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Germany: Mayor supports immigration as a way to regenerate struggling areas, sparks country-wide debate

Much of Europe is turning its face against refugees but Oliver Junk, mayor of Goslar, insists migration is the best way to regenerate a struggling area. The mayor has sparked a debate that has spread across Germany by saying he wants more immigrants to settle in the town. 

Goslar is a gem of a town in central Germany that is becoming famous for another reason. It is in one of the weakest economic areas of western Germany, and – like much of the country, which for years has had one of the lowest birthrates in the world – it is facing a demographic crisis.

Oliver Junk is determined to reverse the trend. While other parts of Europe are shunning refugees, sometimes with great brutality, Junk is delivering an alternative message: bring on the immigrants. There cannot be enough of them, he says.

The 39-year-old lawyer, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, has triggered controversy across Germany by insisting that an influx of immigrants is the best thing that could happen to his shrinking town, which took only 48 refugees last year and, so far this year, 41. “We have plenty of empty housing, and rather than see it decay we could give new homes to immigrants, helping them, and so give our town a future,” Junk said.

This year Germany is set to receive some half a million asylum seekers, although the figure is being revised all the time as the numbers arriving in Europe from Africa and the Middle East continue to soar. That is far more than any other EU country, and more than twice the number Germany took last year.

According to an allocation formula known as the Königsteiner Schlüssel, towns are allocated refugees based on population and per head tax revenues: the bigger and richer a town, the more refugees it is obliged to take, for which it is in part supported by state money. “This system is crazy, because in big cities there is often a lack of housing, while in Goslar we have the space,” said Junk.

His appeals for politicians to adopt the “Goslar Model” have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Goslar charity worker Uta Liebau supports Junk’s concept, but knows that getting asylum seekers housed is only the start. “Integration is the harder task,” she says. “Group them all together in a housing block and people will be scared of them, but put them somewhere where they can be your neighbour and you can help them with their shopping, and people start to feel responsible for them.”