Written by Jnifar Gillur Yumi
The Fight Surrounding Immigration Policies at Home
According to the United Nations, one in every 113 people in the world is displaced, a refugee or an asylum seeker. Since 1990, Germany has been a popular destination for immigrants globally, and statistics by Statista (2021) states that Germany granted asylum to the highest number of asylum-seekers in the European Union, especially to Syrian asylum-seekers. A country with a horrifying past like the Holocaust, Germany has now become a country that is a popular station destination for immigrants. This journey of social change has not been easy as one can anticipate. The hurdles that the government, society, and immigrants have faced in efforts of integration via ‘integration projects’ by the state are a worthwhile research topic.
Current Chancellor Angela Merkel enacted policies to welcome immigrants with open arms and announced her legacy of Willkommenskultur (welcome culture) with the development of an integration policy, and the next Chancellor Olaf Scholz is planning to carry on the legacy. Unfortunately, despite the work of “Integration Projects’, which is a project that offers a vocational training program and a language course for immigrants, with a particular focus on the Syrian community (Hindy, 2018), some Germans still fail to accept immigrants wholeheartedly. In the next section of the paper, we will see the anti-immigrant riots in the city of Bautzen in the story of Abode Targi; thus the effectiveness of integration projects often comes into question. Nevertheless, even though Syrian refugees have been integrated quite quickly in Germany, social integration continues to be a challenge in the labor market. Social policies that are inclusive and applicable to all residents, regardless of ethnicity, are essential tools for governments to ease the tension. This paper will first explain current policies for refugees and asylum seekers in Germany and explore how differential inclusion plays a role in society; it will then provide an overview of the research done on the influence of integration projects alongside some interviews with asylum-seekers. Finally, it will consider which factors might be hindering the goal of integration projects from a sociological viewpoint of both parties.
An Attempt at Social Integration
Titled “The Fight Surrounding Immigration Policies at Home”, this paper examines immigration policies from the perspectives of both the host country, Germany, as well as the immigrants and asylum seekers from Syria who now belong to ‘two’ homes (countries) after migrating to Germany. People in Germany have become more tolerant toward immigrants, but polarization is on the rise (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2021). On the other hand, Syrian refugees and asylum seekers are attempting to fit into German society while trying to maintain their own culture. Studies have shown that Syrian refugees with high psychological strength and cultural capability reported high levels of potential to integrate, as indicated by low levels of distress, and vice versa (Safdar, et al, 2021). So, what is the desired social integration? According to Durkheim, “people’s norms, beliefs, and values make up a collective consciousness, or a shared way of understanding and behaving in the world”. He believed that society exerted a powerful force on individuals, and the collective consciousness binds individuals together and creates social integration (2020).
Germany is facing a declining population with a shrinking skilled workforce (The Economist, 2021), and sources have stated how Angela Merkel tried to handle this issue under the veil of managing the refugee crisis. However, a lack of German language skills and an untrained labor force were the reasons why many refugees in Germany were unable to earn a position in the labor market (D.W., 2020). That is also precisely why the ‘Integration Project’ came into existence. However, it seemed that some immigrants were still struggling to get into the labor market—here is where differential inclusion comes into play. The concept of differential inclusion is used to describe the selective inclusion of migrants within the sphere of rights in the receiving state. As Espiritu (2003) stated in her book, refugees are trained to be integrated into society but are severely restricted in the labor market based on their social standing and race. As a result, legal status, social rights, and differential inclusion are all collections of different elements belonging to a single group of study.
Influence of Integration Projects in Society
As mentioned above, the concept of “integrated but marginalized” is evident throughout Espiritu’s (2003)’s reading – it is seen immigrants, particularly Syrian immigrants, are trained as integral to the nation’s economy, culture, and identity through ‘Integration Projects’ in Germany, but only as integral because of their “designated subordinate standing” (Espiritu, p. 47). Immigrants often lose their individuality (and sometimes even their lives) as a result of perilous journeys across the sea, and are mere ‘resources’ for their host country. To look into the influence of this ‘Integration Project’, we will take a glance into the lives of three asylum-seekers currently residing in Germany.
