Portrait photo of Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung
Jan Voth

, Op-ed: Five steps to successful integration

The influx of refugees is an omnipresent topic in Germany. Each day brings new challenges – and new reactions. Creativity and expertise are needed if we are to respond effectively to both the large number of newcomers and society's needs in general. The Bertelsmann Stiftung is launching a series of projects and initiatives designed to achieve this goal. 

Some 60 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes. UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, has been publishing Global Trends, a report that documents the impact of violent conflict, displacement and persecution, since 1951. According to the report, 13.9 million individuals became refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2014 alone, four times as many as in 2010. Worldwide there were 19.5 million refugees, 38.2 million IDPs and 1.8 million asylum-seekers waiting to hear if their application for asylum had been approved. The upward trend began in 2011 with the outbreak of the war in Syria and, according to UNHCR, it intensified in subsequent years as other conflicts developed in Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Burundi), the Middle East (Iraq and Yemen), Europe (Ukraine) and Asia (Kyrgyzstan and some areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).        

Dangerous transit routes

The situation is difficult and seems insurmountable: crises and wars that never end, producing more refugees and displaced persons every day. In 2014, for example, only 126,800 refugees were able to return to their homes – the lowest number in 31 years. Approximately half of all refugees are children and more than half come from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The routes they must travel to escape are long and are becoming fewer and more dangerous. In 2014 alone, 218,000 people from Africa or Asia crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,500 perished at sea. People on their way to the EU – what critics often call "Fortress Europe" – are drowning, dying of hypothermia or starving to death. Many refugees follow the Central Mediterranean route, which takes them from the city of Agadez in Niger to Libya and from there by boat to the Italian islands of Lampedusa or Sicily, or to Malta. Over the past 10 years more than 10,000 people either died or disappeared while in transit on this route.

Other paths to Europe include the Eastern Borders route, which runs from Ukraine to Poland and Slovakia; the Western Balkan route, which runs from Turkey and Greece to Hungary or Romania; and the heavily frequented Eastern Mediterranean route, which begins in various countries in East Africa and winds through Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to Turkey, and then continues by boat to one of the Greek islands or across the mainland. Other possibilities include the Western African route through Morocco to the Western Sahara or to Mauretania and the Canary Islands; the Western Mediterranean route through Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, to Spain; and the route through Apulia and Calabria. Refugees ply these routes full of hope, only to end up bitterly disappointed – since their expectations of what they will find in Europe are high. Smugglers often make patently unrealistic promises to convince them to begin their journey. In addition, refugees often underestimate the bureaucracy and the cultural differences that await them. In the EU, most applications for asylum are submitted in Germany and Sweden. By the end of 2014, there were some 6.7 million displaced persons in Europe; one-quarter were Syrian refugees in Turkey. In 2013, the figure was only 4.4 million.

"The expectations of the refugees coming to Europe are enormous."
Aart De Geus

An enormous challenge

The situation in Germany is changing daily. On the one hand, people have demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to help; on the other, there have been numerous instances of xenophobia, including attacks on buildings housing refugees. Many cities and towns are struggling to cope, and the mood has sometimes changed for the worse. At the same time, there have been many success stories, too. The refugee crisis has been affecting life in Germany for months and still no one can say how it will be resolved. Neither is it possible to foretell the long-term effect the world's conflicts will have on the country. And yet Germany has proven more than once that it knows how to respond to a crisis. Even though people in Germany might not realize it, social integration has become part of their everyday lives. According to the Federal Foreign Office, almost three million people of Turkish ancestry are living in Germany, and more than half have a German passport. In total, there are more than eight million non-Germans living in Germany. And if one looks a little further back in the country’s past, an estimated 20 million Germans are descendants of people who were forced to flee from former German territories in the east.       

Yet, this wave of new challenges, new crises and recurring criticism is putting pressure on the country to implement short-term solutions. Given the demographic changes making themselves felt in Germany – its population is both shrinking and growing older, for example – the arrival of so many newcomers is a valuable opportunity. We in Germany must learn what it means to be one of the world’s most appealing destination countries for migrants. Nevertheless, that also means we must set clear goals and develop solutions capable of responding to this turn of events. In particular, it means managing the inflows and shaping communal life as the country grows ever more diverse.

Proposing solutions for Germany

Initially, the main question was how to assist the people arriving in Germany. In recent months the challenge has increasingly become how to accommodate such a large inflow of refugees in such a short amount of time. The policy makers, public institutions and social organizations in Germany's communities were at first unprepared for such a development. In their efforts to respond to the new situation, everyone has been trying since then to do whatever is needed in humanitarian terms, while also acknowledging that resources and capabilities are limited. In view of that, a multifaceted approach is needed. First and foremost, procedures must be put in place that ensure communities can welcome and integrate refugees successfully and smoothly. Second, measures must be implemented to reduce the number of people who are forced to flee from their native countries. And third, a more equitable system must be found for distributing refugees throughout Europe.   

"We want to help to objectivy the discourse about refugees, which is often marked by insecurity, to find practical solutions and to develop enduring approaches."
Aart De Geus

In view of the above, the Bertelsmann Stiftung wants to help make the public debate – which is often influenced by the considerable uncertainty many people feel – more objective. It also wants to contribute practical solutions and help develop long-term strategic responses.

In real terms, this means contributing ideas, designing projects, sharing knowledge and developing scalable solutions. The basis for these activities must be a clear differentiation between refugees and migrants and a detailed assessment of existing problems and the measures that have already been initiated in response. Displacement and migration require action at all levels of government. That is why we address all relevant actors – from Germany's communities, states and federal institutions to the EU and the countries whose populations are emigrating or being displaced. In light of the foreseeable developments, we have defined five focus areas that reflect the challenges faced by refugees, migrants and German society, as well as their histories and experiences:

No question about it, the challenges are huge. Yet as Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier put it while speaking at the Bertelsmann Forum in February 2016:

"We cannot fail, which means we cannot fail to do everything in our power to solve this problem."
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Foreign Minister of Germany

I agree.

Please find more information about the Bertelsmann Stiftung's activities to the refugee situation here:

Please find further texts about integration in our change 1/2016 (only in German)

Fluechtlinge_Idomeni.jpg(© Natalia Tsoukala/Caritas International / Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

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Analysis: Civil war in Syria: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

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Survey: Majority of the EU citizens wants a fair distribution of refugees