Germany is a destination for migrants, but has yet to learn how to act accordingly. At the focus of the 20th FORUM MIGRATION, held on 12th March 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Otto Benecke Stiftung e. V.’s founding, was the call to ‘change lanes’ in refugee and migration politics. A broad debate is needed.
Naika Foroutan, deputy director of the Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations- und Migrationsforschung (Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research), talking in the Bonn Haus der Geschichte (House of History) drew a picture, based on extensive data, of a country not at peace with itself: ‘We are living in a time of transition.’ ‘Being German’ itself was in a state of flux. On the one hand, openness towards refugees and other migrants was increasing. On the other however, fears and prejudices obstinately persist. Integration projects may not just be beneficial for new migrants, but ‘also for Pegida demonstrators’.
Berlin-based migration researcher Professor Klaus J. Bade welcomed the planned founding of a migration museum. A ‘big discussion’ was needed right across the country on the question of what ‘being German’ really meant today. The setting-up of a Federal-level ‘national identity commission’ would be helpful.
‘The Federal Republic has been a migration country since 1948/49’, stated Professor Jochen Oltmer of the Osnabrücker Institut für Migrationsforschung und interkulturelle Studien (Osnabrück Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies), setting straight an ‘abundance of myths’. The same republic has always had an active integration policy towards refugees from the German Democratic Republic, repatriates, recent repatriates and recognised asylum seekers. That was not however the case for migrant workers. This needed to change. Oltmer again: ‘We must create or increase migrant empowerment.’
Antonius Hamers, director of the Katholisches Büro NRW (Catholic Office NRW) observed that he had experienced ‘a lot of commitment in the parishes’. For him, the picture was ‘more bright than dark’. Manfred Kock, former president of the Protestant Church in Germany, urged that asylum seekers should not simply be seen as ‘trying it on’, and that diversity should be seen as richness rather than as threatening. Tayfun Keltek, director of the Integration Council NRW, concurred: ‘Differences are strengths’, and counselled that people from a migration background should be seen as ‘GermanPlus’.
Representing the employers’ association, Peter Clever argued for combining the politics of migration and asylum. ‘We need both: controlled immigration and humane refugee policy.’ Only in a humane, peaceful society can business prosper.
Eberhard Diepgen, former governing mayor of Berlin and Chair of the Otto Benecke Stiftung e. V.’s Board of Trustees, advocates a paradigm shift in refugee politics. Unsuccessful asylum seekers needed to get ‘a second chance for a permanent right of residence’. It was ‘absurd to think that they would stay for only two years’. He backs the idea of founding a migration museum.
Klaus Bade preferred to speak of a ‘change of lane’ rather than a change of paradigms. The omnipresent ‘welcoming culture’ had been cultivated by the OBS for decades. The experience of the OBS however also shows that ‘friendly behaviour alone does not change minds’. Long-term and individual care is required.
In this context, Eberhard Diepgen spoke of a ‘long-term task’ that could not be delivered on a project-by-project basis – a criticism of the federal government’s 2009 funding schemes. Dr Lothar Theodor Lemper, Chair of the OBS’s directorate, had stated in his opening speech that subsidies had not been increased recently but had rather been cut – despite steeply rising applicant numbers for language and integration courses.
Anette Kramme, Parlamentarische Staatssekretärin (Parliamentary State Secretary) for the Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales (Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs) considered Germany to be on the way to becoming an education society. In this respect it was most important to ‘include everybody’, presupposing a ‘functional national implementation structure’.
Manfred Schmidt, president of the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees), described how much his organisation’s work with asylum seekers had already changed towards a ‘culture of recognition’ and Immigration office staff had been instructed to greet every incoming person with respect. The chance of Balkan states migrants being granted asylum was nonetheless virtually non-existent.
Speakers from the audience pointed out the difficulties of welcoming migrants while at the same time telling them that they would not be able to stay.
The conference breaks were used to actively build networks between organisations, researchers and voluntary workers. Many of the 500 or so FORUM MIGRATION participants familiarised themselves with the ‘Immer bunter. Einwanderungsland Deutschland’ exhibition (Ever more colourful. Germany – the migrant country), allowing them to obtain a picture of how a migration museum could work. The opportunity to converse with OBS Betreuerstudierende (student mentors) was widely taken. Students hailing from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa wore home-made ‘graduation caps’ to allow themselves to be recognised in the crowds. The clear impression from the day was that the ‘big discussion’ was already underway.
50 years of Otto Benecke Stiftung e.V.
The Otto Benecke Stiftung e. V. celebrated its 50th anniversary at the 20th FORUM MIGRATION on 12th March 2015.
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