, and while 72 percent of Easterners think the German democratic system is the best form of government, even more Westerners think so (80 percent, Holtmann et. al 2015, p.189)

Social science approaches address these developments and the societal effects among others with the concept of relative deprivation, which is the subjective perception of a social group to be disadvantaged in comparison to other social groups. Empirical studies have shown that feelings of relative deprivation are linked to the emergence of destructive attitudes towards democratic principles and institutions. Social groups with deprivation experiences often feel attracted to authoritarian, chauvinist or right-wing extremist ideas. This is accompanied by the rejection of social groups that are perceived as "different" or that are felt as competitors for social status (Heitmeyer 1994; Endrikat et all 2002; Schmidt et al. 2003).

A series of longitudinal surveys examines those societal differences between East and West Germans, such as the so-called “Mitte”-studies, which – among other items – address the correlation between relative deprivation and the development of extreme right attitudes (Heitmeyer 2010; Küpper and Zick 2010). They reveal some significant differences between West German and East German respondents (Tab. 1).

The East German respondents showed a higher tendency towards chauvinist (27.3 percent support in the East vs. 25.3 percent in the West), anti-immigrant (38.5 percent in the East, 30.4 percent in the West) and social Darwinist positions (12.2 percent in the East and 7.3 percent in the West) and often advocated a right-wing authoritarian dictatorship (supported by 13.8 percent of respondents in the East and 4.1 percent in the West). It was also possible to establish a connection between party affiliation and voting behavior. In particular, chauvinist and xenophobic attitudes were more prevalent among non-voters and AfD voters (Decker et al., p. 35). An empirical study of the xenophobic PEGIDA movement, founded in the East German city of Dresden, also showed a strong above-average response to extreme right-wing, chauvinistic and xenophobic positions among the protestors. In addition, there was general skepticism or mistrust of public institutions and established social and political actors among the participants in the survey (Daphi et al. 2015, p. 27ff).

Research in neighboring post-socialist states has revealed that the increase in extremist attitudes is associated with an assumed or actually experienced social decline in transformation contexts (Heitmeyer 2010; Küpper and Zick 2010). Regarding the development of attitudes towards migration in cross-national analyses, Messing and Ságvári (2018, p. 28) concluded that specific macro-structural factors can explain differences of public attitudes: “People in countries with a large migrant population, with a high level of general and institutional trust, low level of corruption, a stable, well performing economy and high level of social cohesion and inclusion (including migrants) fear migration the least.” So it might be the specific combination of low contact with foreigners and low level of institutional trust that fuels the stronger dissatisfaction with German refugee policy and the fear of having your live once more disrupted by social changes that are as transformative as the fall of the German wall had been in 1989.


Agentur für Arbeit (2018): Oktober 2018 Ost / West - online available at, zuletzt geprüft am 09.11.2018.
Daphi, P., Kocyba, P., Neuber, M., Roose, J., Rucht, D., Scholl, F., Sommer, M., Stuppert, W., Zajak, S. (2015): Protestforschung am Limit. Eine soziologische Annäherung an Pegida. ipb working papers, Berlin.
Decker, O., Kiess, J., Brähler, E. (2014): Die stabilisierte Mitte. Rechtsextreme Einstellungen in Deutschland 2014, Leipzig.
Decker, O., Kiess, J., Brähler, E. (2016): Die enthemmte Mitte. Autoritäre und rechtsextreme Einstellung in Deutschland. Die Leipziger »Mitte«-Studie 2016. Gießen.
Endrikat, K., Schäfer, D., Mansel, J., Heitmeyer, W. (2002): Soziale Desintegration. Die riskanten Folgen negativer Anerkennungsbilanzen. In: Heitmeyer, W. (ed.), Deutsche Zustände, Frankfurt/Main, S. 37-58.
Freie Presse (06.10.2018): Documentation of Citizens Dialogue “Chemnitz diskutiert” at 05.10.2018, organized and moderated by Freie Presse Chemnitz.
Heitmeyer, W. (ed.) (1994): Was treibt die Gesellschaft auseinander? Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Auf dem Weg von der Konsens- zur Konfliktgesellschaft. Frankfurt/Main.
Heitmeyer, W. (2010): Krisen – Gesellschaftliche Auswirkungen, individuelle Verarbeitung und Folgen für die Gruppenbezogene Menschenfeindlichkeit. In: Heitmeyer, W. (ed.): Deutsche Zustände. Folge 8, Frankfurt/Main, S. 13-48.
Holtmann, E. Deutschland 2014: 25 Jahre Friedliche Revolution und Deutsche Einheit - öffentliche Vorstellung der Ergebnisse eines Forschungsprojekts "Sind wir das Volk?" ; Kurzzusammenfassung der Ergebnisse. Retrieved from;jsessionid=E021411DB548D4512838EAC4B7A56A57
Kintz, M. (2011). Recruitment to Leadership Positions in the German Bundestag, 1994-2006. Dissertations.
Kintz, M. (2014). East Germans in political leadership positions – beyond Merkel, Gauck and Gysi. IASGP Annual Conference, London.
Küpper, B., Zick, A. (2010): Macht Armut menschenfeindlich? Zusammenhänge in acht europäischen Ländern. In: Heitmeyer, W. (ed.), Deutsche Zustände.Folge 9, Frankfurt/Main, S. 84-105.
Messing, V., Ságvári, B (2018): Looking Behind the Culture of Fear. Cross-national analysis of attitudes towards migration. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from
Nehring, F. (2018): Der Stallgeruch der Macht. Wie es um die ostdeutsche Eliten steht. Interview mit Prof. Dr. Raj Kollmorgen. Hg. v. Wirtschaft+Markt. Online available at, zuletzt geprüft am 08.11.2018.
Statistisches Bundesamt: Armutsgefährdung im Osten größer. (2018, October 1). Retrieved from
Tagesschau. (2018, August 3). Im Osten verdienen Arbeitnehmer schlechter - immer noch. Retrieved from
Tagesschau. (2018, November 5). DeutschlandTrend: Mehrheit für Beobachtung der AfD. Retrieved from

