Daily Life in Germany (post from German university student on refugee crisis)

David Palumbo-Liu's picture

This is a blog written by Sabrina W, a graduate student from the U of Würzburg, who invites your comments:

Train delayed, no trains between Salzburg and Munich, long waiting periods on borders. News like these are by now part of everyday life in Austria and Germany.

The refugee crisis in Europe is still an ongoing problem that causes plenty of discussions in politics and society. But what is actually going on in Europe and especially in Germany? Possibly, Germany’s foreign politics or that of the European Union is the reason for the war most Syrians are fleeing from[1]. According to Günther Oettinger, German EU commissioner, the asylum system of Germany is as well a magnet for refugees as a cause of the crisis. He said that his home country has to change its current system and make changes in the asylum laws. Therefore, the very recent issue that is debated on is the determination of a maximum limit of refugees accepted in Germany.

Nevertheless, some European countries already have a limitation, for example Sweden, where refugees are advised to go back to Germany or Denmark, and these countries always nourish the demands in the German population.[2] Especially after having seen the determination likely to be introduced in Austria, many German politicians put even more pressure on Angela Merkel to do the same for Germany because everybody knows that if Austria will have a limitation, even more refugees will come to Germany. But Merkel is not deterred by these demands and still tries to achieve a protection of the external frontiers and a balanced distribution of the refugees within the European Union.[3] However, Merkel is not alone with her opinion that a maximum limit is no solution for the ongoing crisis. Ulrike Lunacek, a green member of the European parliament, criticizes Austria’s decision very harshly. Not only would it encourage the smugglers but also because these plans are absolutely against international laws and the human right of seeking asylum. She, as wells as Merkel, fully argues for a solution found together with all European states and, what is more important, to fight against the reasons of the refuge.[4] As far as the determination of a maximum limit is concerned, Merkel and Lunacek have to stand many oppositional voices, especially from her own party CDU/CSU. Very recently, the governor of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, threatened Merkel with a constitutional challenge to close the borders and implement a limitation of 200.000 refugees a year.[5] All in all, referring to the maximum limit of refugees, there will always be different opinions among German politicians. The refugee crisis will definitely be a huge topic in the EU summit in mid-February.[6]

In the course of these events, Germans are more and more confronted with new situations and are taken out of their comfort zone since many cities and also smaller towns are forced to take in and help refugees. Although this new structure is mostly accepted and many people are willing to support the immigrants, it also nourishes prejudices and negative opinions about the refugees. The biggest problem that is always present since so many refugees have come to Germany is the opinion that every bad thing that happens, be it fight, theft, rape or any other crime, is caused by the refugees.[7] The most recent event that comes into mind is New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where women were attacked and robbed by a group of men. Since this night Germany even more debates on the refugee crisis and the possibility for anti-refugee groups to gain new sympathizers increased rapidly.

One far-reaching consequence of the attacks in Cologne is the tightening of the deportation law meaning that refugees are more likely to be deported when they get in any conflict with the law. Nevertheless, many voices emphasize that it is very important that we do not treat every refugee as a suspect but also protect the innocent ones who are not to blame for these cruel attacks or any other committed crime.[8]

That such crimes are not accepted by the refugees themselves as well, can be seen very well in Würzburg when about twenty refugees met at the main railroad station. They carried posters with them reading “Syrians against Sexism” or “For us women are mothers, daughters and aunts” and gave roses and tulips to especially female passersby to illustrate that they are completely different from those criminals in Cologne.[9]

Nevertheless, there are also opposing, or better to say worried, voices in Würzburg. In August 2015, an old tent was used to give “home” to some refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Georgia. In an assembly of some citizens there were many voices claiming that they are worried about their night’s sleep, attacks by anti-refugee groups or other problems that have already been recognized in other areas.[10] Overall, most citizens were willing to help and support the refugees, but the question still remains where all these often wrongful worries and prejudices come from.

Many German newspapers, as for example Die Zeit, started to address some of the prejudices and try to get rid of these “myths”. Maybe, this helps to change the attitude of at least some Germans towards refugees so that they can be integrated better in order to start a new life, hopefully without war and fear. To name only a few, the most common opinion concerning the refugees is that there is no more space to live in Germany because our country has already taken in much more refugees than other European states. When one is looking at current numbers from the first six months of 2015 this fact might be true but the problem is that many Germans do not even glance at the years before. Because if they would do so, they could see that Sweden, Hungary or Austria have taken in much more refugees than Germany did since 2014.[11]

Besides the Germans’ fear of having to take in more and more refugees, another big worry is the money. At first, one constantly hears that the taxpayer has to pay for all the refugees and that they even get more money than an unemployed German citizen gets paid after the first 12-18 months of unemployment. To be honest, this is completely ridiculous. Only since a court decision made in 2012, a refugee theoretically gets paid the same amount of money as a German citizen because the court decided that a refugee is “worth” the same as the federal citizen. Certain it is, that they do definitely not get more money but mostly they only get around 130€ and besides that, donated clothing, food and accommodation.[12]

Germans are kind of split between acceptance and rejection but actually, everybody should support the existing organizations and programs to help the refugees building up a new life in Germany. 

