Letter from Germany 10 – Integration

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Christl-Stephanblome-croppedby Christl Stephanblome

Refugees are still coming, risking their lives  by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. With them come their dreams and hopes: education, work, security, no bombs, no attacks. With them comes their responsibility for their families they left behind, refugees in their own country, persecuted and in danger of life, waiting to join them. But the refugees didn’t expect that they would stay in mass accommodations with hundreds of refugees of all ranges of life, from all ranges of countries, languages, religions, ethnicities, where they would have to wait not for days but for months for the first hearing of their plea for asylum, being insecure whether there would be a future for them in our country. They are homesick too, missing the emotional security of their families, their customs, their traditions. Their are also disappointed of our country, because they had more expectations than could be fulfilled.

Some return of their own free will to their home countries, where they are needed by their families.They go back even if it is dangerous for them as in Iraq, Iran or in Afghanistan (a so called secure country in some areas) and even if they are not wanted. They return although some have a real chance to be accepted as an asylum seeker.  But they realize that it will take more time than they had believed, especially as the German government decided to allow  their families to follow the refugees only after two years after these have been accepted.

There are other voices from those of the millions who came after WW II. They know what it means to be a refugee. Their situation has been different as they came into a totally destroyed country, where all fought for survival. But they are able to tell how they have been successful to fight prejudices, aggression, how to survive the fight for work, for acceptance. Surely they didn’t have those dreams, but they knew and experienced violence, rape, bombs. They knew war. It is often said that their and our situation at the time has been different because they belonged to the same culture and spoke the same language, belonged to the same religion. But that is only half the truth. Because the migrants came from very different countries and brought even when they were from German descent, different customs, languages, religions, traditions. The fight started, but in the end integration has been successful. But they speak now and remember.

So we have to speak about integration.

Statistic Cologne
2015:  1.069 million inhabitants, at least every third citizen of Cologne has foreign roots, at least every fifth citizen of Cologne has a foreign passport,  the biggest group are Turks: 56.615. There are more than 184 Nations living in town.

April 2016: 12.822 refugees fro m Syria, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Somalia now stay in town . Reasons for escape are: civil war, persecution because of race, religion, nationality, belonging to a certain social group, because of political convictions, discrimination and ostracism of minorities, e.g. of Roma, violent infringement, human rights violation like torture, terrible conditions of imprisonment, forced labour, restriction of civil rights, freedom of speech, opinion, movement, missing medical care, education, unstable political situation, and drought.

Canada: 36.19 Millions inhabitants, 25.000 refugees

Message of Cologne, a reaction of citizens of Cologne

1. No tolerance for sexual violence
2. Fight against commission of criminality by a group of people
3. Clearing of the governmental failure
4. End of the xenophobic agitation – Germany remains a hospitable country

This was written after the excess of violence of New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne, to initiate  conversations about the question:  How do the citizens of Cologne and other places want to live with one another?

Cologne 2016,Feast of Corpus Christi              

Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, celebrated in front of the cathedral on an altar, which is a boat from Malta. Around 100 refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea with it. According to his motto “We are witnesses” in his sermon emphasis was laid on the significance of Corpus Christi as the presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Photo courtesy of Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger

In a procession the Corpus Christi is carried through the streets of Cologne, where the faithful will meet him in the poor, in the children who came alone, and in those who are incurably ill, in the traumatized children from areas of civil war, in desperate mothers and carried off fathers, in every man, woman, and child who hopes for the future. Their cry for justice is the cry of God, do you hear him? The Feast of Corpus Christi invites us to venerate Christ not only in the sacrament but to look for him under the poorest of the poor and to venerate them. Because who lets human beings drown in the Mediterranean Sea lets God drown, who tortures human beings in the camps tortures God till his death. Every death is a death of God. But God is a God of life! Therefore one day God will ask us: Did you recognize me? In the form of the unconverted bread? Did you really recognize me when I came as a refugee into your country? Did you really recognize me as I needed your help?

The belief in the everlasting presence of Christ in the sacrament which we testify today publicly, gives us the strength and the determination to turn to the poverty, the desperation, and the hopelessness of human beings.

When we do that, the gospel will be alive today: “And they ate and were satisfied.” (Lk 9, 17).

So said the Cardinal.

For a society that wants to live without the ethic demands of religion or of philosophy, this is hard bread. But the voices become stronger.

Holger Münch, Federal Criminal Police Office President accentuated the importance of language, because language comes before the deeds of violence are done. I recognized my sentence I used in school: Violence starts with the language.

On the Festival of Philosophy <phil.cologne> Christopher Clark, Australian historian, spoke about the brutalization of language which in the course of the European populism of the right, but also through the disappearance of inhibition has found entry into all areas of societies,to which the anonymous rage in the internet leads. The analogy between Hitler’s continental craving for power and the European Union used by former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to explain his consent to the Brexit,  wasn’t a comparison, but pure demagoguery, which isn’t a new tactic. Arguments  are replaced by polemic, considerate discussions by  slogans. Clark not only criticized the use of bad language and thereby disorderly thinking today, but showed the way people could speak to one another by remembering the Salons of the Age of Reason, when one asked for permission to speak and was asked to speak in a low voice. Clark spoke in the context of the Festival of Philosophy but he didn’t present a philosophy but asked for good manners.

Liao Yiwu, Chinese, author, Nobel Peace Price Laureate of the German Book trade, dissident, refugee in Germany, in an interview was asked for his opinion about the German refugee politics. He could understand when people go on the run because they are persecuted or suffer from war. On the other hand Germany isn’t such a big country as the USA or Canada. Therefore he thinks that the actual refugee politics were neither good for the refugees nor for the governing parties. In his opinion Germany hasn’t to feel responsible for all refugees in the present because of the century-old guilt of the National Socialists

Tenzin Gyatso, 14. Dalai Lama, refugee, in an interview in Dharamsala was asked for his opinion about the present refugee crisis. He answered that a restriction of the numbers of refugees were necessary and ethically justifiable. Certainly those who were better-off had the responsibility, to help the refugees. But the numbers of refugees in, for example,Germany were in the meantime too high. “Germany can’t become an Arabic country. Germany is Germany.” Ethically it is correct, he thinks,  that these refugees should stay only for a certain time, that the goal should be that they return to their own country to rebuild it.

Our Government discusses  a proposed law for Integration. It seems that it is now understood that Germany is an immigration country and that we need laws for regulating the way newcomers should be integrated into our society. That seems to be difficult at the moment when we think of destruction, demonstrations, the position of the European Union etc.. It takes a while until the people are able to cope with the new situation which came over us like a torrent.

As you will understand, a lot of people discuss the “case” of Germany, but when I look at my country  I am satisfied. Nobody tells the audience what to do. We are democratic. As you understand democratic action takes time, especially when you are a German citizen. There are people who suffer, who are anxious, who are angry and aggressive. But we have to stand it until we have thought enough and decided what to do. We also have to wait for help not only from the European Union but from outside Europe. The refugee crisis is an international problem, not only an European one.

Source for text and interviews: Frankfurter Allgeneine

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.