Far right meets “concerned citizens”: politicization of migration in Germany and the case of Chemnitz

by Birgit Glorius, TU Chemnitz

At least since the sudden shift of the refugee routes in 2015 and the concomitant massive arrival of asylum seekers in Germany, migration is by far the most debated issue in Germany. The politicization of migration reached out into all parts of society, leading to societal ruptures, increase of hate speech and aggressive discourses, and the appearance or growth of new political actors, notably on the far right-wing side. Right-wing parties and neo-nazi activists successfully connected the topic of migration and asylum with questions of legitimacy, cultural otherness, belonging and identity, and thus reached a large part of the German society who put the legal and practical support of asylum migration into question and stress the negative consequences of mass-immigration for German society.

The societal ruptures could be clearly observed during the so-called “Chemnitz incident”, referring to a violent and fatal battle among Germans and asylum seekers in the city of Chemnitz in the night of August 26th, which was followed by a series of demonstrations where the extreme right-wing united with ordinary “concerned” citizens in their protest against immigration.

In this blog we will explore how right-wing populist groups used the “Chemnitz incident” to politicize migration and why they were successful at that. In doing so, we incorporate explanatory approaches from communication studies and other social sciences and we will place the events in Chemnitz into the larger context of politicization of migration in Europe. We thus directly refer to the research of CEASEVAL on Patterns of politicization on refugees and policy responses, which will produce a series of country reports on the politicization in Finland, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
After having started with a review of “THE CHEMNITZ INCIDENT” in Part 1 of this Blog, we continue today with


Politicisation of Migration
The term “politicization” is most commonly understood as “an increase in polarisation of opinions, interests or values”, which affect “the process of policy formulation” (De Wilde 2011, p. 560). Major components of politicisation are 1) an increase in salience, resulting from societal actors’ increasing attention to a specific issue, 2) a diversity of opinions on a specific societal topic, leading to the polarisation of opinions, and 3) an expansion of actors and audiences engaging in the process of opinion formation (De Wilde 2016 et al., p. 4).
In the “Chemnitz case”, all three aspects of politicization can be discovered: The “asylum question”, is heavily debated since 2015 and is frequently framed by sentiments of insecurity, identity loss, and a debate on fairness and legitimation regarding the public expenditures for asylum seekers who evidently don’t (yet) contribute to society. In public discourse, opinions seem to diverge more and more, or, as one of the participants of the Chemnitz dialogues (Freie Presse 06.10.2018) complained, the “core of society”, located in-between extreme left-wing or right-wing-positions “get’s lost”. Also the third aspect of politicization, the expansion of actors and audiences, can be detected in the “Chemnitz case”. The appearance of the PEGIDA-movement (which was founded in Saxony’s capital, Dresden, in 2014 and also has a large number of supporters in Chemnitz) and the right-wing party “Alternative for Germany/Alternative für Deutschland AfD” (which gained 24,3% % of electoral votes in Chemnitz in the parliamentary elections of 2017), but also the establishment of radical Neonazi-groups like the hooligan group “Kaotic Chemnitz” or the right-wing terrorist group “Revolution Chemnitz”, can be counted as new actors. Those actors from the right wing side are apparently well connected, which helped to mobilize large numbers of right wing protesters from all over Germany after the “Chemnitz incident”.

What is also new is that parts of the local population, expressing their concern and anti-immigrant sentiments, did not hesitate to join those demonstrations, even though the initiators were known and the Nazi-habitus of hooligan and skinhead groups were clearly visible to everyone. One explanation for this collective behavior is the normalization of right-wing ideologies and discourses, which were brought about by a specific framing of asylum migration since 2015, strongly supported by those news actors who gained political power since then. We will explain the concept of “framing” and its effects in the following section.

Framing of Migration and the “Other”

Addressing the mutual relations between policy makers, the media and the public, we have to consider how public debates evolve and how different actors promote their specific interests. Framing theory suggests that public actors engage in a discursive contest in order to mobilize support for their argumentation and delegitimize opposing viewpoints. Frames in this context can be defined as interpretive storylines that systematize information, reduce complexity and raise awareness of the issues at stake (Gamson and Modigliani 1987). As frames are used to highlight specific “aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient” in communicative practices, they can play a crucial role in strategically structuring the social world (Entman 1993, p. 52). Also, as Lichtenstein et al. (2017) (referring to Reese 2001) point out, frames are closely related to culturally embedded values, beliefs and ideas and therefore have a high level of persistence over time. Thus, politicization processes, based on communicative action, are contingent in terms of time, place, and actor constellation, and result in different patterns “with respect to the relative strength of salience and polarization in various settings, the specific constellation of actors and audiences, the behavioural manifestation of politicisation and its substantive content” (De Wilde et al. 2016, p. 6).

In many European countries, the arrival of asylum seekers since 2015 caused politicization processes which changed the political landscape. In most of those politicization processes, migration and asylum were embedded in a framing of security, be it on the individual level (fear of personal attacks) or the collective level (fear of larger terrorist attacks by groups of foreigners). Also in Germany, those frames developed and were reinforced by incidents such as the “Silvester Assaults” in Cologne, where a huge number of men, many of them migrants from Maghreb countries, sexually assaulted women in a public space, or cases of murders of women committed by asylum seekers. Even though especially sexual abuse can rather be categorized as a product of gendered power relations than a problem of “cultural otherness”, all those single incidents of sexual abuse and violent assault by asylum seekers reinforced a frame that created a vision of the “other” as being a young asylum-seeking Muslim, socialized in a macho-environment and tending to physical violence due to a (culturally embedded) low level of personal frustration.

