Letter from Germany 9 – Germany adjusts to the huge influx of immigrants

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Christl-Stephanblome-croppedby Christl Stephanblome

Slowly the country comes to its senses and quietens down.After half a year routine is established. Helpful is the fact that the Balkan route is closed, that winter happened, and the result is understandable: Not so many refugees are coming. I am not talking about the situation in Greece, the pact between Germany and Turkey and the difficulties in the EU. It’s frightening for someone who lived through the last war to see that a generation seems to come up who doesn’t understand the treasure of a time of seventy years without war, open borders and tight connections between the European countries.

Refugees University Colgne, May,2016 1
Refugees, University Colgne, May, 2016 Image courtesy of Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 2016

The greatest problem is the bureaucracy. Although the government  has engaged and trained more people to deal with the applications for asylum, at the moment 400 000 pending ones, it is too slow.

Besides this there are more questions to be answered: How to cope with those who have to wait for at least 6 months until their applications are decided upon, and with those who want to place an application for asylum and have to wait with nothing to do? Should they be allowed to  go to language and citizenship courses when they are not accepted and have to leave? When 200 000 language and citizenship courses are missing for those who are accepted, when there are not enough teachers and interpreters? And when they are successful and able to start working and to sustain themselves what about their families In Syria, in Aleppo or Homs or in the  refugee camps near the Turkish border and in Turkey, and Jordan?  When can they come to Germany? And can be saved?

The list of such questions can be long.

In the meantime the citizens of our country do the daily duties: Dress them, feed them, house them, teach them, help them through the jungle of bureaucracy, give them medical care, help them to fight their traumas, heal their physical illnesses, fight for them against those who have nothing better to do than to destroy the homes and houses where the refugees live, only to name a few of their tasks.

House them: Concept of Leverkusen: The town government wants no ghettos, no concentration of refugees in one place, but wants the refugees to live in apartments at several different locations in town

Medical care: 20 towns house them: Concept of Leverkusen: The town government wants no ghettos, no concentration of refugees in one place, but wants the refugees to live in apartments at several different locations in townout of 400 in North Rhine-Westphalia have introduced a health card to make visits to physicians easier, faster, and cheaper. Some towns have found other ways to solve the problem.

Possibly 40% of the refugees are traumatized by the experience of war, flight, loss of the extended family, cultural uprooting, and the second cultural adolescence by integrating themselves in our country. They need the help of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists now, before it is too late, because  experts expect that otherwise in two or three years a lot of these people have to be treated in hospital.

I have talked earlier about the under age refugees, who came alone or lost their parents or relatives during the flight, who are now placed in foster families,  a slow process, regulated by law, because it is necessary to find the right counterparts. At the moment the town of Cologne counts 1229 children between 0 to 18 years it has to take care of.

But there other people who are in need of protection: the handicapped. It is difficult to identify them, because when they are registered they are not asked for their handicaps so they disappear in facilities which are not made for them. Some only by chance were found. There even isn’t enough knowledge to recognize them. And because of language problems they can’t speak to the authorities and ask for help, which by European law has to be given to them.

Teach them: Knowledge of the German language is the key for integration, who doesn’t know? The newspapers are full of examples where and who is engaged in preparing the possibilities for teaching German: the university of Cologne, the schools in Leverkusen, where refugees wait for the the decision about their applications etc. It is also to think about the standards of language taught, some students need the proper languages to study, or to do their vocational training, or to just talk to the neighbours, or to go shopping, but also to talk to the authorities. They should have enough knowledge to be able to go to school where there are in special classes for migrants, but also to be integrated in the normal classes, where just our handicapped children are integrated. For all these tasks most of our teachers are not trained.

Integration: Who doesn’t like to play football, to stay on stage and tell the own story, who doesn’t want to sing in a choir of the experiences of hardship and danger and the will to be free? They do it together and get to know each other.

During a Festival “Discover the town”  an “Expedition Colonia”,  a town rally for the kids, teenagers, and grown ups from Iran, Syria for entertainment and movement for those living in tight conditions  was launched to offer some knowledge about the town and its history and to learn some special words.

Carnival: The kids are taught the dialect of Cologne, the so called “Kölsch”. But how to translate “Bützche”, the kiss on the cheek, only with the permission of the woman, into Arabic??

Summer is coming, therefore there have to be regulations about how to use the public swimming pools. So there a pictogram to show the regulations: What kind of dress is allowed? So we probably get a new word: “Burkini” ( Bikini and Burka), because girls and women are not permitted to wear a bathing suit, but long slacks, a long top and a scarf. How to take a shower correctly? Where is it allowed to eat? To take a photo, a movie is forbidden. Parents have to watch their children etc. Regulations it seems but also a introduction into our way of life. Don’t ask me how many languages are needed to make us understood.

Image courtesy of Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 2016
Image courtesy of Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 2016

So much  happened in the last weeks, one only has to think of Paris, so many memories are coming up, memories of WW II, the flight and the displacement of so many people and the effect of these “events” on the second, third, and fourth generation. This country still has to work on its past. It doesn’t stop. And it doesn’t stop because of this wave of refugees either. Many people still remember what they experienced and they start talkingWe can’t act differently, we know too much.

Naturally they are against it. A few, who make a lot of noise. But our democracy is too firmly established for it to be hurt.

Christl  Stephanblome is a retired German Gymnasium teacher living in Leverkusen, Germany, near Cologne. She taught in Germany for 35 years and  has traveled the world including several visits to regions of Canada.