The place for refugees and migrants in Germany

When Germany began accepting large numbers of refugees in 2015 the response from the German public was exemplary, with refugees being welcomed at train stations, taken into homes and cared for. Public opinion overall was firmly in favour of supporting refugees.

Refugees in numbers

The number of asylum seekers in Germany has increased significantly in the last few years.  Since the summer of 2015, the influx of refugees has increased sharply as Germany – in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster - accepted increasing numbers from Hungary and Austria.  According to the latest figures (April 2016), 441,899 initial applications were lodged in 2015. In total, including subsequent applications, 446,649 requests for asylum were submitted. However, the total number of asylum seekers in 2015 was significantly higher than this. Several hundred thousand people arrived in Germany but could not formally apply for asylum. According to the German federal government, almost 1.1 million asylum seekers were registered in the so-called EASY system.

The overwhelming majority came from war-torn countries, such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and from the Western-Balkans. Approximately half of all those assessed in 2015 were deemed to be in need of protection. The protection rate overall, which includes all forms of protection (i.e. eligibility for asylum, refugees received under the Geneva Convention, and subsidiary protection) stood at 50%.  The protection rate for applicants from the Western Balkans stood at close to 0%, since the German government declared these countries as being safe. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have also been designated as safe countries, and applicants for refugee status from these countries have been rejected. Migrants from these countries are being advised to return home or they face deportation from Germany’s “special reception centres.” This measure entered into force in mid-March 2016.

The high level of protection for the first group of refugees, along with the large number of applications, led to several hundred thousand people being granted the right to longer-term or even permanent residence in Germany, which also gives them the right to bring their spouses and children to the country.

Who are they?

There is no reliable data on the background of refugees, including their social and educational profile, because the EASY registration system does not require such information. However, according to a survey of 2,100 refugees carried out in 2015, the following picture emerges: 73,8% of interviewed refugees were male and 26.2% female; 68% were younger than 33 years old and around half were married; as regards educational attainment, 25% had attended higher primary school, 26.7% had attended secondary school, 24.7% had attended high school,  and, near one quarter ( 23.2% ) had a higher diploma (university or college.) Only 7% had no formal education. More than two-thirds of the interviewed refugees had work experience in industry, health and social care, trade, etc. Only a small number of those interviewed spoke German (2%) but close to 30% spoke English. This varies considerably by country. For example, 40% of Syrians but only 15% of Afghans spoke English. Most of the German speaking refugees were from Iran, but the proportion is still small, only around 3%.

Some refugees destroyed or left behind identity documents and educational certificates when they left their homelands. The most problematic group are those above school age, who will need to go through a process of reaching a set standard in German competence of up to two years prior to entering training, which means it could be five years or more in total before they can seek employment.

The largest group is comprised of 18 to 30-year-old males, which without timely training and employment, could be susceptible to falling into anti-social behaviour, crime or even terrorism. There are concerns about cultural differences, especially in relation to the treatment of women. This came to the fore in Cologne over the New Year period, when there were mass sexual assaults and robberies in the vicinity of the famous Cathedral. Many Germans believe that their country’s approach is allowing terrorists to enter the country under the guise of being refugees.

A further challenge will come when the families of those permitted to stay are reunited, which could be positive in terms of support and social cohesion, but also problematic in terms of adding to the numbers of people to be accommodated.

Distribution of refugees among German states

Within Germany, refugees have been allocated across the 16 federal states. The approach being taken in German involves local governments taking most of the responsibility for housing, schooling and social services in the integration process. Most of the refugees are being settled in middle-size towns, based on the view that small communities have insufficient capacity and urban metropolises are too big to provide the necessary conditions for community integration.

To manage the ’distribution’ process, Germany uses the “Königsteiner Schlüssel”, a formula for determining the distribution of asylum seekers across its 16 states, based on population (1/3) and on the tax income of each state (2/3). States then distribute refugees among the cities and towns within their jurisdiction and distribute funding accordingly. The federal, state and local governments share the costs of providing housing and services to the newly arrived asylum seekers. The recent massive influx has put considerable pressure on the system. Municipalities are sometimes only notified 48 hours in advance that they have to find or create accommodation hundreds of refugees.

Demographic changes in Germany

Germany has one of the oldest demographic profiles in the world and will be facing severe shortages of skilled workers in the future. If the current trend continues, between 2016 and 2030, the number of people in education age (5-29) will decrease by 4.1 million; the number of people of working age (18-64) will decrease by 6.0 million; the average age of the workforce will increase by six years; and the number of people of pensionable age (65+) will increase by 5.0 million.

