The many refugees pressing to enter Europe present the continent with a great challenge. We must fulfill our humanitarian duty in accordance with international law and offer them humane protection — first in refugee camps of immediately affected countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
At the same time, we must facilitate orderly access to Europe. This means humane accommodation, registration and asylum processing along our external borders, which must be effectively monitored. Only in this way can we preserve generosity in Europe.
This is our joint task as Europeans. We can’t leave it to overwhelmed countries on the edges of Europe — we must accept refugees into our country.
We have long been a country of immigration. But shouldn’t we finally recognize and regulate this? Only then will leaders be free to identify the risks of immigration, and also for seeing and shaping the opportunities.
Now that we Germans are doing so much — taking in more than 1 million migrants in 2015 — we should not at first be overly disappointed by the lack of solidarity shown by other members of the European Union. When first Italy, then Greece called for help, because they were unable to cope with the problem on their own, we didn’t respond either. Only since so many refugees arrived in our own country are we recalling the values of European solidarity.
In Germany we need to clarify a few fundamental issues. First of all: Germany is colorful; we have long been a country of immigration. But shouldn’t we finally recognize and regulate this? Only then will leaders be free to identify the risks of immigration, and also to see and shape the opportunities. After all, if it is not boosted by an influx from abroad, Germany’s aging population will shrink.
When we consider the possibilities offered by immigration, we must not succumb to short-term, expensive initiatives, but instead pursue sustainable concepts that move our country forward and help to solve the problems we face. And under no circumstances should refugees be played off against people who already live here and who have long had problems themselves. That would only promote xenophobia and right-wing extremism.
Take the example of providing housing. Densely populated areas lack of hundreds of thousands of affordable apartments for low-income tenants. To build now is the correct response, but that takes time.
Simply sloshing money around only pushes up building costs, because the construction industry can’t increase its capacities so quickly. And to throw up cheap, flimsy buildings only would require demolition or renovation programs in the future. In any case, a big building program would come too late for the refugees.
But there are 1.7 million empty apartments in Germany, according to the Berlin research institute Empirica. Villages in eastern and northern Germany are becoming more and more empty, and as are some in Bavaria and the Southwest.
An intelligent development policy for Germany, with the goal of stopping and possibly reversing this trend, would make use of immigration. In practical terms, this means making these apartments available to refugees.
A first step should be made in smaller cities located around larger ones. Necessary technical repairs would first be made. Then new residents could receive materials and fix up their apartments themselves. The federal and state governments could set up a fund that allows municipalities to purchase houses, for example for the value of their property. Without these renovations, the buildings would simply deteriorate and their owners receive nothing.
It could also help kindergartens, schools and stores in these areas. Jobs for qualified persons would be preserved or created, and the transportation structure maintained. It would provide advantages to both local residents and arriving refugees. Why not reward communities that make this offer with development funds? Programs already exist.
The objection to such a plan might be that many refugees want to live in large metropolitan areas. That may be so, but we don’t know exactly. Refugees don’t know what conditions are really like there. We could inform and advertise, and also offer incentives. But we must also control the development, if necessary by passing laws.
Take the example of education: More than 1.3 million people in Germany between the ages of 20 and 29 have not completed professional training programs. Each year, that figure rises by tens of thousands, almost all among children from poorer backgrounds, as well as many children of immigrants.
There are many enthusiastic initiatives from chambers of commerce and individual companies that don’t accept the prejudiced preconception that these young persons can’t be educated. The opposite is being proven. And now there are also many young refugees, some well-educated but many with severe educational deficits. If we want to seize the opportunity offered to them, and to us by their arrival, we should require industry to conduct training programs in a dual education system.
The state cannot turn away a single young person. In a dual system, industry should not be allowed to either.
Chambers of commerce could be tasked with guaranteeing training positions. What the affiliated companies do not accomplish would be taken over by the chambers.
It would be necessary to offer these young people intensive support, but older persons with professional experience could certainly be found to take on this challenge. The involvement of volunteers in Germany is one of the bright lights on our horizon.
But do the necessary apprenticeships and related jobs even exist in structurally weak regions outside densely populated areas?
Yes, especially in places where many young people already have left and there are many unfilled positions, as well as in booming southern Germany.
Young refugees also must obviously fulfill their obligations — they must be ready to learn and work, dependable and punctual.
Such an initiative would require a great and rewarding effort from everyone. In the end, it would be an investment in young people and an investment in the future of our country.
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