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Migration to Germany: Current Challenges and Future Developments | Germany |

Germany Historical and Current Development of Migration to and from Germany Germany's Migration Policies Integration and Integration Policies in Germany Refuge and Asylum in Germany Current Challenges and Future Developments

Migration to Germany: Current Challenges and Future Developments

Vera Hanewinkel Jochen Oltmer

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Germany has undergone extensive immigration and emigration flows throughout its history. Today, more than 22 percent of the population have a migration background. The prevalent maxim that Germany is not an immigration country blocked migration and integration policy reforms until the new millennium. The large influx of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 triggered an emotionally charged debate and now confronts political and social institutions with challenges that must be solved.

The choir "Gesang der Kulturen" is singing at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). The participants are people from the Asylum center "Seefichten" and residents from German-Polish border towns Frankfurt (Oder) and Slubice. (© picture alliance / ZB)

The year 2015 entered the collective memory of Germany's population as the year of the "refugee crisis". Never before in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany were the numbers of incoming asylum seekers higher. The reactions among the population oscillated between euphoric readiness to take in refugees and violent rejection of those seeking protection, between a "welcome culture" and the demand for isolation, between cosmopolitanism and nationalism. There was unparalleled civic support for refugees which often enabled housing and supplies for the refugees since the public structures seemed to have been temporarily overstrained, considering the sheer number of asylum seekers. At the same time, violent acts against refugees and their accommodation facilities also increased significantly. According to analyses by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation and refugee aid organization Pro Asyl, an arson attack against a refugee accommodation was carried out once every three days. The populist right-wing party "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) managed to enter several state parliaments, sometimes even with double-digit voting results, by instrumentalizing the topic of migration. Since the elections on 24 September 2017 the AfD is also represented in the German Bundestag.

In light of social polarization, questions regarding social integration are experiencing increased significance: How can we and how do we want to live together in this country in the future? Politics and civil society will have to find an answer to that question. A representative survey among the population which is eligible to vote in January 2017 indicates similar trends: Those polled considered the topic of migration and integration as the most important element to be tackled by the federal government in 2017, followed by the aspect of domestic security, which has not only gained significance due to Islamic terror attacks in Germany and other EU states but is also being increasingly linked to the discourse about (asylum) migration. For example, the terror attack at the Berlin Christmas Market, which killed 12 and seriously injured 48 people in December of 2016, was carried out by a Tunisian man who had entered the Federal Republic of Germany as an asylum seeker. The fact that he was living in Germany with exceptional leave to remain since he could not be deported due to a lack of documentation, fueled the debate about stricter expulsion laws and more efficient deportation practices. In July of 2017, stricter regulations for those with exceptional leave to remain and for people classified as "potential dangers" were implemented through the ‘Law for Better Implementation of the Obligation to Leave the Country’. It stipulates that people who pose a "danger for life and limb of third parties" can be more easily detained prior to deportation and be monitored through an electronic ankle bracelet. In the future, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugee may also export data from laptops and mobile phones to determine the identity and origin of an asylum applicant. As with other tightening measures of asylum laws between 2014 and 2016, this law was also heavily criticized by welfare and refugee aid organizations. They claimed that all refugees coming to Germany were being treated like potential criminals and subjected to increasing disenfranchisement.

If refugee migration is taken to be a security risk, the logical consequence is to expand isolation inducing measures. Within the EU, Germany is advocating a stronger integration of states surrounding the EU into the European border regime to reestablish the system of "preemptive security" which collapsed during the "Arab Spring" and the corresponding destabilization of various EU neighbor states. In addition to the refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey, efforts are underway to cooperate more strongly with Libya, which is probably the most important transit country for refugees and migrants from Africa who are looking to enter the EU via the Mediterranean Sea. Agreements were also made with other African states. In connection with "migration partnerships", African states are obligated to contain migration in the direction of Europe and to accept rejected asylum seekers. In return, the EU will increase the foreign aid for those countries to combat the causes of migration. People are to be kept from making their way to Europe. In Europe itself, many states have protected their borders against refugees through the use of fences. The European border protection agency Frontex has expanded into a European Border and Coast Guard and has been granted significantly more authority. For example, it is supposed to support the EU member states' efforts to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin. The measures are effective: The number of newly arrived refugees in Germany and the EU has significantly decreased since 2015. Over the first seven months of 2017, 117,000 (refugee) migrants have come to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). During the same period, 106,604 asylum seekers were registered in Germany.