During the last year, we could observe how the “security” and the “culture” frames were picked up by all kinds of public and political actors, who reinforced the “perceived truth” of this framing by introducing new stereotypes to the public debate. For example, a deputy of the party “Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)”, Alice Weidel, introduced the notion of “Messermänner und Kopftuchmädchen” (knife-men and scarf-girls) summing up the population changes due to asylum migration in Germany during a parliamentary debate. The Minister of Interior, Horst Seehofer (Christian Social Union, CSU), stressed the necessity to carry out border-controls at the German border to Austria due to the “lacking security of the European external border”, and thus created a public picture of large, uncontrollable flows of migrants, whom he identified in another talk to be “the core of all problems” (“Migration ist die Mutter aller Probleme” / “Migration is the mother of all problems”), formulated as a reaction to the “Chemnitz incidents”.

Void in the center
A second explanation for the merge of “ordinary citizens” and right-wing extremists during the demonstrations after the fatal attack in Chemnitz could be the lack of representation, perceived by those citizens who have less polarized opinions. In a discussion event organized by the local newspaper “Freie Presse”, a number of participants reflected on the societal shift towards the margins of opinion, which leaves a “void in the center” of society.
We are always discussing about groups at the margins, because they are the ones who receive large public attention. But where is the large center of society in Chemnitz? (Chemnitz resident, male, 43 years)

The dialogue participants mostly referred to the demonstrations which took place after the fatal incident, and which attracted a large number of right wing radical groups, but also left wing actors with radical tendencies. The less politicized citizens, as the following quote puts it, felt lost between those extremes:
When during the demonstration people raised their arms for the Hitler salute, some protestors immediately left, the others stayed there. I thought I would find the center of society at the protest concert with 65,000 visitors. But then a speaker appeared who expressed deep rejection of our society. (Chemnitz resident, male, 40 years)

One of the discussants reacted to this perceived void and organized a demonstration by himself, aiming to attract the “ordinary citizens” who perceive themselves as neither left nor right:
That’s why I organized my own demonstration at September 6, to show that there is a center of society, which does not feel affiliated to neither of the extreme groups. Unfortunately, there were fewer participants than I hoped. But the approach is that we find our center again. Let’s leave the right-wing and left-wing extremists aside, let’s just live our democratic principles and thus present a role model. (Chemnitz resident, male, 43 years)
Some of the discussants also reflected on the large success of the right-wing populistic party AfD during the last elections, and complained the lacking diversity of political approaches towards migration and asylum among the ruling parties. Thus, as the following quote suggests, voters may have chosen the AfD for their critical stance towards immigration, as they did not feel represented in this point in any of the other established parties.
Those who did not agree with the migration practices that developed during the last years, those who disagreed with this migration politics or maybe preferred an immigration scheme such as the ranking point systems in Australia and Canada, those had no other choice than voting AfD. Where else should they have market their ballot? (Chemnitz resident, male, 60 years)

Looking at the distribution of AfD voter during the last parliamentary election on 24 September 2017, we can observe huge differences in the voting behavior, notably between the former West and the former East of Germany. We will explore this rupture in our third part of this blog.

Far right meets “concerned citizens”: politicization of migration in Germany and the case of Chemnitz

by Birgit Glorius, TU Chemnitz

At least since the sudden shift of the refugee routes in 2015 and the concomitant massive arrival of asylum seekers in Germany, migration is by far the most debated issue in Germany. The politicization of migration reached out into all parts of society, leading to societal ruptures, increase of hate speech and aggressive discourses, and the appearance or growth of new political actors, notably on the far right-wing side. Right-wing parties and neo-nazi activists successfully connected the topic of migration and asylum with questions of legitimacy, cultural otherness, belonging and identity, and thus reached a large part of the German society who put the legal and practical support of asylum migration into question and stress the negative consequences of mass-immigration for German society.

The societal ruptures could be clearly observed during the so-called “Chemnitz incident”, referring to a violent and fatal battle among Germans and asylum seekers in the city of Chemnitz on the night of August 26th, which was followed by a series of demonstrations where the extreme right-wing united with ordinary “concerned” citizens in their protest against immigration.

In this blog we will explore how right-wing populist groups used the “Chemnitz incident” to politicize migration and why they were successful in such politicization. In doing so, we incorporate explanatory approaches from communication studies and other social sciences and we will place the events in Chemnitz into the larger context of politicization of migration in Europe. We thus directly refer to the research of CEASEVAL on Patterns of politicization on refugees and policy responses, which will produce a series of upcoming country reports on the politicization in Finland, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Chemnitz? Never heard of this place?

Chemnitz, a city of rd. 250,000 inhabitants, is located in the south of Saxony, close to the Czech border. The city and the region used to be the industrial core of Saxony. As one of the forerunners of early industrialization, Chemnitz became a hot-spot of textile production and gained the nickname of “Saxon Manchester”. During socialist times, Chemnitz was one of the most important centers of industrial production of the GDR and was renamed “Karl-Marx-Stadt” to honor the industrious spirit of its inhabitants (Photo 1). After the revolution of 1989 and the German reunification of 1990, Chemnitz suffered an economic breakdown, followed by massive unemployment and huge population losses (near 25% between 1990 and 2009), due to internal migration and decreasing birth rates. As a result, the age structure developed towards a strongly ageing population, with a share of 65 and older population of 27.1% (2010). Since the 2000s, the economic and population situation is stabilizing again. Unemployment decreased down to 7%, and even the population development stabilized, mainly due to net immigration of international migrants, notably international students of the Technical University of Chemnitz (numbers increased from 617 in 2008 to 3,001 in 1017), and – especially since 2015 – asylum seekers. In March 2018 6,000 persons (rounded) with “asylum background” (asylum seekers or persons with refugee or subsidiary protection status) lived in the city.

