Germany and the Refugee Story
The influx of millions of refugees to Europe in the past two years has sparked an international debate on migration and integration policy as well as security issues. Germany has played a central role in the so-called refugee crisis, as its government has made many significant decisions in this area.
What was the impact of Angela Merkel’s decision to open the borders to thousands of refugees in the summer of 2015? How do decision-makers in Germany and around the world see the current political situation? And what are the biggest challenges of integrating the newly arrived migrants into the labor market and society?
Join our international experts for a Virtual Tour of Germany
In September 2016, the Robert Bosch Academy invited 24 international decision-makers and opinion leaders from different fields of expertise to participate in a study tour on “Germany and the Refugee Story.” The experts comprise past, current and future Richard von Weizsäcker Fellows of the Academy.
During the Academy on Tour, the Fellows spoke with politicians, such as the Head of the Federal Chancellery and Federal Minister for Special Tasks Peter Altmaier and the Prime Minister of Saxony Stanislaw Tillich, as well as representatives from public administration and civil society institutions, lawyers, and volunteers.
Berlin In the Berlin Representative Office of the Robert Bosch Stiftung the Fellows discussed with leading German experts challenges and chances of the current situation.
“There was a misunderstanding between the government and the companies. The German business world always wanted controlled labor immigration. After a year, we have a more realistic picture: We didn’t receive many well-educated people. Also, language is a big problem.”
Holger Lösch, Member of the Executive Board of the Federation of German Industries (BDI)
“I don’t like the discussion about whether the refugees are needed in the labor market – they came because of wars. Most of them want to go back once it is possible.”
Christian Reuter, Secretary General of German Red Cross e.V.
“The widespread fears have not come to fruition: there is no crime problem, no terrorism. But the situation has changed. There are new fields of activity for the police, such as de-escalation work in the refugee camps when conflicts arise among refugees.”
Klaus Kandt, Chief of the Berlin Police Department
“The problem is that we lack the capacity to prevent conflicts – not only in the police force but also in schools and daycares.”
Rainer Wendt, Federal Chairman of the German Police Union
“The main problem is the potential for violence at the heart of our society – it’s not about the refugee crisis.”
Thomas Fischer, Presiding Judge at the Federal Court of Justice of Germany
The Fellows at the German Bundestag
The discussion with parliamentarians of the German Bundestag fostered exchange between German politicians and international experts. Speaking with key decision-makers was an illuminating experience.
The Fellows expressed their approval and respect for the role that Germany has taken on in recent years, and discussed the controversies regarding Germany’s treatment of European countries taking a different path. Part of the debate touched upon was Germany’s current foreign policy strategy, in particular the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal, which was explored further in a talk delivered by Fellow Soli Özel.
Mohammad Darawshe on how the mayor impressed him with his leadership
After productive discussions in the German capital, the Fellows travelled to Bautzen where they met the city’s mayor Alexander Ahrens. He painted a picture of the current situation and talked about the challenges his city faces in light of the recent immigration influx.
Roberto Bertollini on the mayor's campaign and what other politicians can learn from it
“Of course we have a difficult situation, but Germany is a rich country and in this region everybody should be proud of what they have accomplished over the last 25 years. These achievements are much more important than the problems affecting refugees.”
“Although foreigners only make up about 2 percent of the population in Bautzen, people are afraid of the Islamization of the region”
“Bautzen is a very prosperous city. We need more people. Companies lack workers. Migration is one way of coping with the problem.”
“I want to evoke a certain curiosity for the unknown. You might be disappointed, but at least you can learn something.”
Alexander Ahrens, Mayor of Bautzen
German society was confronted with several challenges in light of the approximately one million refugees who arrived in 2015. The administration and logistics of providing shelter, food and first aid was one of them.
German citizens and civil society initiatives quickly began helping the newly arrived migrants, a phenomenon that became known by the German term “Willkommenskultur” (welcoming culture). But the immigration wave also created new business opportunities, especially in terms of providing shelter.
The “Spreehotel Bautzen” is one such example. The former hotel was converted into refugee housing. Peter Rausch, owner and manager of the hotel, was close to bankruptcy before the refugees came last year. Now, he hosts around 300 refugees and employs five social workers. “I’m earning money – but it is a hard job,” he says.
