Germany (in part) surpasses the Herculean task of integrating a million refugees
Six years ago, Europe looked into the plight of people like Gasan Yousef. In September 2015, Munich Central Station became the center of a flood of humans fleeing conflicts scattered around the world. The migration crisis put Germany under immense pressure, gave wings to the far right and nearly cost Chancellor Angela Merkel her post. As the country wondered how many people it could accommodate without collapsing, Yousef, a Syrian of Kurdish descent, had more pressing concerns.
For example, what were he and his wife, Ramadan, who was five months pregnant, going to do in a place they did not know everything about and where they had arrived after a very hard journey made up of bits of buses, trains and trips to foot. But it is far today. âWe are doing well here. People smile more than in Syria and there are a lot more trees. The worst part is that it rains so much, âhe assures us, pointing his finger at the clouds that can be seen from the apartment he has managed to rent on the outskirts of Munich.
Immigration is not the central issue in the elections which, next Sunday, will send Merkel – this time already – to retirement. Politicians fill their speeches with topics such as the environment or digitization. But every now and then a phrase is heard. â2015 cannot be repeated. The Taliban victory has rekindled fears that an international crisis could lead to a new wave of refugees. The truth is that the problems in Afghanistan have not yet translated into an increase in arrivals. But fear is free.
Social workers remember how the seams of the state were about to burst in 2015 and 2016, when more than 1.2 million people applied for asylum. âThere were days when 12,000 men, women and children arrived at Munich station with nothing to do. Without the help of the population, who turned around, we would not have been able to overcome it. Thousands of volunteers brought food, clothes, toys or helped with whatever was needed, ârecalls Gerhard Mayer, housing and immigration officer at the Bavarian capital city hall, in his office . At that time, the most common question was whether Germany would be able to integrate so many people. Six years later, the answer is closer to a nuanced yes. Much progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.
âThere are people who have not known for 11 years whether they will be deported,â protests Zahra Akhlaqi, an Afghan refugee who arrived in Munich at the age of 14 and who now speaks fluent German and studies German. law.
Zahra Akhlaqi is the best example of this long-awaited integration. The 22-year-old woman born in Afghanistan and raised in Iran – where her family fled persecution from the first Taliban government for belonging to the Hazara ethnic group – has already lived long enough to write several biographies. The flight left the family for two years, with an intermediate stopover for her and her sister at a reception center in Greece, until at the age of 14 she could meet her mother in Munich. Today he speaks fluent German and is studying law with a scholarship from the Heinrich BÃ¶ll Foundation.
Akhlaqi has come a long way with his efforts, which is in part due to the fear that gripped him as a teenager. âI spent my summers in German class convinced that if I didn’t get good grades they would kick us out to Afghanistan,â she recalls. At one point in the conversation, thinking back to painful incidents in his short life, he couldn’t help but wet his eyes.
The coming to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan raises fears of a new migratory crisis. No one wants to repeat 2015
Gesine Schwan, a social democratic politician who aspired to the presidency of the Federal Republic, recalls that Germany has already had the experience of integrating 12 million expelled from their former eastern territories after the Second World War. âEconomists estimate that to maintain our growth, we need at least 400,000 immigrants each year. But contrary to what many say, Germany does not want so many people to come “, assures Schwan, who has just published The failure of Europe. A humane refugee policy is possible, where she is very skeptical about the supposed âhospitality cultureâ in her country.
Despite the difficulty of integrating so many people, the data is encouraging. A report by the German Economic Institute (DIW) estimates that more than half of those who arrived during the 2015 crisis have found work. The percentage drops considerably among women, many of them without a professional activity in their country of origin and in charge of their children. âThe process was faster than expected at the time. There are still many needs to be covered, but integration has taken a giant leap forward, âexplains Alexander Kritikos, researcher at DIW.
The obstacles remain enormous. For example, to find your own accommodation – beyond reception centers or shared apartments financed by public funds -, to learn German or to validate diplomas obtained in the country of origin.
Yousef knows firsthand how difficult all of these processes are. Although he ran a restaurant in Damascus in his previous life, he did not graduate as a chef in Germany. He works at a kebab stand and hopes to open his own store. âI was up and had to come down, but I’m going to go back up,â he says as the two children play with their mother. He got lucky. A city council program allowed him to secure a rental contract that he could afford. His home is in a neighborhood where almost all of the neighbors are of foreign origin. Not a single German name is visible on the house bells. Despite everything, he was lucky. Many other refugees have been waiting for years for a home like yours. In Bavaria, only 30-40% of asylum seekers manage to live in a separate apartment. The others continue in shelters or shared housing, explains StÃ©phanie Pausch, social worker for the government of this Earth.
The case of Akhlaqi is even more exceptional. She knows it. And he is also aware that many other refugees have not been able to adapt as well. It indicates some measures that could lighten the load on their shoulders, such as reducing the waiting time to know if the asylum application has been accepted. âI know people who are 11 without knowing if they were going to be deported. In this way, no one can build a life for themselves, âexplains this student who aspires to finish law to help improve the situation of people who have experienced the same thing as her, the Zahras of the future. âI certainly don’t want to be a traditional lawyer,â she says with a smile.
At the height of the 2015 crisis, Merkel uttered a phrase that will haunt her for a long time. âWe will do it,â he said. Was the Chancellor right to say that Germany would overcome this major challenge? Pausch is thoughtful when she hears the question. âPartly yes, but very little time has passed. It is not a task for a few years, but for a whole generation â, finally answers the social worker.
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