The Tweet That Made a Crisis Worse

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

While writing yesterday about the resignation of Germany’s top migration official, I came across this this little nugget in The New York Times:

And Manfred Schmidt, the president of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which many blame for inadvertently inciting the latest surge of refugees and migrants into the Balkans with a Twitter post that seemed to promise asylum in Germany for all Syrians, announced he was resigning — for “personal reasons.”

A little more digging took me to the tweet:

The message translates to: “We are not enforcing Dublin procedures for Syrian nationals at the present time.”

The Dublin procedures govern how EU member states examine asylum applications. And it says migrants must be processed in the first EU country they enter. Given the scale of the people trying to enter Europe, Germany suspended the rule. Or, as the Wall Street Journal put it: “Germany had opened its doors.”

Here’s more from the newspaper:

The first of the many gears that set the march in motion was an internal guideline drafted on Friday, Aug. 21, by Angelika Wenzel, an official at the German migration agency known as BAMF.

The guideline, which effectively suspended EU asylum rules for Syrian refugees, wasn’t a change of policy. It was a technical decision—exceptional, but allowed by the rules—aimed at speeding up asylum application reviews in the face of more arrivals.

It didn’t even require approval from the Interior Ministry and was aimed only at BAMF’s 36 field bureaus around the country.

But by the following Monday, German nongovernmental organization Pro Asyl had gotten wind of the news and Karl Kopp, an asylum expert with the group, decided to pass it on to a European database for sharing information on asylum, known as AIDA. …

In the absence of an official confirmation, though, Berlin’s new stance wasn’t widely communicated. The Aug. 25 tweet from the agency changed that. Within hours, the news was picked up by the world’s media and quickly went viral.

Nearly a month later, that message is still having repercussions. Hungary, which had become the main transit point through which migrants tried to reach Germany, closed its borders to them. Today, as I reported earlier, Croatia said it was unable to cope with the flow, stranding 15,000 migrants—many of them headed to Germany because of a tweet.