Dresden (Saxony) In Dresden the Fellows met Stanislaw Tillich, Prime Minister of Saxony.
“Reports on successful integration are very rare. Most of the time reports are about right-wing activities.”
“It’s the government’s duty to provide fair proceedings for people who come to Germany. People have a right to stay here and the right to be deported.”
“It is disastrous to tell people at the peak of the refugee crisis that all refugees who arrived are well educated. It is disastrous to say that refugees are only fleeing wars when people know that a lot of them are also fleeing for economic reasons.”
Stanislaw Tillich, Prime Minister of Saxony
In Cologne the Fellows visited the Diocesan Caritas Association, the umbrella organization of Catholic welfare work of the Archdiocese of Cologne.
The Diocesan Caritas Association is made up of 14 city and district Caritas associations and employs 57,000 full-time staffers. Furthermore thousands of volunteers are involved in the association.
“We don’t differentiate between those who stay and those who go back to their home countries soon. That’s why we also offer language classes to people who didn’t get a spot in a state-sponsored language class.”
“I think that the government is shying away from its initial position. Somebody who is fleeing a war has the right to come. That has no limit. But now policies are made with the attitude that you can limit refugee numbers. That is a problem of the preservation of power: fear of one’s own courage.”
Frank Hensel, Director of the Caritas, Archdiocese of Cologne
Meeting with Henriette Reker
On New Year’s Eve in Cologne last year, hundreds of women were sexually assaulted by young men. Most of the perpetrators were originally from Maghreb countries. This event marked a turning point in the public discourse on migration policies in Germany and Europe.
The mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker – who survived a knife attack in October 2015 by a man suspected to be a right-wing extremist – shared her first-hand experiences with the Fellows.
“Just like every year, a large crowd gathered around the Cologne Cathedral. Today we know that most of the men in the crowd came from North Africa, that they had only been in Germany for a very short time and that they had taken the image of women along with them from their home countries. […] That is a cultural phenomenon that we haven’t had before. Due to the iconic backdrop of the cathedral, the pictures were seen all over the world. The people of Cologne were shocked. We are famous worldwide for our cosmopolitan outlook. It took us a while to recover our image.”
“Cologne is the fourth-largest city in Germany. We have 13,800 refugees – a little over 1 percent of our population. This cannot cause an entire city to collapse.”
“I am convinced that Chancellor Merkel’s decision to show a friendly face to the world was the right one. The alternative would have been a humanitarian disaster. This is something we should never forget when talking about integration difficulties.”
Henriette Reker, Mayor of Cologne
Representing Muslim Interests in Germany Associations, initiatives and welfare organizations are a very important component in the integration of refugees.
Given that the majority of the refugees who have come in the recent years have a Muslim background, Muslim associations have taken on a central role in integrating the new arrivals, especially for their ability to build bridges and serve as interpreters.
The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) is the biggest Muslim organization in Germany, representing 900 local congregations. North-Rhine Westphalia has the highest percentage of Muslims of any federal state: approximately one-third of the German Muslim community lives here.
DITIB performs diverse activities in the area of refugee work: they offer courses in German and the Koran, sports activities and excursions.
Mohammad Darawshe on the identity of the German-Turkish community
“Terrorism does not denote religious backwardness, but is rather a
modern phenomenon. Most of the people who become terrorists are not part
of an established mosque community. They usually go straight into
“We need to increase the visibility of Muslims in our society. But it is not that simple. Many don’t feel like they belong, because many believe they are not welcome.”
“Right now we have our hands full justifying our own existence. That is why we can’t touch upon other important topics.”
Representatives of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs
Sports: Tool for Integration
The Rheinflanke projects strive to integrate refugees through sports. On the one hand, sports give the refugees a much-needed respite. On the other hand, the Rheinflanke team can establish a relationship of mutual trust with the refugees.
“Playing sports is a very good way of establishing connections without using words – sports are a common language.”
