Among all EU countries, Germany has by far welcomed the highest number of refugees since 2015. According to the UNHCR, about 970,300 people with refugee status were living in Germany in 2017, of which 21 percent are children, and nearly 430,000 asylum seekers. The majority came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They had to abandon their jobs, homes, families and friends and engage in a long and perilous journey to Germany. Now, they are starting a new life in a new country, a country where punctuality is a moral imperative and sausage and raw cabbage are national dishes…
Which path to social inclusion?
In order to facilitate their integration, Germany supports a nine-month integration course, which introduces immigrants to the language, legal system, culture, history and important values, such as freedom of expression and religion. Almost 300,000 individuals benefitted from these courses in 2017 alone. The issue with those courses is that they have a one-size-fits-all approach, whereas participants have diverse backgrounds, personalities and skill sets. Further, the classes are often overcrowded and instructors underpaid and underqualified. Nonetheless, these courses are important. Upon successful completion, participants receive a certificate that will help them with the naturalization process, which they can begin after seven years of residence.
Unlike the much-criticized integration courses, civil society plays a major role in creating a sense of belonging for refugees. Researchers from the Allensbach Institute have found that more than half of the German population over 16 years of age has engaged in voluntary work for refugees since 2015. Social projects have popped up all over the country to show solidarity and provide refugees with an invaluable sense of welcome and empathy. The range of free services provided is impressive: legal and psychological counseling, incubation programs, coding schools, community building initiatives and many more, have facilitated the integration process and created something close to an inclusive society.
Labor market integration
The legal status of newly arrived refugees determines whether they will have restricted or unrestricted access to Germanys labor market, as this video shows. The trend is positive: one in four refugees now officially have a job and the vast majority of those are contributing to the welfare state. The unemployment rate of refugees has dropped from 50.5 per cent to 40.5 per cent and those that are still unemployed are often looking for jobs where language skills do not play a decisive role such as cleaning and kitchen work.
This new man- and womanpower is a gift for the German labor market, which desperately needs more workers. According to the state-funded Institute for Employment Research (IAB) the number of vacancies rose to a historic high of 1.2 million in the final quarter of 2017. To tackle this issue, the government is working on a new law that would make it easier for German employers to hire non-Germans. Previous labor policies have already yielded positive effects: a report by UNESCO shows that, compared to other countries, Germany does well in recognizing the professional qualifications of refugees, which increases their job chances by 45 per cent and the hourly wage by 40 per cent. Refugees have also helped German employers fill the apprenticeship gap, thanks in part to the 3+2 rule, which offers asylum seekers whose application has been rejected to stay in Germany for two years after having completed the three-year apprenticeship.
As a result, Germans have adopted a more positive image of refugees. According to a recent survey by the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR), the majority of Germans see refugees as a cultural and economic enrichment. As is usually the case, respondents who had only little or no contact with refugees were the most critical towards them, demonstrating once again the importance of platforms for dialogue and exchange.
Refugees face many bureaucratic hurdles (welcome to Germany…), there are not enough places in Germany’s kindergartens and housing prices are exploding, which affects refugees and Germans alike. Refugees are also regularly linked to criminality. Especially incidents like the terrorist attack in Berlin, the 2015 New Year's Eve in Cologne and the rape of a young girl in Freiburg have led to feelings of insecurity and resentment of foreigners. These dreadful actions harm the vast majority of refugees who abide by the law and seek social inclusion, while fueling at the same time the anti-immigration rhetoric of populists.
Many refugees suffer from trauma and severe stress and find it hard to form relationships. According to the Bavarian Red Cross, the proportion of people with post-traumatic stress disorder is up to ten times higher for refugees than for the general population and ranges from around 30 to 40 per cent. And this will not get better if their most basic emotional human needs – safety, belonging, identity, self-esteem and purpose – are constantly threatened. In Germany’s so-called Anchor centers (acronym for arrival, decision and deportation), newly arrived refugees cannot fall sleep because they fear being deported during the night.
Our role is simple
Refugees will help fill the labor gap, rejuvenate an aging population and some will become successful entrepreneurs, all of which will provide a long-term boost to Germany’s economy. This will take time and many challenges remain. Not everyone needs to be actively engaged in refugee support. As Tamim Nashed, policy officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), said: our role is to treat refugees as any other person and not as "passive recipients of assistance".