Essay #2 – Foreigners in Germany

Nicolas on „Foreigners in Germany“. Germany can look back on a long history of migration. Already in the 17th century thirty to fifty thousand religious refugees from France, the Huguenots, immigrated to the German territories and made an important contribution to the economical, cultural and political development in Germany.

During the  20th and 21st century various migration flows to Germany occurred. After World War I., Germany became the destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees who escaped the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in October of 1917, the subsequent civil war and the implementation of the Soviet system.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the young Federal Republic of Germany experienced an economic boom which went hand in hand with an enormous expansion of the labor market. Since the domestic workforce was no longer sufficient to cover demand, the Federal Republic of Germany entered into the first agreements for the recruitment of workers with Italy in 1955, and with Greece and Spain in 1960. Treaties with Turkey (1961), Morocco (1963), Portugal (1964), Tunisia (1965) and Yugoslavia (1968) followed soon. The so called “guest workers” (German: Gastarbeiter) generally assumed unskilled labor and positions with minimal training requirements in industrial production. One of the few non-European groups recruited were miners and nurses from South Korea. This recruitment of migrant workers specifically from South Korea was driven not just by economic necessity, but also by a desire to demonstrate support for a country that, like Germany, had been divided by ideology. The first group of miners arrived on 16 December 1963. They had high levels of education compared with other Gastarbeiter of the same era; over 60% had completed high school or tertiary education. From 1966 to 1971 ten thousand nurses came to West Germany and more than a third did not return to Korea and stayed in Germany.

The recruitment of migrant workers was terminated during the oil (price) crisis and due to increasing unemployment in 1973. From the late 1950s until the stop in labor recruitment in 1973, approximately 14 million foreign workers came to Germany, of whom 11 million only stayed in the country temporarily and eventually returned to their home countries. The others remained and their families joined them. Because of this development, the number of foreign workers decreased after the end of the recruitment period – from 2.6 million in 1973 to 1.6 million in 1989 – but the foreign population grew from 3.97 million to 4.9 million during the same period.

With the opening of the „Iron Curtain“, the transformation of the political systems in the former states of the „Eastern Bloc“ and the collapse of the GDR in 1989/90, the migration patterns in Europe drastically changed. In Germany, the number of asylum applications rose significantly, especially from Eastern, Central Eastern and Southern Europe. It surpassed 100,000 in 1988, climbed to approximately 120,000 in 1989, the year of the European Revolutions, reached 190,000 in unified Germany in 1990, and finally soared to almost 440,000 by 1992. In addition to the immigration of asylum seekers, the number of ethnic German resettlers increased significantly in the Federal Republic of Germany in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Starting in 1987 and against the backdrop of „Glasnost“ and „Perestroika“ in the USSR, the numbers quickly increased and more than three million resettlers came to the Federal Republic of Germany in the subsequent 15 years.

Since 2010, the influx of migrants has been increasing again. The majority of immigrants arrived from European countries, especially from EU member states.

One exception was the year 2015. Due to the large number of asylum seekers from countries outside of Europe, the share of citizens of the European Union among all immigrants was only around 40 percent. Syria was the main country of origin of new immigrants, ahead of Romania and Poland. In 2015, a total of 2.14 million people immigrated to Germany, while approximately 998,000 people left the country during the same period. This results in a migration surplus of approximately 1.14 million people.

An analysis of the immigrants and their descendants who since 2005 are also statistically recorded as „population with a migration background“, underlines how greatly immigration has shaped the population of the country in past and present. According to the definition applied by the Federal Statistics Office, a person is considered someone with a migration background „if they themselves or at least one parent did not obtain German citizenship through birth“ (loose translation). According to the results of the micro-census in 2016, more than 18.6 million people living in Germany (22.5 percent of Germany’s population) have a migration background. That includes nine million foreign nationals (10.9 percent of the population) as well as 9.6 million Germans (11.7 percent of the population). Most people with a migration background are of Turkish or Polish descent (15.1 percent and 10.1 percent respectively) or come from the Russian Federation (6.6 percent).

Nowadays Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States of America. Especially the large influx of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 triggered an emotionally charged debate and now confronts political and social institutions with challenges that must be solved. The reactions among the population oscillated between euphoric readiness to take in refugees and violent rejection of those seeking protection, between a „welcome culture“ and the demand for isolation, between cosmopolitanism and nationalism. There was unparalleled civic support for refugees which often enabled housing and supplies for the refugees since the public structures seemed to have been temporarily overstrained, considering the sheer number of asylum seekers. At the same time, violent acts against refugees and their accommodation facilities also increased significantly. In light of social polarization, questions regarding social integration are experiencing increased significance: How can we and how do we want to live together in this country in the future? Politics and civil society will have to find an answer to that question.


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