How can I help the refugees? Where do I get information from? People who want to get involved can inform themselves for example on various platforms that provide information, guidelines and material for giving German classes[13].In addition, the “Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend”(= Federal Ministry for families, seniors, women and youth) launched a project on the 19th of January 2016 called „Menschen stärken Menschen“ in which people permanently support and empower other people. In this way, sponsorships between refugees and local people should be converted from spontaneous actions into permanent help. It is all about exchanging knowledge on a personal level.

What is even more, a cooperation of the Goethe-Institut, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Bundesanstalt für Arbeit created an App called „Ankommen“ (= arriving / settling in) which eases the process of integration for refugees. Often, smartphones are the only way to be connected with the people. Since the 13th January it is available for free in Google Play Store and App Store and comes without advertisements. The app is translated into five languages including Arabic, English, Farsi, French and German and is also usable offline. Basically, it is a guide helping refugees during the first weeks in Germany. Moreover, basic German culture and customs are explained, for example:

  • “Which are my rights and duties as a refugee?
    • How is Germany organised as a whole?
    • Which steps do I have to consider when applying for asylum?
    • When do I have to send my children to school?
    • What happens if I get sick?
    • How do I get a work permit?”[14]

The surface is easily structured into the three major parts asylum, training, finding a job plus information about learning the language. Current topics are added to the App like articles about the freedom of religion in Germany or Gender Equality after the mass assault in Cologne. Apps like this are not new, in the city of Dresden refugees can navigate with the help of an App to the most important places and Apps helping to register exist.

When only looking at Würzburg, first, the IHK (= Industrie und Handelskammer / Industry and Board of Trade) developed a program that should help middle class firms to recruit refugees for apprenticeships via language courses. Since 22th of December 2015, 100 refugees mainly from Syria and Eritrea are offered 320 lessons to reach a basic German vocabulary. The IHK organizes a “chauffeur service” for the participants and pays for the required material. Second, at the University of Würzburg, free space is used for accommodation. The territory, known as Leighton-Barracks, formerly used by the US Army and now home for 300 refugees since October. Two more areas should be used for housing and this should be done by 2017 in a project by the University and the “Regierung von Unterfranken” (= government of Unterfranken). Third, websites called “Würzburg hilft!”[15] or “WueFugees”[16] provide tips about how to coordinate donations concerning clothing, food, toys, spare time, hygienic articles and various other things. “WueFugees” is rather aimed at refugees offering general information about asylum. The guide consists of – amongst others – short video clips by the “Bayerischer Rundfunk” where important everyday issues for example opening a bank account, studying in Germany, medical help, support for school kids, saving on train, basic transportation, getting internet access, working in Germany and school registration for refugee children are explained. Forth, help also comes from students. Three educational students developed a map of Würzburg for asylum seekers[17]. It was part of a University project called “helping refugees actively”. In the map, they linked important places in town such as internet cafés, playgrounds, youth centers, information places with short descriptions and the address. Moreover, the information is translated into Russian and Arabic.

This list can be continued but what should never be forgotten is that refugees are human. They have a personality, an individual character like you and me and deserve a fair treatment.





[1]Erpenbeck, Jenny. “The refugee crisis is forcing Germans to ask: who are we?”.The Guardian 21 December 2015. Online. 21 January 2016.

[2] „Schweden kann Flüchtlinge nicht mehr unterbringen.“ Zeit online. 5 November 2016. Web. 26 January 2016.

[3] Sirleschtov, Antje. „Österreich führt Obergrenzen ein, Merkel ist weiterhin dagegen.“ Der Tagesspiegel. 20 January 2016. Web. 25 January 2016.

[4] Kaess, Christiane. „Das ist eine politische Seifenblase.“ Deutschlandfunk. 21 January 2016. Web. 26 January 2016. 

[5] Birnbaum, Robert. „Koalition streitet über Androhung einer Verfassungsklage.“ Tagesspiegel. 26 January 2016. Web. 27 January 2016.

[6] Sirleschtov, Antje. „Österreich führt Obergrenzen ein, Merkel ist weiterhin dagegen.“ Der Tagesspiegel. 20 January 2016. Web. 25 January 2016.

[7] Erpenbeck, Jenny. „The refugee crisis is forcing Germany to aks: who are we?“ The Guardian. 21 December 2015. Web. 26 January 2016.

[8] „Deportation law to be tightened.“ The Federal Government. 12 January 2016. Web. 25 January 2016.

[9] „‘Syrer gegen Sexismus‘: Flüchtlinge verteilen Blumen an Passantinnen.“ Süddeutsche Zeitung. 16 January 2016. Web. 25 January 2016.

[10] „Anwohner zwischen Ablehnung und Verständnis.“ BR 24. 26 August 2015. Web. 25 January 2016.

[11] Dobbert, Steffen, and Nadine Oberhuber. „Haben wir wirklich keinen Platz mehr in Deutschland?“ Zeit online. 18 August 2015. Web. 26 January 2016.

[12] Dobbert, Steffen, and Nadine Oberhuber. „Haben wir wirklich keinen Platz mehr in Deutschland?“ Zeit online. 18 August 2015. Web. 26 January 2016.

[13] Vogel, Birgit. „Wie kann ich helfen? Informationsportal über Hilfsprojekte für Flüchtlinge in Deutschland“ Wie kann ich helfen? 25 January 2016. Web. 27 January 2016.