Refugees and migrants could help to fill this gap, but as outlined above, gaining educational and employment qualifications in the interim will be a lengthy process, which will be costly and challenging for both the system and refugees.

Refugees in the local context

There is an optimistic, "can-do" attitude among many of the local mayors who are handling the refugee settlement with aplomb and effectiveness. It is also impressive how local governments, civil society organisations and religious institutions are working together to facilitate a successful integration.

A variety of local initiatives supported by volunteers and NGO’s aim to assist refugees to fill in their days, learning German and adjusting to German society. Initiative such as the Caritas church group in Stuttgart, which is reaching out to help newcomers get a foothold in a new society, and the neighbourhood sports officials running a soccer camp for Syrian refugee kids, show how people come to the fore in a time of need.

The Lapp Gruppe, a family-owned high-tech firm in Stuttgart, manages a training centre where young refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Iran and Cameroon are learning skills in the expanding world of information technology. Lapp Gruppe’s president regrets however, that only 20 other firms in the Stuttgart area, one of Germany’s most prosperous regions, were following suit.

Overall, however, Germany is to be commended for its willingness to deal with this difficult and evolving situation.

Integration is a long-term process

It is likely that a significant number of refugees will stay in Germany for a long period or permanently. These refugees constitute an opportunity for the ageing German society. They are young and, thus, could contribute to the stabilisation of German social security schemes and to reducing the shortage in skilled labour.

Integrating such a large number of refugees in such a short period, and requires considerable effort. It is estimated that the basic integration process takes five years. The age profile of the refugees, many of whom have not attended school for a long period, also presents a major challenge for the German education and training system. Housing shortages have also been experienced, resulting in thousands of recognised refugees being forced to live in emergency accommodation or community centres for long periods, which significantly hinders their integration.

An important factor of successful integration is communication and dialogue between refugees and the host community. This makes it possible for the host community to better appreciate the “human face” of refugees, through their own stories. Inversely, it also helps the refugees to better understand the culture of the host community. It should also be noted that most individuals show some variation in both their ideal and chosen acculturation strategies across different aspects of their lives. In the case of immigrants, it is often easier and more desirable to adopt their host society's attitudes towards politics and government than it is to adopt new attitudes about religion, principles and values.

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The place for refugees and migrants in Germany

When Germany began accepting large numbers of refugees in 2015 the response from the German public was exemplary, with refugees being welcomed at train stations, taken into homes and cared for. Public opinion overall was firmly in favour of supporting refugees.

Refugees in numbers

The number of asylum seekers in Germany has increased significantly in the last few years.  Since the summer of 2015, the influx of refugees has increased sharply as Germany – in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster - accepted increasing numbers from Hungary and Austria.  According to the latest figures (April 2016), 441,899 initial applications were lodged in 2015. In total, including subsequent applications, 446,649 requests for asylum were submitted. However, the total number of asylum seekers in 2015 was significantly higher than this. Several hundred thousand people arrived in Germany but could not formally apply for asylum. According to the German federal government, almost 1.1 million asylum seekers were registered in the so-called EASY system.

The overwhelming majority came from war-torn countries, such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and from the Western-Balkans. Approximately half of all those assessed in 2015 were deemed to be in need of protection. The protection rate overall, which includes all forms of protection (i.e. eligibility for asylum, refugees received under the Geneva Convention, and subsidiary protection) stood at 50%.  The protection rate for applicants from the Western Balkans stood at close to 0%, since the German government declared these countries as being safe. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have also been designated as safe countries, and applicants for refugee status from these countries have been rejected. Migrants from these countries are being advised to return home or they face deportation from Germany’s “special reception centres.” This measure entered into force in mid-March 2016.

The high level of protection for the first group of refugees, along with the large number of applications, led to several hundred thousand people being granted the right to longer-term or even permanent residence in Germany, which also gives them the right to bring their spouses and children to the country.

Who are they?

There is no reliable data on the background of refugees, including their social and educational profile, because the EASY registration system does not require such information. However, according to a survey of 2,100 refugees carried out in 2015, the following picture emerges: 73,8% of interviewed refugees were male and 26.2% female; 68% were younger than 33 years old and around half were married; as regards educational attainment, 25% had attended higher primary school, 26.7% had attended secondary school, 24.7% had attended high school,  and, near one quarter ( 23.2% ) had a higher diploma (university or college.) Only 7% had no formal education. More than two-thirds of the interviewed refugees had work experience in industry, health and social care, trade, etc. Only a small number of those interviewed spoke German (2%) but close to 30% spoke English. This varies considerably by country. For example, 40% of Syrians but only 15% of Afghans spoke English. Most of the German speaking refugees were from Iran, but the proportion is still small, only around 3%.