The decreasing numbers of asylum seekers are being declared a success by political parties but are being viewed with concern by human rights organizations. They point out that measures to close borders result in many people searching for protection not being granted the opportunity to apply for asylum – a right to which they are entitled according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More than 65 million people are currently seeking protection. And this number is rising. The decreasing numbers of asylum seekers in Germany may cover up the fact that there continues to be a global refugee crisis. The question of Germany's humanitarian responsibility remains.

Shaping a Society Characterized by Migration

The fact that the aspect of asylum is dominating political debates and the calls for limiting refugee migration are growing obscures the fact that Germany will have to continue to rely on immigration from abroad due its demographic development. In Germany, the number of deaths has been larger than the number of births since the 1970s. Without the influx of migrants from abroad, the population would shrink. The high degree of immigration over past years has contributed to a growing population. But the Federal Statistics Office is estimating this to only represent a temporary trend. Moreover, a high number of incoming young people from abroad may slow down the ageing process of Germany's population but will not be able to stop it. There will be a growing number of older people, while the number of young people is shrinking. This phenomenon will also result in a shrinking labor force. In some industries and regions throughout Germany, many companies are already complaining about not being able to find suitable employees. Shortages of specialists are especially prevalent in engineering and medical professions as well as in the care sector. The gradual opening of Germany for (qualified) labor migration from abroad is also impacted by this situation. Lobbying efforts for more liberal immigration laws by the German industry have led to a reduction of migration barriers and a paradigm shift in migration policies. Migration is not rejected as vehemently and is no longer seen only as a strain (on the social system) but instead also viewed as a potential for economic and social improvement.

To counter the demographic shift and shortage of specialists, high immigration numbers will not suffice. The immigrants must also opt for a long-term stay in Germany. For some years now, representatives from politics and business have been discussing the development of a "welcome and recognition culture" in order to positively influence this decision. What is intended, is to increase Germany's attractiveness for potential (qualified) immigrants. The objective is to support a development of the state into a true "home" for migrants and their descendants. Initially, the term referred primarily to the influx of specialists but has been increasingly connected to the refugee issue since 2015. The images of Germans welcoming refugees at train stations with applause and signs stating "Refugees Welcome" went around the world. But the initial euphoria during the ‘long summer of migration’ subsequently cooled down considerably. Doubts began to arise as to whether Germany would actually be able to integrate so many people. Studies conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation about the welcoming culture in Germany confirm this trend. For example, a central result of the study "Stress test of the welcoming culture" published in 2017 showed that Germany may have presented itself as an "open and mature society shaped by immigration" (loose translation) in 2015 and 2016, but that skepticism towards immigrants has also grown. People asked in the framework of the 2017 survey found that immigration produces less positive effects than respondents in previous studies undertaken from 2012 to 2015. However, the study also shows that a society shaped by immigration is largely being viewed as normal by the younger generation.

The future assessment of immigration will also depend on the successful integration refugees into society. A report by the Institute for Employment Research shows with the example of labor market integration that this goal will not be achieved overnight. Experiences with refugee migration in the past have shown that approximately 50 percent of the refugees become employed within five years of arriving in Germany. After 15 years, the employment rate grew to 70 percent and corresponded to that of other immigrant groups.

But the progress of integration does not only depend on the integration efforts by the immigrants but also on the participation opportunities offered to them by the new society. What kind of society do we want to be? What kind of (immigration) country should Germany be? Those are the questions which will be negotiated in the future.

This text is part of the Interner Link: Migration Profile of Germany.

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is Research Assistant at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) of the University of Osnabrück.
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Dr. phil. habil., born in 1965, is Associate Professor of Modern History and Member of the Board of the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) of the University of Osnabrück.
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