Germany – How migration is polarizing society

Germany is one of the most popular immigration destinations in the world. Around 11 million people who are currently living in Germany were born elsewhere and one in five has a migrant background.

More than two-thirds of Germany’s immigrant population are from another European country. One reason for this is the “German economic miracle” after World War 2 which led to the recruitment of guest workers from 1955 to 1973. Most of them were from Italy, Turkey and other states in southern Europe. Many of them brought their families with them and made Germany their new home. While the first generation had jobs in the industry their children had access to much wider career options and today many of them occupy important jobs in Germany’s industry, civil service, media, or politics.

In 2015 the rising number of people arriving in the EU and seeking asylum, marked the beginning of the “migrant crisis”. In the same year, 890.000 refugees arrived in Germany and authorities faced the great challenge to deal with a large amount of asylum applications and to provide accommodation for the arriving people. Many Germans welcomed the tired and exhausted refugees but no later than September 2015 the federal states, responsible for accommodation, reached the brink of their capacities and criticized the Government in Berlin for its “inconsiderate” approach to the crisis. In 2016 only 280.000 people reached Germany and the number is likely to decline again in 2017. The recognition rate of asylum was 49,8 % and the most successful applicants were Syrians with a 96% recognition rate.

While Germany seems to cope relatively well with the crisis, the controversy about the acceptance of refugees split the country. For instance, the right-wing party AFD enjoyed a great success and received a double-digit percentage of the vote in three federal state elections in 2016. Already in October 2014 the “PEGIDA” – movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) made headlines and as much as 20,000 people joined their demonstrations during the peak of the “migrant crisis” in 2015.

The “migrant crisis” even reached the small community where my family and I are living. When the city council planned to build a refugee home next to the primary school and kindergarten, local residents distributed leaflets which called to sign a petition against the plan. The anonymous authors feared that the refugees would endanger their children and bring trouble into the neighborhood. However, many others were very active in supporting the newcomers. When around 20 “UMAs” (Underage Unaccompanied Migrants) moved into the youth hostel many godparents wanted to show their support for the young refugees and so the Church organized games on afternoons to bring the locals and migrants together. When three Syrian brothers moved into our street, my family invited them over. Since then I help the youngest in German and Math. We even celebrated New Year together.

There is still a long way to go until the refugees will be integrated into German society. However, many share the belief that multiculturalism enriches our country and regard it as their duty to help the helpless. Let’s hope that they are stronger than everyone who thinks that Germany is only for the “Germans”.

by Schirin Hafezi