Photo 1: Chemnitz’ Karl-Marx-Monument during a State demonstration, 25.05.1980

The Karl-Marx-Monument, erected in 1971 to commemorate the denomination of Chemnitz into “Karl-Marx-Stadt”. Until today, it serves as a focal point in the public life of Chemnitz and frequently serves as start and end point of demonstrations. The incident of August 26 took place in close vicinity to the monument, as did the demonstrations thereafter (Photo: W. Thieme).

What happened:

In the night of 26th August 2018, a verbal conflict developed among several persons in a public place in the city center of Chemnitz. The conflict escalated, leaving three men injured, of which one person, a 35-year old German with Cuban roots, died in hospital. Two young men, asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria, were arrested by the police as suspects of the crime.

What followed:

Already during the day after the crime, the federal branch of the right-wing party „Alternative für Deutschland / Alternative for Germany“ published a facebook-post, mobilizing people to join a spontaneous demonstration “against violence” in Chemnitz. Also the extreme right hooligan group “Kaotic Chemnitz” mobilized via social media to join a demonstration. In the late afternoon, 800 persons gathered at the place of the incident in Chemnitz’ city center, close to the Karl-Marx-Monument. Later, groups of hooligans pulled through the streets of Chemnitz, looking for foreigners and attacking them.

One day later, approximately 6,000 persons joined a demonstration of the right-wing-populist local initiative “Pro Chemnitz” at the Karl-Marx-Monument. Among them were ordinary citizens, but also violent Neo-Nazis and hooligans. 1,500 persons joined a counter-demonstration. The demonstration − escorted by approximately 600 policemen − quickly escalated, leaving 20 persons injured. The police report shows that several groups of violent hooligans chased foreigners and left-wing protesters. During the demonstrations, several persons signaled the Hitler salute. In the evening, a group of hooligans set upon the Jewish restaurant “Schalom”, shouting anti-Semitic slogans and attacking the restaurant owner.

On the weekend of September 1st, again demonstrations rallied through Chemnitz. The Anti-European and Anti-Islam-Movement PEGIDA (“Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes“ /”Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Western World”), and the right-wing party “Alternative für Deutschland / Alternative for Germany” organized a “march of mourning”. In the public invitation, they explained the motivation as “the brutal killing of a Chemnitz inhabitant and father by two asylum seekers. We want to commemorate all victims who died due to the asylum politics of the German State administration.” Quite ironic is the fact that the victim did not fit into the ideal picture of right wing ideology, as he himself had a migration background and furthermore was known for not sympathizing with right-wing positions and parties. Notwithstanding this fact, he was instrumental for the right-wing demonstration, by switching the code from his ethnic background to the social position (father) and citizenry (Chemnitz inhabitant).

The incidents caused a strong public echo, not only in Germany, but worldwide. Concerns were raised that Nazi ideology would gain ground again in Germany, destabilizing the post-war democratic development. Also, safety and security issues were raised from two sides: while one side claimed the number of crime incidents committed by asylum seekers and refugees and the threat of Islamic terrorism, the other side expressed their concern that right-wing terrorism could be on the rise.

In the aftermath of the “Chemnitz incident”, a number of internal scandals occurred and dominated the German news for weeks: the arrest warrant for one of the Chemnitz suspects was published on the internet by a prison officer, who was immediately suspended from his duties; the president of the German office for the protection of the constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, publicly considered a video as fake which documented Germans chasing foreigners in Chemnitz, and argued that the publication of this video should “distract the public from the case of murder in Chemnitz” (Photo 2). (He later was suspended from the presidency, but stayed in a high-rank position of the Ministry of Interior.) After three weeks of detention, one of the Chemnitz’ suspects was released as there were no concrete proofs for his participation in the attack. His lawyer claimed that the long detention only occurred because of the public prejudice against his client.

Foto 2: Graffito reacting to the banalization of a video showing the chasing of foreigners in Chemnitz ! (Photo: Birgit Glorius)

Several videos documented the chase of two afghan men during a demonstration of right-wing protestors. One of the videos was widely shared in the internet under the name “Hase-Video”

During the first sequence of the video, a female voice from the off says “Hase, Du bleibst hier! / Honey-bunny, you stay here!”, obviously holding back her partner from participating in the chase. This (between caring and patronizing) personal address turns the chase – and thus the sum of xenophobic activities on this day, into a banal leisure activity._

Meanwhile in Saxony and Chemnitz, not only was the “incident” politicized but also its public representation via the media. Many citizens protested against the prejudice that all inhabitants were Nazis and claimed their right to join anti-asylum demonstrations. In a series of public talks initiated by the Saxon Federal government, the mayor of Chemnitz, and the local newspaper “Freie Presse”, citizens complained about the sense of insecurity caused by the visual presence of foreigners in town. Notably the “Stadthallenpark”, a public park in the very town center, and the streets around the central tram and bus station in the center raised concern. Drug dealers have long frequented the “Stadthallenpark”, and it is also a site of alcohol abuse. Many asylum seekers use the area as meeting place and hang out during the day, closely watched and frequently controlled by police officers that drive by. In public debates about the effect of refugee migration to Chemnitz, citizens frequently claim that the presence of large numbers of young, foreign men, especially in central public places like the “Stadthallenpark”, was overwhelming and frightening for them.

