Integration Urge

Don't Repeat the Past!

VW gastarbeiter from Italy in 1970, imago
Italian migrant workers at Volkswagen on their way for Christmas vacation in Italy, 1970.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany has been struggling to come to terms with its new role as an immigration country.

  • Facts


    • In the 1960s, many Italian so called “migrant workers” came to Germany in the hopes of profiting from the economic upswing in the country.
    • Just like with the wave of Turkish workers in the 1980s, most of them initially had plans to go back, but a large number stayed on, eventually settling in Germany.
    • After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, many ethnic Germans migrated to Germany as so-called “repatriates.”
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No one questions humanitarian aid and a fundamental right to asylum. Humanity mandates those principles. If people flee persecution, war and torture, we have to make sure they can count on Europe.

Regardless of the number of refugees that will arrive here in the future, we mustn’t repeat the mistakes that were made when trying to integrate the so called “migrant workers” [people who came to Germany looking for work, usually with the intention to go back after making some money, but ended up staying on; particularly Italians in the 1960s and Turkish in the 1980s, Eds.] and ethnic German repatriates from the Communist East.

The way Germany is dealing with the current wave of refugees will soon be clear. The next few weeks and months will show whether we make the best of the immigration by welcoming it as the answer to the problems of an aging society – or whether the year 2015 will one day mark the start of a failed refugee policy that later led to social problems in the year 2035.

The current refugee crisis cannot turn into an immigration crisis. The German government needs to act more resolutely than it has been doing recently to ensure that doesn’t happen.  

Whether or not we turn this migration into an opportunity and make good use of it won’t be determined a couple of years in the future – it is being determined right now.

We need an immediate action plan for integration. 

Firstly, the integration of refugees shouldn’t just begin when they reach their final destination within Germany. Immediately after arriving here, the first accommodation centers should provide integration courses that convey the values of our liberal constitution. After all, the values embedded in our Basic Law [the German constitution, Eds.] are the basis of our coexistence. It’s not just Germany that will change, many refugees will have to too.

We should stop pushing asylum seekers into artificial dependence on the state. The best driver of integration is the labor market. The ban on employment for refugees should be lifted. Asylum seekers who are able to earn their own living should be allowed to do so – particularly qualified refugees who are likely to stay on here can enter the labor market as active fellow citizens. Standardized qualification tests in the accommodation centers where refugees first arrive can help identify their capabilities early on.

Young refugees need the chance to take charge of their own lives. Hurdles in the form of outdated laws that make it harder for refugees to get education and training in Germany should be scrapped. That’s in our own best interest: Today’s trainees are tomorrow’s skilled workers.
Getting acknowledgement for professional degrees has to become easier.

The support of Germany’s business community is essential. The government should initiate a new “alliance for labor” and bring together the leaders of Germany’s business community. We know that not all refugees can start working as skilled workers immediately, and that companies will have to invest effort and time in them. That makes it even more pressing to support the business community’s offers to quickly hire refugees.

Integration is only possible if the refugees learn our language. A nationwide program of language courses should be set up immediately. These courses have to be free, but also mandatory for asylum seekers. Children in particular need assistance – they should be supported in learning our language as soon as they arrive.

Whether or not we turn this migration into an opportunity and make good use of it won’t be determined a couple of years in the future – it is being determined right now. It’s an enormous task and requires a lot of attention.


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