BERLIN—Four weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the doors to refugees and Germans welcomed them with applause and food, worries are mounting that the country has been overwhelmed.
Ms. Merkel’s long-lofty approval ratings are falling back to earth. Senior officials are voicing fears of terrorists among the migrants as towns and cities run out of shelter space. And in a country that prizes order, polls show that Germans are losing faith that their government is up to the task of managing the influx as the news media show chaotic scenes of migrants sleeping outside and police responding to fights at shelters.
“It is simply too much,” said Karin Pahlitzsch, a 57-year-old teacher in the eastern German city of Dresden, referring to the number of people coming to Germany. “But the worst thing is how poorly organized everything is.”
Unlike past European crises such as Ukraine and the early-summer debt showdown with Greece, the migration crisis directly affects Germans’ daily lives. Auditoriums, gyms, and trade-show halls are being converted to emergency shelters. Government officials are starting to openly voice frustration that migrants are misbehaving, stoking fears that the influx could lead to a rise in crime.
“Until summer, the refugees were thankful to be here with us,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said on ZDF public television Thursday night. Now, he said, some “go on strike because they don’t like their shelter, they make trouble because they don’t like the food, they fight in the asylum-seeker facilities.”
Germany-based Islamists have been approaching migrants, particularly minors traveling alone, Mr. de Maizière said Friday after meeting with security officials. And intelligence agencies have warned that Islamic State jihadists could try to sneak into Germany with the migrants, he said.
In early September, many Germans flocked to train stations to welcome arriving migrants, and commentators described the outpouring of generosity as a “summer fairy tale” in a country whose Nazi history still complicates feelings of national pride. Polls showed that most Germans stood behind Ms. Merkel after she declared “We can do it!” in response to questions over whether Germany could handle the flow of people.
But a poll released late Thursday showed Ms. Merkel’s approval rating fell in recent weeks to 54% after some three years around 70%. The poll, conducted by research firm Infratest Dimap earlier this week, also found that 51% of Germans feared that too many refugees were arriving in their country—up from 38% a month ago.
In a speech in eastern Germany Thursday ahead of Saturday’s 25th anniversary of the country’s reunification, Ms. Merkel attempted to rally German spirits. She described accommodating migration as a “herculean task that now deeply moves us and demands from us a national effort.” Germany, working with the European Union and Turkey to try to channel the tide of migrants, will be able to overcome the crisis, she said.
Amid the nation’s unease, leaders of other political parties in Ms. Merkel’s governing coalition are increasingly sowing doubts about her crisis management. Horst Seehofer,governor of the state of Bavaria and head of Ms. Merkel’s sister conservative party there, has repeatedly criticized the chancellor’s generosity toward migrants. His approval rating shot up 11 points, to 39%, in the monthly Infratest Dimap poll released on Thursday.
“We in Germany are rapidly approaching the limits of what we can do,” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, head of the left-of-center Social Democrats, told news website Spiegel Online on Friday. “Many places in Germany are already overwhelmed.” Mr. Gabriel is widely expected to challenge the conservative Ms. Merkel in the 2017 election.
The sense of a crisis slipping out of the government’s control is being fed by images of chaos at shelters and registration points.
The port city of Hamburg, which is sheltering about 30,000 migrants and has received some 500 a day for the past month, was under particular strain this week. Tuesday night, 500 migrants slept in the open near the city’s main registration point because all shelters were full.
On Wednesday, desperate city officials sought to put up the migrants in a vacant tennis hall but couldn’t contact the owner to let them in. They sent firefighters to break open the door. Later in the day, the city found two schools with enough space to house newly arrived migrants and didn’t need to use the tennis hall, city official Björn Domroese said.
But the additional space didn’t head off violence in two other Hamburg asylum shelters Wednesday night. At one, in a vacant hardware store, two groups of people got into a fight, some of them armed with pieces of furniture, the police said.
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