How can we explain this incident and how it was politicized? Learn more about it in our second part of this blog....

IMISCOE Conference and CEASEVAL Research Workshop in Barcelona, 2-5 July 2018

By Birgit Glorius (TUC) and Blanca Garcés-Mascareñas (CIDOB)

In the beginning of July, a considerable part of our consortium headed to Barcelona to attend the annual IMISCOE conference, followed by a CEASEVAL workshop, which was hosted by our partner CIDOB in their office rooms in the heart of the old town.

The annual conference of the #IMISCOE network focused on “Europe, migrations and the Mediterranean: human mobility and intercultural challenges”, and took place on the Ciutadella Campus of #Pompeu Fabra University. The conference consisted of more than 130 sessions. The CEASEVAL-consortium organized two paper session and one workshop in order to discuss ongoing research with the wider IMISCOE committee. Two of the sessions were hosted by the IMISCOE standing committee #RELOCAL (Refugees in European Localities: Reception, Perceptions and Policies), led by Birgit Glorius (#TUC) and Jeroen Doomernik (#UvA).

The first paper session “Evaluation of the Common European Asylum System under Pressure and Recommendations for Further Development (CEASEVAL): Insight and first results” was started by Albert Kraler (ICMPD), who presented first results from ongoing research on harmonisation in the area of asylum in the EU. He especially discussed the term “solidarity” and its meaning for specific policy fields and actors. As a first insight of the teams’ findings, he elaborated on the facets of solidarity, such as loyalty, trust, fairness and necessity, and discussed specific types of solidarity such as “flexible solidarity” or “conditional solidarity”. As a preliminary conclusion of the research mainly carried out in WP2 and 6, he argued that solidarity for most stakeholders was most feasible in terms of sharing resources rather than people. He also stressed the multi-level aspects of solidarity and the territorial nature of refugee regimes as conditional.

Those reflections were expanded by the second speaker, Tiziana Caponio from #FIERI, who presented conceptual thoughts and first results from the fieldwork for WP3. Focusing on the terms “harmonization” and “convergence”, she asked the question if harmonization in legal terms can be managed without convergence in the implementation of regulations and policies. She discussed two central hypotheses for the emergence of multi-level-governance arrangements (the institutional hypothesis and the agent-driven hypothesis) with respect to different venues of multi-level governments in terms of grade of centralization of politics and connectivity of governance levels.
Her thoughts were a perfect basis for the next speaker, Jeroen Doomernik from #University of Amsterdam, who focused on the local as a venue for a Common European Asylum System. Stressing the role of cities rather than nations as an agent of change, and giving insight into a Dutch best practice example of refugee reception (#Plan Einstein), he highlighted the effects of local action on the horizontal level (such as transnational urban networks), which could also impose new dynamics to other governance levels.

The last contribution by Birte Nienaber, Claudia Paraschivescu and Lucas Oesch from the #University of Luxembourg focused on conceptual thoughts and first outcomes of WP4 on borders and the mobility of migrants. Using fieldwork results from Luxembourg, the presenters gave insight into the materiality and functions of borders and bordering processes. They highlighted that – especially in the context of an open border regime in the Schengen region – borders can only made visible by mechanisms of control, and explained the filtering function of borders. Based on results from migrant interviews, they stated that the presence of borders did rather not influence their interviewees’ mobility, but that their mobility fuelled the creation of borders. This observation gave a general hint towards the role of structure and agency in the context of refugee migration towards and within Europe.
The second paper session was devoted to WP5 on the discursive component of the Common European Asylum System. As fieldwork was already far developed, the presentations gave insight into the diversity of politicization processes on migration in Europe.

The panel was started by the leader of WP5, Blanca Garcés-Mascareñas from #CIDOB, who elaborated the theoretical concept of politicisation, following De Wilde et al.’s approach, who identified as main indicators for politicisation the growing salience of a topic, the divergence of opinions and the appearance of new actors. On this basis, CEASEVAL partners carry out research on politicisation processes by examining public attitudes, political debates and media discourses in the case study countries.

The second speaker, Birgit Glorius from Lead Partner #TUC presented results from a secondary analysis of cross-national survey data, notably the Eurobarometer, to identify different patterns of politicisation among EU countries and try to understand the main drivers as well as possible consequences. Notwithstanding the variances of public opinion and how these were framed in the respective countries, the research revealed that there was a common understanding among European citizens that the question of asylum and refugee migration should be preferably addressed on a supranational level. The data analysis showed that the increasing salience of migration in the media and public/policy discourse, which switched to a negative polemic in many countries, affected the public opinion, but that it didn’t distract the public attention from important domestic issues which need to be solved by the national governments. Birgit concluded that public and political discourses which concentrate on the migration issue for the sake of catching votes do not respond to the needs of the citizens and will further weaken the confidence of the European public in their political leaders.

The following presentation by Endre Sik from #Tarki presented an example of extreme politicization, elaborating on the mechanism of creating “moral panic” in Hungary via campaigns of the national government. His paper explored how the Hungarian government framed the migration discourse and how the Fidesz-KDNP party coalition instrumentalised the refugee crisis as a moral panic button (i.e. a state-organised (and financed), repeated, large scale and multiple channelled form of moral panic generating activity) to increase the popularity of the government after its popularity decline 2014. By using Hungary as a showcase for politicization processes, Endre showed the relevance of the sphere of communication for the governance of asylum.

