Andreas Wüst — a fellow at the Ministry for Integration of the Government of Baden-Württemberg, Germany — discussed how the refugee crisis continues to shape Germany’s immigration and integration policies in a lecture Monday.
Approaching the topic as a social scientist rather than a politician or civil servant, Wüst called the year 2015 “the Year of Refugees” in Germany due to its influx of approximately one million refugees.
Wüst outlined the pressure put on Spain, Italy, Greece and other Southern and Southeastern members of the European Union to accept refugees. He also detailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s motivation for accepting refugees in August 2015.
“It could … be that [Merkel’s] own experience in East Germany played a role, because the idea of building up fences and of not letting people in is certainly a very critical issue for all the people that have ever been locked up in the Eastern Bloc,” Wüst said.
Wüst addressed Merkel’s Christian values, her strategic motivation to drive other European countries to take refugees and the limited policy options.
“Germany and its chancellor became a symbol of freedom and solidarity in the Western world,” Wüst said.
Wüst discussed many problems experienced in Germany and other countries as a result of the refugee crisis, including the backlog of asylum applications, unemployment, resentment and bigotry experienced by refugees.
“We have a high proportion of Muslim refugees, which can be a challenge for integration,” he said. “Over half of the German population thinks that Islam does not belong [in] Germany.”
More language courses for refugees and a systematic assessment of refugees’ qualifications to allow them to participate in the workforce and vocational training may be useful in assisting with integration, according to Wüst.
“Integration is probably not a one-way street, so we also have to [get] the native population on board,” he said. “And integration at first should not only be on the immigrants but also on the population that is already living in Germany.”
Wüst pointed out that interpersonal interactions between native Germans and refugees would bring the issues of suffering and hardship to the forefront of the dialogue and personalize these issues.
He added that he is optimistic the German labor market will benefit from the influx of people.
“We should intensify dialogue,” Wüst said. “We should … confront the public and the citizens [with the fact] that there are people suffering and there’s an opportunity for us to help. I’m quite optimistic that … looking at the age composition, we will be able to gain in the medium and in the long run from the refugees that have arrived.”
The lecture was co-sponsored by the Cornell Institute for European Studies and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, which has been bringing foreign policy speakers to Cornell for 10 years.
The series aims to enable distinguished scholars and policymakers to impart wisdom and knowledge of current issues onto the Cornell community, according to Hirokazu Miyazaki, director of the Einaudi Center and John S. Knight Professor of International Studies.