In recent months it has become fashionable to bash refugees or migrants. They have become the scapegoats of the ills of modern society. They are blamed for crime, changing values, salary dumping, stealing precious jobs, perpetuating human trafficking, burdening local services, and exploiting social welfare. In effect, they are blamed for not assimilating. They are tolerated but never really appreciated.
I fostered my son from Bosnia 17 years ago. He was taught to learn German, work hard, have a clean record, contribute to society and most of all play by the rules. While many people from the Balkans have immigrated illegally and live somewhat successfully in the shadows of our society, he immigrated according to the laws of German society.
The results have been frustrating and painfully slow. It has taken a physical and emotional toll on his wife and 5-year-old son. Recently we received another major setback. It seems his wife and child will not be joining him legally anytime soon because while he earns enough to immigrate, he does not earn enough to support them. It is true that he is not entirely independent; but then again, he has us, and we are supporting him, as all parents help their children. However, the 17 years of fostering him and supporting him do not count. The fact that his wife would have a job as soon as she arrives and together they would be able, like most families today, to pay their own way also does not count.
His experience has been one of bureaucratic obstacles, poor communication, complicated procedures, and a lack of transparency. My own efforts to help him based on the information provided on government websites led to rejection. It is neither written for laypersons or readily available. It was only after we hired a lawyer to maneuver the process that we got our first breakthrough. Yet how many refugees or migrants can afford legal advice? Not many.
Civil servants and political leaders will tell you a different story. They argue that the rules are in place to make sure that migrants do not exploit the system and that those who come will be integrated successfully. They will tell you woeful stories of being burden by the disproportionate number of refugees arriving at the borders, and about their need to ensure “secure, safe and managed migration”. They will play the anti-terrorism card or point to crime statistics blaming foreigners for gender-based violence. But these are only half-truths that play to populist sentiment.
The other side of the story is that politicians spend little time discussing the increased violence against foreigners, or the discrimination against people with migration background. If you are a foreigner in Germany, you think twice before visiting Eastern Germany for fear of being attacked; and unfortunately, in many small towns local police and policitians are not in a position to ensure your safety. Instead conservative politicians deflect criticism of their failed immigration policies by spending their days lamenting the demise of German culture.
The reality is that social services in Germany were poor before refugees arrived due to years of mismanagement, crime was up due to lack of investment in human security, and there are enough statistics to prove that gender-based violence in Germany has been a problem long ignored which has more to do with Germany’s unwillingness to recognized that statistics show that a majority of women experience some form of sexual violence by their 16th birthday.
Immigrants are an added value for a society. For example, Germany is wealthy, and at the center of the global economy. The demand outstrips the supply of labor. Every year low paying jobs go unfilled because of the workforce gap. A majority of immigrations are integrated and work hard to make a living. If German politicians are unhappy with the integration process, they should spend some time with immigrants understanding the problems they face. Structural discrimination and social exclusion are the norm for many who arrive here. It needs legal, transparent and sustainable immigration.
Over the years, there is a lot of talk about creating a “welcoming culture”, but we are far from such goal. Creating a “welcoming” culture of immigration is more than letting people immigrate and asking them to assimilate by learning the language. The failure of German integration policies has more to do with with the way Germany approaches the topic and less to do with immigrations lack of motivation.
In the 20 years I have been here, the approach as been a technocratic and legalistic reluctant acceptance. We spent years debating whether or not Germany is a Zuwanderungsland (land of immigration) ,and the rest of the time arguing over whether immigrants are a burden or an added value. A welcoming culture means facilitating integration through migrant-friendly policies, such as ensuring:
- each immigrant has a caseworker to ensure a smooth visa process
- caseworkers have names and faces and accompany arrival and integration
- civil servants are legally obliged to give timely feedback during the visa process
- appointments for visa related issues are given within a reasonable timeframe
- working in partnership with companies needing workers and government officials to smooth visa processes
- applicants are interviewed in person to ensure that the full picture is understood before approving or rejecting their application
- gender-based discrimination is filtered out of the system
- civil servants are required to take diversity, communication, and service training
My son’s family is stuck between two worlds one of privilege and one of poverty. They cannot move forward, and they cannot go back. If the government is committed to its Art. 1 and Art.6 of the German constitution concerning the importance of inviolability of “the dignity” of the individual and the protection of the family, it has a constitutional responsibility to ensure family reunification in a humane and dignified manner.
Recent efforts to form a government in Germany collapsed because of immigration policy and the family reunification issue. In my view, none of the parties have ideas that will ensure safe, legal and humane migration. The German immigration system needs a major legal and procedural overhaul, financial investment, and intercultural competence training for civil service. Successful migration policies are the bedrock of creating solidarity in society, ensuring secure borders, and supporting innovating economic development. It’s good for migrants and it’s good for Germany.