The last paper of the session by Cecilia Estrada-Villaseñor and Juan Iglesias Martínez from #Universidad Pontificia Comillas presented first results from an ongoing research on the discursive representation of refugees in the written press in Spain. The aim of their research is to show how selectivity of media representation creates selective perceptions of reality among media consumers. In this way, the society that consumes information is not fully informed of what is happening; that is why the study draws a map that shows the representation and treatment of the refugee category contrasted with the editorial line of two newspapers of different vision.
The two well attended paper sessions presented the conceptual frames and first results of CEASEVAL and supported the dissemination of results among the wider scientific audience. While the presentations consisted of already well elaborated papers, the CEASEVAL members took the opportunity to use the format of a “workshop” to present very initial findings from their research within WP 4 on Borders and the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in the European Union. Organized by the Luxemburgish Team, Partners from Turkey (Damla Bayraktar Aksel /#Koç University), Germany(Birgit Glorius /TUC), Spain( Elena Sanchez-Montijano/CIDOB) as well as the Luxembourgish hosts presented fascinating insight into their research, consisting of interviews with border agencies and migrants and participant observation at borders.

Finally, Ferruccio Pastore (#FIERI) chaired a semi-plenary with the title “Beyond the ‘refugee crisis’: real partnerships or just containment?” which wrapped up some of the overarching ideas of CEASEVAL and transported them on a higher scale of observation by focusing on the external dimension of EU migration and asylum policies. The speakers Catherine Woollard (#ECRE), Ibrahim Awad (Professor of Global Affairs and Director, Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo) and Anna Terron (President, Instrategies, Barcelona) presented their views, derived from their specific disciplinary, professional and geographical background. Ibrahim Awad pointed out the repercussions of EU Asylum and migration policies to the African countries and claimed that the policies from the north would undermined the development of liberal democracies in the south. He plead for a shifting of the debates and suggested that – instead of sticking to questions of legitimacy of migration and securitization debates – initiate a debate on access to education. Catherine Woollard and Anna Terron joined in and pointed to the political structuration of asylum and migration politics, which in most countries is in the hands of the ministries of the interior, which quite often focus on the pathological parts of migration and respond with the contention of mixed flows. This, as Catherine Woollard argued, would lead to the prevention of people in need for shelter from shelter. This very well visited semi-plenary brought the urgency of the migration and asylum question to the fore and again showed the possible impact of CEASEVALs research for the further development of new policy approaches that are so urgently needed.

Following the IMISCOE conference, on July 5th 2018, the partners of the CEASEVAL project organized a research workshop in Barcelona to discuss the development of their research and share some of their preliminary findings. Which countries have been more solidarity-oriented since the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015? What role have the mass media played in the politicisation of the arrival of refugees? Has the public opinion changed during the European debates on migration? How are different Member States interpreting and applying the CEAS? How is the reception accommodation governance in each country? Hosted by CIDOB, this meeting also served to identify the different problems each partner was having during the research process: while some exposed the lack of cooperation of their national authorities, especially regarding interviews with officials and border agents and participant observation at the borders, others shared some of the strategies they followed to get access to data. In this regard, the retreat served both as a space of reflexion and as an indispensable coordinating tool.
Stay with us to find out more about the results from our research!

CEASEVAL SPOTLIGHT: Antonia-Maria Sarantaki (Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy, Greece) tells us about what the team have been up to over the summer

What research have you been up to?

We’ve been doing fieldwork for wp3, 4, 5 and 6. We’ve done 55 interviews so far and we need to keep going gaining contacts. We’ve interviewed stakeholders, officials and representatives as well as asylum seekers and refugees and we’ve collected important information on the asylum situation in Greece. Of course Greece is one of the most affected by the crisis in the EU. We conducted fieldwork in July in Athens. Especially in the summer period the airport is very busy there are many flights daily but this enabled us to see what happens at the border and what kind of security processes are in place, including talking to police officers. There are random security checks due to the high number of passengers. But we found that some people find it easier to travel on counterfeit documents and that’s why there are more security checks. There are specially trained police officers who are trained to spot these counterfeit documents which was interesting.

How has the Crisis been framed in Greece?

It’s been framed in combination with the economic crisis – so the social and economic situation is hard. It’s difficult for Greece itself to deal with registration because of the exceptional circumstances and we need help from other EU countries and international organisations to provide funding and support.

Have you found much of a difference between different interviewees about how they view the crisis?

We tried to keep up with developments but it’s a field in constant flux. Due to the exceptional circumstances it’s difficult for Greece to deal with because of this double crisis – facing both the economic crisis and a high number of asylum seekers. The political situation is still fluid as well, we might have elections. So we’ve got political tension, economic and asylum crisis and it’s a difficult combination to deal with

Any surprising findings?

The politicisation context – the refugee situation hasn’t been terribly politicised there are debates in parliament but they are mostly framed in economic terms. It’s concerned with the next bail out agreement. The economic crisis dominates the debates

What methodological challenges have you faced?

Gaining access to interviewees and conducting the interviews over the summer has of course been challenging. Greece is a small country and has specific processes so national officers get interviewed all the time by different institutions such as other NGOs, Media etc. and this creates problems to gain access and to find the time for them to give us an interview

What’s coming up next for your team?

We need to keep interviewing people. We have some people in reception centres and for wp4 we have the legislators to interview which is difficult for us to gain access. It’s not easy to get contacts and get these connections and to get them to talk to us openly.


Östen Wahlbeck tells us about what the University of Helsinki have been up to over the summer….

We’re mainly involved in wp3 and wp5 − so politicisation and the local governance context. We’re looking at two smaller municipalities and looking at the local level governance of the reception of asylum seekers in 2015.

What’s been the key finding?

