German Reinvention: Do a Million Syrian Refugees Bring Down the Curtain on WWII Legacy?

A refugee at Munich train station holding a photo of Angela Merkel, photographed by DW News.
The devastating combination of the Syrian war, the failure of the Arab Spring, and the worsening state of refugee camps in the Middle East culminated in an influx of migrants across Europe. Between 2015-2016, two million migrants fled Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Eritrea to European countries. This mass migration produced a crisis across the continent, as several countries refused to undertake the moral and economic responsibilities of housing and feeding newcomers. According to the Pew Research Center, 45% of refugees came to Germany, among whom over 1.2 million were Syrians.
Since 2015, Germany has adopted Willkommenskultur — “welcome culture” — into their approach towards refugees. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept migrants “seemed to encourage a vision of a new, inclusive Germany and a burgeoning moral superpower,” wrote Thomas Rogers in the New York Review of Books. However, the country risks repeating the mistakes of other countries whose large populations of migrants “lack clear legal status” and “are being segued into second-class nonresidency,” in the words of Victoria Rietig, head of the migration program at the German Council on Foreign Relations. She continues, “This raises some difficult moral questions, because we are saying you are not allowed to be here, but are we really willing to kick people out by force? The issue is especially thorny because of our history of deportations under the Third Reich. The question is difficult for any country, but it’s especially difficult for Germany.”
Germany appears determined not to repeat its own and others’ misguided or inhumane approaches to immigration. The current debate on immigration plays on the backdrop of the post-WWII reconstruction of Germany, especially between 1955-1973, when the country received 14 million guest workers from Southern Europe and Turkey. Yet without the resources to help them fit in, especially the three million workers who remained, they were slow to integrate into German society. Today, concerted efforts to help migrants integrate have seen promising results. Half of those who entered the country during 2015-2016 have jobs, with 50,000 taking part in apprenticeship programs, 10,000 enrolled in universities, and 75% of these migrants live in their own apartments. “The financial cost to the German government of taking in the migrants — including housing, food, and education — is likely to be recovered, in taxes, earlier than many had predicted,” according to Rogers.
Indeed, integration appears to be successful with hopeful prospects for the refugees, and even for the German economy which “relies on immigrants to maintain its tax base and social safety net.” By 2015, one in five Germans was an immigrant or had an immigrant parent, and today, this number has risen to one in four. In many German schoolyards, young people speak a blend of German and Turkish or Arabic. Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, the scientists who led the development of the first vaccine against COVID-19, are both children of Turkish immigrants. The influx of migrants has seen the opening of Berlin’s first Arabic library, Syrian restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores, among others, with Syrians making up the second largest population in the Muslim community after Turks. “The Syrians’ arrival has thus broken up what one Islamic scholar has described as Germany’s “Islamic monoculture,”’ Rogers writes.
Tareq Alaows, a 31-year-old Syrian lawyer who arrived in 2015 and recently ran for candidacy in the Bundestag as a member of the Green Party (he has since withdrawn), emphasizes, “Germany is an immigration society, a post-migration society, and that also means that we should not be about one-sided integration but about two-sided integration. This requires inclusion and cohabitation and participation. You can’t just copy and paste people into a society.”
To read the full article by Thomas Rogers, click on the link below:
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