Has Germany ‘managed it?’ – POLITICO


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BERLIN — At the height of the refugee crisis in the summer of 2015, Angela Merkel uttered what would become the most memorable three words of her 16-year chancellorship: Wir schaffen das — we can manage it.

As Merkel packs up her office and heads off to new pastures this week, the question of how well Germany has actually managed the greatest challenge of her tenure continues to linger. 

Asked recently in one of the few interviews she gave before leaving office whether Germany had managed the refugee challenge, Merkel told Deutsche Welle, the state-funded German broadcaster, that she believed her prediction had been accurate. 

“Yes, we managed it,” Merkel said, while noting there had been many challenges along the way. “Overall, we’ve seen wonderful examples of human success stories.”  

Of the more than 5 million people who sought asylum in the EU from 2015 to 2020, nearly 40 percent did so in Germany, making the country by far the largest European destination for refugees.  

Numbers aside, measuring success on the refugee front is a fraught exercise. Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) collects a wide range of data, such as how many asylum seekers have found work and how many are in training programs. The statistics on those fronts are encouraging, with more than half of the refugees in fixed employment after five years, for example. 

What drives Germany’s political debate on refugees, however, is a vaguer test — “integration.” 

Defining how well integrated a refugee is can be next to impossible because the criteria for what constitutes success are highly subjective.  

That’s why instead of asking Germans if they felt they had met Merkel’s challenge and “managed it,” POLITICO decided to ask refugees themselves.

What follows are excerpts of interviews conducted with refugees in Berlin in recent weeks. 

Yerusalem G., 31

Yerusalem arrived in Germany in 2015 from Eritrea. 

A mother of two sons, Yerusalem says she was forced to leave behind her children, aged 11 and 9. They later traveled to Ethiopia once their mother had received asylum in Germany and applied for family reunification, because Ethiopia has a German embassy, unlike Eritrea. The children now await word in Addis Ababa on whether they can be united with their mother — a process that can take years because of the massive case backlog in Germany. 

Her children sit in a rental apartment with a nanny who takes care of them, while Yerusalem works in Germany to pay those bills. She’s worried about her children’s safety in Ethiopia, especially amid the ongoing bloody civil war.

Yerusalem currently works in a restaurant and in an Amazon packaging center. She’s also in training to become a receptionist. 

“I work the entire time in order to become independent of the state so that I can care for my children. Even though I’ve been recognized as a refugee and have a legal right to bring my family, it hasn’t happened yet,” she said.

“Life is very tough and sometimes meaningless because I can’t live my life how I envisioned it. I thought I could come here and start anew with my children and take full control of my life.” 

Yerusalem added: “I’ve been unable to enjoy my children’s childhood because I had to leave them behind. When I see other mothers with their children, it makes me very sad. I still haven’t fully settled in here, but hopefully, I will when my children come.”

Amane S., 38

Amane arrived alone in Germany in 2016 from Iran.

After spending two and a half years in a refugee shelter for women, Amane moved to an apartment in West Berlin. She is training to work in an office. 

“To live in Germany is really quite difficult. Anyone who has a good life in their own country should stay there. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone flee,” she said.

“It’s still hard for me but not as hard as it was at the beginning. It’s particularly hard to be a woman in a country you don’t know. You have the feeling you can’t trust anyone.

“The biggest challenges are the language and finding an apartment — but also depression, loneliness and homesickness.

“At the moment, I have contact with Germans three times a week in connection with my training. That’s nice because they are very friendly, but unfortunately, most others are not.

“I’ve tried for five years to settle in Germany and every day it gets a little better but I have to keep trying.” 

Mehdi Hosseini, 29 

An Afghan native, Hosseini grew up in Iran, where he studied political science. He arrived in Germany in 2015, followed by his three sisters, brother and mother two years later.

A warehouse worker, Hosseini — who lives in Berlin’s outskirts — rises at 3 a.m. for the early shift and then attends German class in the afternoon. In 2017, he converted to Christianity. Like many refugees, he says he’s had difficulty meeting Germans. 

“I’ve been here for almost seven years, but it’s just for the past two years that I’ve started to feel like I’ve really arrived,” he said.

“In 2015-2016, the situation for refugees in Germany was better and people were more open. It’s become worse. People say that refugees are lazy, that they don’t work.

“My hope is to live a quiet life, to have a job, an apartment and time to spend with friends.”

Matthew Karnitschnig contributed reporting.

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Source link : https://www.politico.eu/article/angela-merkel-refugee-pledge-we-can-manage-it/

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Publish date : 2021-12-07 20:52:34

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