i) One of the interviews carried out by The Century Foundation (2018) represents the story of a 30-year-old Syrian hijabi who spoke about the challenges female Muslim immigrants have faced concerning their integration into German society due to the country’s legal restrictions on the head and facial coverings. Even though they are given ‘culture training’ in the ‘Integration Project’ centers, this bias and other factors such as halal food and culture in the Muslim community make it slightly difficult for Muslim immigrants to fit into the German society and cultural norms. Her husband, Abdulrahman, says, “…when the German people think about the man who hits his wife—it’s not Islam, it’s culture. They think all Muslims do the same. And hijab, it’s not culture, it’s religion. Not every Muslim woman wears a hijab… the people here think we are all cousins of Osama bin Laden.” This misunderstanding of the Muslim culture gives rise to not only xenophobia but Islamophobia as well. Moreover, one cannot possibly give up their individuality in order to integrate into a foreign culture.
“As Germans, they do not want you to integrate with them. They do not give you the opportunity to integrate with them. When you walk by a group of people and everyone is looking at you in a way that is unwelcome, would this not impact you psychologically? There was also the issue of the hijab, this is a huge problem. Now, they have acclimated a bit. But before, the way I would be looked at would make me afraid.”Abdulrahman’s Wife
ii) According to an interview by Observer Research Foundation (Vohra, 2021), Tareq Alaows is a Syrian who studied law and international affairs in Damascus and ended up as a refugee in Germany. Alaows became a member of the Green Party in Germany and resolved to run as a candidate in the upcoming elections to represent a voice for their community – but nationwide threats have forced him to withdraw his candidacy. Refugees like Alaows were broadly discriminated against and seen simply as conservative Muslims and even extremists, rather than highly educated professionals with an abundance of knowledge. Alaows was forced to give up as a political candidate as far right-wing Germans claimed to feel ‘threatened’ by his presence in politics. Thus, the ‘Integration Project’ tried to integrate Alaows into German society and give him a voice to speak for his community. However, did the community as a whole try to accept him?
“The great public interest generated by my candidacy shows what we refugees can do. But unfortunately, our society lacks discrimination-free spaces in many areas of life. It’s up to all of us to actively deal with that in our surroundings and to change things.”Tareq Alaows
iii) Lastly, let us take a look at refugees from another country, coming from the same ‘Integration Project’ centers. A short documentary by The New York Times (2017) talked about a young man, Abode Targi, from Libya seeking asylum in Germany. A picture of him holding guns circulated the media, and he was accused of being a riot leader by German news outlets. The leader of the theatre circle he joined insists that he is unguilty and should be allowed into the Integration Project center. However, because he is an undocumented immigrant, he is forbidden to receive training or work in Germany. In Bautzen, there were violent clashes between Germans and immigrants, and Abode was seen during these riots (DW, 2016). The police have started two dozen investigations into Abode; none have led to charges while several have been dropped. Authorities called him a public safety risk, and he is now barred from entering Bautzen, where he is still waiting to be deported. The Integration Project is clearly unable to assist in this case as it does not deal with unauthorized immigrants. So, would they never see the light of social integration in the German society?
“[The Nazis] found a picture of me from 2012 with a gun. Then it spread on Facebook and YouTube… the photo is from my neighbor’s wedding. We went out to celebrate. Some of us fired guns, some of us had fireworks… nobody can help me. I’m a young man and I don’t know much about the world. I’m lost in it – lost.”Abode Targi
Which Factors Might be Hindering Social Integration in Germany?
The Integration Projects are handled and managed by the state, but it is up to the immigrants as well as the German society to help each other blend in for the real social integration. The projects carried out by the government are a systematic approach, and genuine integration into society will only happen when the people themselves can accept one another. As Abdulrahman mentioned in the first interview above, the receiving country should be able to differentiate between culture and religion. Another obstacle to social integration is the prevalent fear stimulated by politicians, the media, and some terrorist attacks, which sowed the seed of fear that there are extremists among the refugees plotting attacks on the Germans. This could help to promote the concept of ‘differential inclusion’ and keep immigrants marginalized in the society. Events of terrorism have definitely built up Islamophobia in the heart of German society; however, as the idiom goes, not all the fingers of your hand measure the same. As for Abode, it is clear that his life was made miserable through the misleading news broadcasted by the media. Hence, the media also plays a massive role in how immigrants are presented in the host country – it can either help social integration flourish or ruin lives as was in the case of Abode.
