Germany and refugees

Tuesday March 29, 2016

This was the first real day. Sunday and Monday were travel days. I am continually amazed that I can travel half way around this globe; And, it was a long haul.

Today we navigated our way on bus and “U” (subway) to the Cologne University of Technology Arts Sciences.

We met with Thorsten Schlee, Gerd Sadowski from the Social Work department and Anna Kress from the Cologne Refugee Council. 

Our discussions flowed from number of refugees in Cologne (13000 in last few months), housing (they live in 24 gymnasiums around the city), integration issues (they expect everyone to learn German), citizenship process (can take years if you are not a UN sanctioned refugee), nationalism (Is is okay to say you don’t want anymore foreigners without sounding nationalistic “You don’t want to declare what it means to be German because it hearkens back to German sentiment in the late 1930’s”). What does it mean to be German?

Germany is overwhelmed with the amount of people they need to “process”. This creates people arriving in Germany and waiting for what can be years to get a permanent resident status. With that status comes full healthcare beyond alleviation of pain and medical emergencies, and guarantee of education. Currently, those who have sought refuge outside of the UN determination of refugee may not be able to enroll their children in public education. A child might spend years in Germany without schooling before the family has been given asylum status. “A parent can bring their child to a school. But that school can say they don’t have room. But if you have residency, the school has to take that child.”

Human Right article #26:

1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

If you do not arrive with refugee status, have been denied asylum, but determined to be unable to return home (no passport, no means of returning) you are given a limited version of asylum. You won’t be able to invite your family to resettle in Germany for two years. You must wait 3 months before getting a job, cannot make more than $64,000 a year, and for the first 15 months you will be the last one to be hired after a search for German residents has been exhausted. Your healthcare will be limited to pain alleviation or emergencies.

What are the challenges?

Housing, safety.


“A housing building was burned before refugees moved in”…”Someone threw a grenade at a housing unit. The grenade didn’t go off, but I don’t know if they knew it wouldn’t or not.”

The security is run by a private agency that subcontracts out for fire protection. There is some concern about the level of training of these guards.

What would help?

More control on the local level. The federal government determines where refugees are placed. States determine the housing and the education allocation. But the community is the one that is affected and should have more of a voice.

Community voice: could we have better prepared the communities for the arriving refugees ?

About ndubus

Assistant Professor of Social Work, San Jose State University, USA
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