Some refugees destroyed or left behind identity documents and educational certificates when they left their homelands. The most problematic group are those above school age, who will need to go through a process of reaching a set standard in German competence of up to two years prior to entering training, which means it could be five years or more in total before they can seek employment.

The largest group is comprised of 18 to 30-year-old males, which without timely training and employment, could be susceptible to falling into anti-social behaviour, crime or even terrorism. There are concerns about cultural differences, especially in relation to the treatment of women. This came to the fore in Cologne over the New Year period, when there were mass sexual assaults and robberies in the vicinity of the famous Cathedral. Many Germans believe that their country’s approach is allowing terrorists to enter the country under the guise of being refugees.

A further challenge will come when the families of those permitted to stay are reunited, which could be positive in terms of support and social cohesion, but also problematic in terms of adding to the numbers of people to be accommodated.

Distribution of refugees among German states

Within Germany, refugees have been allocated across the 16 federal states. The approach being taken in German involves local governments taking most of the responsibility for housing, schooling and social services in the integration process. Most of the refugees are being settled in middle-size towns, based on the view that small communities have insufficient capacity and urban metropolises are too big to provide the necessary conditions for community integration.

To manage the ’distribution’ process, Germany uses the “Königsteiner Schlüssel”, a formula for determining the distribution of asylum seekers across its 16 states, based on population (1/3) and on the tax income of each state (2/3). States then distribute refugees among the cities and towns within their jurisdiction and distribute funding accordingly. The federal, state and local governments share the costs of providing housing and services to the newly arrived asylum seekers. The recent massive influx has put considerable pressure on the system. Municipalities are sometimes only notified 48 hours in advance that they have to find or create accommodation hundreds of refugees.

Demographic changes in Germany

Germany has one of the oldest demographic profiles in the world and will be facing severe shortages of skilled workers in the future. If the current trend continues, between 2016 and 2030, the number of people in education age (5-29) will decrease by 4.1 million; the number of people of working age (18-64) will decrease by 6.0 million; the average age of the workforce will increase by six years; and the number of people of pensionable age (65+) will increase by 5.0 million.

Refugees and migrants could help to fill this gap, but as outlined above, gaining educational and employment qualifications in the interim will be a lengthy process, which will be costly and challenging for both the system and refugees.

Refugees in the local context

There is an optimistic, "can-do" attitude among many of the local mayors who are handling the refugee settlement with aplomb and effectiveness. It is also impressive how local governments, civil society organisations and religious institutions are working together to facilitate a successful integration.

A variety of local initiatives supported by volunteers and NGO’s aim to assist refugees to fill in their days, learning German and adjusting to German society. Initiative such as the Caritas church group in Stuttgart, which is reaching out to help newcomers get a foothold in a new society, and the neighbourhood sports officials running a soccer camp for Syrian refugee kids, show how people come to the fore in a time of need.

The Lapp Gruppe, a family-owned high-tech firm in Stuttgart, manages a training centre where young refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Iran and Cameroon are learning skills in the expanding world of information technology. Lapp Gruppe’s president regrets however, that only 20 other firms in the Stuttgart area, one of Germany’s most prosperous regions, were following suit.

Overall, however, Germany is to be commended for its willingness to deal with this difficult and evolving situation.

Integration is a long-term process

It is likely that a significant number of refugees will stay in Germany for a long period or permanently. These refugees constitute an opportunity for the ageing German society. They are young and, thus, could contribute to the stabilisation of German social security schemes and to reducing the shortage in skilled labour.

Integrating such a large number of refugees in such a short period, and requires considerable effort. It is estimated that the basic integration process takes five years. The age profile of the refugees, many of whom have not attended school for a long period, also presents a major challenge for the German education and training system. Housing shortages have also been experienced, resulting in thousands of recognised refugees being forced to live in emergency accommodation or community centres for long periods, which significantly hinders their integration.

An important factor of successful integration is communication and dialogue between refugees and the host community. This makes it possible for the host community to better appreciate the “human face” of refugees, through their own stories. Inversely, it also helps the refugees to better understand the culture of the host community. It should also be noted that most individuals show some variation in both their ideal and chosen acculturation strategies across different aspects of their lives. In the case of immigrants, it is often easier and more desirable to adopt their host society's attitudes towards politics and government than it is to adopt new attitudes about religion, principles and values.