Tareq Assad, who was preparing to apply to the University of the Arts in Berlin, said that problems remain, and he still has a hard time making German friends, but he’s optimistic about the future of the Syrian community in Germany. He said to The Century Foundation (2018), “Germany presents for us a lot of opportunities in life. Of course it’s home for us. The place where you feel safe, and you eat. Arabs say when you eat with people for forty days, you become one of them.” One area of research cannot have only negative aspects; it must have a balance of pros and cons. Germany seems to be trapped in a liberal paradox, needing to maintain sufficient supplies of foreign labor (both skilled and unskilled) while struggling to maintain control of its borders, preserve the social contract, as well as protect the rights of immigrants. It has been just a few years since this experiment on the workforce and societal integration in Germany has come into effect, and it is still too early to draw conclusions from this project. However, one thing is clear – the state alone will not be able to successfully implement systematic projects if the society fails to accept one another. They must embrace each other’s culture while maintaining their own one.
I’d like to acknowledge the support I have received from my peers and I’m extremely grateful to all those who helped me by providing feedback on this work. I would like to thank my classmate, Darren Zheng for proofreading my paper and providing pointers for grammatical mistakes. Besides him, I extend my gratitude to my family friend, Ms. Ellen Van Kleef who provided me with some research papers to work on for improving my paper and offered many valuable insights. I’m immensely grateful for their support.
Bertelsmann Stiftung (2021, June, 15). The German population is becoming more tolerant of diversity, but polarization is increasing. Bertelsmann Stiftung. Retrieved from https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/our-projects/gesellschaftlicher-zusammenhalt/project-news/the-german-population-is-becoming-more-tolerant-of-diversity-but-polarization-is-increasing
D. Clark. (2021, June 29). Asylum grants in Europe 2020. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/293350/asylum-grants-in-europe/
D. W. (2016, September 16). More police deployed to Bautzen after riots: DW. D.W. Retrieved from https://www.dw.com/en/more-police-deployed-to-bautzen-after-riots/a-19556044
D. W. (2020, August 31). ‘We can do this!’ – Merkel’s famous words five years on after refugee influx to Germany. D. W. Retrieved from https://www.dw.com/en/merkel-germany-refugees/a-54769229
Espiritu, Yen Le. 2003. Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Countries. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hindy, L., et al. (2021, July 8). Germany’s Syrian Refugee Integration Experiment. The Century Foundation. Retrieved from https://tcf.org/content/report/germanys-syrian-refugee-integration-experiment/?agreed=1
Libretexts. (2020, December 16). 1.2G: Durkheim and Social Integration. Social Sci LibreTexts. Retrieved from https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Sociology/Introduction_to_Sociology/Book%3A_Sociology_(Boundless)/01%3A_Sociology/1.02%3A_The_History_of_Sociology/1.2G%3A_Durkheim_and_Social_Integration
Safdar, S., et al. (2021, October 1). Multidimensional individual difference acculturation (MIDA) model: Syrian refugees’ adaptation into Germany. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Retrieved November from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0147176721001498?casa_token=1vMnFXk_83wAAAAA%3AAgTBQJ6NJny-EDmFg-PrJ-nHcfJtUBUnzvn0TLPlCtrGFjZ2KGJhLRb2iJl0y2YJv46wwxWa
Tiefenthäler, A., O’neill, S., & Ellis, A. M. (2017, September 22). Seeking asylum in Germany, and finding hatred. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/europe/100000005090433/libyan-migrant-bautzen-germany.html
The Economist Newspaper. (2021). Parts of Germany are desperate for more people. The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/special-report/2021/09/20/parts-of-the-country-are-desperate-for-more-people
UN. (2016, June 20). One in every 113 people in world is displaced or a refugee. Euronews. Retrieved from https://www.euronews.com/2016/06/20/1-in-every-113-people-in-world-is-displaced-or-a-refugee-un
Vohra, A. (2021, April 19). An uphill battle: Syrian refugees in Germany want citizenship and political representation. Observer Research Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/uphill-battle-syrian-refugees-germany-want-citizenship-political-representation/
This paper is originally written as an assignment for the course Sociology of Migration I (2021), offered by Dr. Haruna Miyagawa