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IMMIGRATION

How well have refugees integrated in Germany since 2015?

Five years after Chancellor Angela Merkel controversially opened Germany's doors to hundreds of thousands of migrants, studies show the newcomers have integrated relatively well, but room for progress remains.

How well have refugees integrated in Germany since 2015?
Famous archive photo shows Merkel posing for a selfie with a refugee in September 2015. Photo: DPA

Jobs

Around half of the nearly 900,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Germany in 2015, many from conflict-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, now have a job, according to Germany's Institute for Employment Research (IAB).

Migrants have been “rather successful” in finding employment in Europe's top economy, said IAB's migration expert Herbert Brücker.

READ ALSO: Five years on: How well did Germany handle the refugee crisis?

Many are working in hospitality, the security services, cleaning services and retirement homes, plugging gaps in Germany's labour market.

The pandemic has, however, slammed the brakes on the positive trend, Brücker said, with many working in sectors hardest-hit by virus restrictions and vulnerable to lay-offs.

A separate study by the DIW economic institute also concluded that the integration of Germany's newcomers was on the right track.

But it said more needed to be done to help find work for migrants with low education levels and for female migrants, who often have young children to look after.

READ ALSO: Integration in Germany: Half of refugees 'find jobs within five years'

Far-right anger

The influx of more than a million mainly Muslim asylum seekers in 2015-2016 deeply polarised Germany.

While some engaged in “welcome culture” and volunteered to help refugees, others railed against Merkel's liberal asylum policy.

READ ALSO: Merkel 'would do the same again' five years after Germany's refugee influx

Anger over a series of high-profile crimes committed by migrants helped fuel the rise of the far-right, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which in 2017 won its first seats in the national parliament.

The AfD's approval ratings have declined in recent months as the pandemic pushes the refugee debate into the background.

“Germans are generally less worried about immigration now, but migrants' concerns about racism have increased,” the DIW report found, noting that migrants tend to have little faith in law enforcement.

Language skills

For many migrants, learning German is the fastest road to acceptance into German society.

Just one percent of the refugees had good or very good knowledge of German upon arrival,” said the IAB's Brücker.

Today around half of them speak German relatively fluently while another one third speak the language “at a medium level”.

Brücker said it was important to ensure that coronavirus restrictions didn't hamper migrants' access to language classes and educational courses, because they are crucial to integration efforts.

Demographic shift

Looking ahead, Brücker said migrants would play an increasingly important role in Germany's economy as they help make up for a rapidly ageing population.

“We are in the middle of a demographic shift,” he said. Last year alone, the number of people of working age in Germany shrank by 340,000 year-on-year.

“This trend will increase once the 'baby boomers' start retiring,” Brücker said.

Given Germany's low birth rate, the only way to make up for the shortfall is through immigration, he added.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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