James Kondo on the scalability of Lapp's approach to integrating refugees into the labor market
The Lapp Group is a family-run company with subsidiaries around the globe and headquarters in Stuttgart. The group has 17 production sites and 3,300 employees worldwide. It has done exemplary work in the field of integrating refugees. Twelve refugees are currently employed in the company’s departments. The employees of the Lapp Group support refugees after regular working hours by helping them with everyday problems, such as filling out paperwork.
According to representatives of the Lapp Group, one of the major challenges in integrating refugees into the labor market is the language barrier. Even for those who have received a university degree in their home country, it can still make sense to obtain an additional degree in order to learn the complex technical language. It can take up to five years to fully integrate refugees into the German labor market.
At the Headquartes of the Robert Bosch Stiftung
At the end of the study tour the Richard von Weizsäcker Fellows met the managing board of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Uta-Micaela Dürig and Prof. Joachim Rogall, to reflect on the experiences and findings of the week.
Participating Speakers and Moderators
Participating Speakers and Moderators
Many thanks to our speakers and moderators:
Alexander Ahrens, City of Bautzen
Peter Altmaier, Federal Chancellery
Petra Bendel, Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration
Christoph Bex, RheinFlanke gGmbH
Philipp Blom, Historian
Wolfgang Bosbach, German Bundestag
Oliver Decker, Universität Leipzig
Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Europe
Karin Dressel, Working Group Third World (AGDW e.V.)
Uta-Micaela Dürig, Robert Bosch Stiftung
Thomas Fischer, Federal Court of Justice of Germany
Peter Frey, ZDF
Hajo Funke, Freie Universität Berlin
Cemile Giousouf, German Bundestag
Ulrich Grothus, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
Gregor Gysi, German Bundestag
Emily Haber, Federal Ministry of the Interior
Metin Hakverdi, German Bundestag
Frank Hensel, Archdiocese of Cologne
Anetta Kahane, Amadeo Antonio Stiftung
Klaus Kandt, Berlin Police
Murat Kayman, Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB)
Ayten Kiliçarslan, Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB)
Reiner Klingholz, Berlin Institute for Population and Development
Gerald Knaus, European Stability Initiative (ESI)
Sebastian Koerber, RheinFlanke gGmbH
Michael Konther, Federal Office for Migration and Refugees
Ruud Koopmans, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)
Armin Laschet, North Rhine-Westphalia State Parliament
Matthias Lapp, Lapp Holding AG
Thilo Lindner, Lapp GmbH Kabelwerke
Holger Lösch, Federation of German Industries (BDI)
Frank Ulrich Montgomery, German Medical Association
Ariane Mueller-Ressing, Working Group Third World (AGDW e.V.)
Hans-Jürgen Oster, City of Cologne
Peter Rausch, Spreehotel
Henriette Reker, City of Cologne
Christian Reuter, German Red Cross e.V.
Joachim Rogall, Robert Bosch Stiftung
Stephan Rohde, Saxon State Chancellery
Hilmar Schneider, Institute for the Study of Labor
Meryam Schouler-Ocak, Charité Berlin
Theresa Schopper, State Ministry of Baden-Württemberg
Stanislaw Tillich, Saxon State Chancellery
Rainer Wendt, German Police Union
Yaner Yüksel, Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB)
Astrid Ziebarth, German Marshall Fund of the United States
Participating Richard von Weizsäcker Fellows
Participating Richard von Weizsäcker Fellows
Thanks to our Richard von Weizsäcker Fellows who participated in the tour:
Michael Th. Johnson
Saran Kaba Jones
Michael Paul van Graan
About the Robert Bosch Academy
The Robert Bosch Academy was founded in 2014 as an institution of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Located in the Berlin Representative Office of the foundation, the Academy offers a space for a multilateral dialogue and interdisciplinary cooperation focused on finding solutions for the main challenges of our time. By bringing together diverse perspectives and a multitude of voices, the Academy enriches the public discourse in the capital and beyond.
The Academy on Tour is part of a comprehensive community program for all Richard von Weizsäcker Fellows. By engaging with the Fellows, German experts and decision makers gain new perspectives on major social and political issues; in turn, Fellows expand their networks and enrich their expertise with insights in German and European policy debates and decision-making processes.