Well the background is that the challenge of increasing numbers of asylum seekers meant that a lot of municipalities had new reception centres. So we’re looking at the local governance of that and it’s an interesting theme in Finland because reception is mainly state-led. So policies are decided at the government level and then they contract out with different organisations that run reception centres, mainly the Finnish Red Cross. As a result, whilst the municipalities are not that significant in terms of reception facilities, they are important to look at because to successfully run a reception facility you need support from the local community. And here’s where the importance of local politicians comes in. There’s a tension for some local politicians as they don’t necessarily feel like they’ve been consulted on whether a reception centre should open or not. As a result, there’s been a lot of debate about the affect opening reception centres has on the local community.

The other highly relevant issue here is integration. Integration is the task of the municipality. The issue here is that whilst individuals wait for a decision on their asylum claim there are no integration processes in place, they are left in reception. Then when a decision comes, the role of the municipality is paramount – so responsibility effectively shifts to municipalities once a decision has been made but there time is lost whilst asylum seekers are waiting for that decision. And that’s why it’s important for the municipality and the local community to get involved earlier because they can start the integration support earlier.

_Has there been a difference in discourse and problems in CEAS system according to different actors?
_Yes, the state actors because they have a different perspective they are really interested in getting the administration working smoothly and the control of arrivals including distribution across the country. At the local level they are more interested in positive integration and the cause of an unsuccessful integration, such as unemployment.

Have you come across any surprising findings?
Well let me put it this way the state administration has become more and more professional and the administration has developed a lot in recent years but when looking at specific issues , there is only a handful of people who are experts on specific issues. EU cooperation and expertise becomes more important for a small country like Finland who doesn’t have the possibility to rapidly find the various asylum experts and the information needed.

Any methodological challenges?
Gaining access took perhaps longer than I expected. Even finding the right person – sometimes it is not obvious who the appropriate contact is and you might be contacting the wrong person. And if they don’t know you personally or the project it can be difficult to gain access.

Tell us about WP5 – what have been the key findings?

There is actually something that is quite clear when you look at how the debate has evolved – it hasn’t been debated as a crisis from the perspective of asylum seekers but a crisis from the perspective of the Finnish society – how should society deal with these issues? We have two different time periods effectively. In the later time period it is clear that the debate has shifted from crisis of reception to crisis of integration. Because the number of asylum seekers dropped quite dramatically after 2015, there was a peak and then it dropped, and it means that the issue has become more a question of integration and recognition rates

ICMPD Vienna Migration Conference, 18-19 October 2018 in the Aula of Sciences in Vienna, Austria.

The Vienna Migration Conference (VMC) is ICMPD’s annual flagship event for discussing the most challenging and politically relevant issues in the field of migration together with political decision makers, government experts, and representatives from the academic world, the media and the civil society. The VMC discusses these issues from a European perspective but also from the perspective of our many partners from outside Europe. It wants to identify areas where progress has been made but also tries to see where gaps persist and questions are still open.

Find out more here:


IMISCOE 15th Annual Conference: “Europe, migrations and the Mediterranean: human mobilities & intercultural challenges”, 2-4/7/18, Barcelona.

Panel 5 “CEASEVAL Insight & first results”
Panel 20 CEASEVAL: The discursive component of European asylum

Workshop: Borders & the experiences of refugees & asylum seekers in the EU: Insights from the Mediterranean Basin & beyond.
Organisers: Dr C. Paraschivescu, Prof B. Nienaber & Dr L. Oesch (Instiute for Geography & Spatial Planning, Univeristy of Luxembourg)

Partner attendees: Caponio, T., Collyer, M., Consterdine, E., Doomernik, J., Garcés –Mascareñas, Glorius, B., Kraler, A., Nienaber, B., Oesch, L., Paraschivescu, C., Ponzo, I., Sanchez, E., Sik, E., Wagner, M., Wahlbeck, O.

Welcome to CEASEVAL

The "long summer of migration" in 2015 and the associated "crisis of European asylum policy" are decisive topics of public discourse, with far-reaching consequences for political decisions at national and EU-level. While the humanitarian obligation to receive refugees is out of question, there are unresolved issues regarding the fair and humane redistribution of asylum seekers to Member States, the harmonization of asylum procedures and concrete practices in dealing with asylum seekers before, during and after the asylum procedure.

The necessity to produce fresh research results on the topic and feed it into political decision making processes is reflected by several calls within the European research program HORIZON2020 since 2015. We decided to take part in those calls, starting off from a group of researchers who regularly collaborate within the IMISCOE* research cluster RELOCAL**, and reaching out to further partners all over Europe. Our interdisciplinary consortium consists of 14 partners from 13 countries, representing research institutions as well as think tanks and NGO’s. Having successfully competed in the call, we started our project in November 2017 and are currently preparing the empirical fieldwork, which will get started in June.

Our research pursues three major goals: First, we will carry out a critical evaluation of the Common European Asylum System and identify and analyze discrepancies between EU standards of refugee reception and national legislation and their implementation. Secondly, we will develop and empirically test a new theoretical framework for the process of "multilevel governance" of the Common European Asylum System. Thirdly, we will elaborate new policies by constructing different alternatives of implementing a common European asylum system and discuss those scenarios with political and civil society stakeholders. On this basis, CEASEVAL will determine which kind of harmonization (legislative, implementation, etc.) and solidarity is possible and necessary.

