Integration: Not Leaving
Legions of refugees arrived in Germany last year. They came by boat, by foot and by train, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Welcome signs in English and Arabic, along with dozens of volunteers handing out sweets and chocolates and warm smiles, awaited them. But what happens after they arrive —each with varying levels of experience, education and cultural and religious backgrounds?
Since World War II, Germany has received about 50 million immigrants — one in eight people living in Germany were born somewhere else. Yet, when Angela Merkel publicly said in 2015 that Germany was an immigrant country, some hailed that as historic.
Not only has Germany been the recipient of large numbers of refugees before, including the millions of ethnic Germans who were driven out of formerly German-held territory after the war and those fleeing the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, and guest workers brought to meet labor demands in a booming postwar economy.
The guest worker idea was that the mostly men from Turkey would eventually return home, but many stayed and brought their families with them. Today, there are more than three million people with Turkish background living in Germany, but many don’t feel included and have fallen through the cracks, even those who were born here.
It has taken Germany time to adjust to the new reality of seeing itself as an immigrant country and what that entails. Until 2000, people could only become German citizens if they had German blood, meaning at least one of their parents was German. That has slowly changed, along with integration courses including language and German life classes. And last year the German government approved its first ever integration law and pledged to spend billions on efforts aiming to avoid the mistakes of the past.
But services asylum-seekers are entitled to vary greatly depending on the country they come from and whether their claims are likely to be approved. Someone from Syria can quickly start learning German, while an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan, deemed a safe country and therefore likely to be sent back, must wait for their case to proceed before having access to many of these services. While getting a job is seen as the best integration tool, many asylum-seekers are struggling to meet the requirements to enter the labor force. They often lack needed certification or don’t meet the minimum language prerequisite — and learning German, not the easiest language, requires time.
While the peak of the arrivals maybe behind us, it is by no means over and the first couple of years of integration are critical. Will Germany be able to integrate the newcomers before they become marginalized, or radicalized? If so how will Germany do it? Follow this current to stay on the story.
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