The conceptual approach of our research is based on the notion of harmonization, which comprises various meanings and practices. While in legal terms, harmonization is interpreted as a process of approximation to a minimum consensus, political science interprets it as a governance approach aiming on the convergence of regulations and related practices. Human geography has yet another interpretation, focusing on the spatial reference levels of the asylum system and on the variances in framing features (such as socio-economic conditions), actor constellations and practices. Hence, our research will combine all those approaches and carry out a multi-level and multi-sited analysis of the Common European Asylum System, including juridical aspects, regulatory patterns, and practices of receiving asylum seekers and the treatment of their asylum applications. We will also take into account the societal discourses that triggered asylum migration towards and throughout the EU states and the thematic interfaces with other European policy areas, such as border security, Schengen and Dublin agreements, and a common European migration policy.
Birgit Glorius, PI, TU Chemnitz

Research Workshop on the empirical elements, ICMPD 16/17 April

What is “harmonization” and in how far is it essential for the development of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS)? How do EU MS interpret “solidarity” and what “responsibilities” are there to share in the context of the CEAS? Which reasons and considerations lead to the national governance of reception systems and in how far are the different levels of governance involved in this process? Which borders exist and how do they steer the trajectories of asylum seekers and migrants and in how far do they prevent or are the catalysators for secondary movements?

Researchers from the CEAS EVAL project partners held a retreat on 16/17 April 2018 in Vienna to intensify the exchange on those and other related questions. Since the start of the project the research tools have been developed by the partners. It was now time to discuss the tools, identify overlaps with existing literature or reports and to retrieve synergies between the different strands of the research. The workshop was thus the opportunity to test the research instruments, exchange on lessons learned from pilot surveys and to coordinate the empirical data collection between the different work packages of the CEAS EVAL project.

Evidently, asylum and refugee issues not least since the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015/ 2016 became a highly researched area. The public as well as policy makers and academics at national, EU and global level engaged in the debate and much has been and is being invested in research to better understand the phenomenon of the high influx during those years. Reports, briefs and policy papers increase. Ideas have been developed, pondered, shared and discussed. Some triggered interest and some got lost along the way.

Yet, as a consequence of decreasing flows thanks to – highly contested – agreements with third countries along the migratory routes, EU Member States started to size down their emergency measures by at the same time signaling that a situation as in 2015/2016 shall not repeat again. Despite the opportunities offered by decreasing migratory pressures to consolidate and assess the lessons learned for the CEAS, the discussions for the third reform of the CEAS came to a halt because of clearly detrimental views on the ways forward by the MS.

It is this wider framework that sets the challenging environment for empirical research and will be also a test for the research within the CEAS EVAL project. The retreat helped to develop a common understanding and identified strategies to gain insights on the above questions in light of national particularities of EU Member States. Stay with us to find out more about the results from our research!

ICMPD team

Themes & Concepts of the Common European Asylum System

Which concepts and themes dominate in discussions on the Common European Asylum System? This is what the University of Sussex (wp1) team have set out to do, by conducting a comprehensive exploration and review of the existing academic (published since 2000) and grey literature relevant to the CEASEVAL project. The state of the art reviews will be used to develop concepts and research methodologies to support empirical work packages.
Our reviews have involved a systematic online search of relevant databases (Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar). The results of these searches were independently screened (for duplicates and relevance) by the two reviewers, and subsequently combined into one list, containing just over 500 articles, book chapters, reports, and other kinds of literature.

To further diversify and broaden the scope of the review, we asked all CEASEVAL partners for their input. This allowed us to also include literature that is not published in English, French, German or Spanish, but other European languages including Greek and Hungarian. Together with our own input focusing on the British context, these suggestions were compiled into an Annotated Bibliography, which has been submitted as project deliverable 1.1.

Together, the Annotated Bibliography and the results of our online searches will provide a sound bibliographic foundation for much of the new research to be conducted in the course of the project. Wherever possible, full-text versions of these approx. 600 pieces of literature will be obtained and collected in a (digital) database, and the team is developing a coding system that will facilitate the use of this database by other project partners.
We found that the dominant concepts in the literature relate to many CEASEVAL work package themes, including solidarity, burden-sharing, harmonization, politicization of migration and multi-level governance. We also found that themes concerning externalization and human rights were dominant as well as return and deportation. Much of the literature sets out to identify transposition and implementation issues in the CEAS, whilst best practice examples were scarce.

Over the coming months, we will conduct both qualitative and quantitative analyses of the collected literature and publish preliminary results in the form of two briefings (by the end of May) and a state of the art literature review as a working paper by the end of June. The overall aim of this exercise is to identify the most important themes, as well as potential gaps, in the vast amount of literature that already exists on the Common European Asylum System, and its potential shortcomings.

University of Sussex team

Insights from Luxembourg: statistics on asylum seekers.

This infographic, provided by the team from the University of Luxembourg, briefly contextualises the 2017 statistics surrounding the asylum process in Luxembourg. Although a small country, Luxembourg takes in twice as many asylum applications per capita as the EU-28 average, with most of them coming from Syrian asylum-seekers.

University of Luxembourg team

Upcoming Webinar

The University of Sussex team (Wp1) with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) team (wp2) will hold a webinar at 12.30 on Monday 14 May 2018 at ECRE’s offices in Brussels on “The current situation of asylum law across the EU and discussion of key variables for the elaboration of the database”.

The webinar discussion will allow the UoS team to benefit from ECRE’s knowledge and resources on the issue of asylum law, in order to develop an asylum policy database for the Ceaseval project. The new policy database will focus on variables relevant to asylum applications in both sending and receiving countries. The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) managed by ECRE currently represents the most comprehensive overview of the field of asylum legislation in the EU, and this project will expand it with further detailed analysis. Therefore the webinar will be a chance to explore the AIDA database and discuss how it could be utilized with the ECRE team.

The team will discuss the current situation of asylum law across the EU and the varyng stages of transposition of the CEAS, and the broader framework of the CEAS and its transposition in each state. Discussion will then focus on the database, including key research questions, variables and sources.
• 12.15-12.30: Introduction to Ceaseval project
• 12.30-12.45: Current situation in asylum law
• 12.45-1.15: AIDA
• 1.15-1.45: Building the Ceaseval database - key questions & variables
• 1.45-2: Q & A/close