New refugees in Germany have encountered several problems: from manipulation by translators in accordance with their political leanings or psychology, and the difficulty of learning the language, to brokers taking advantage of their need for low-cost housing, and mistreatment by employers. However, these issues have not caused Marie Luise von Halem’s optimism to falter. She is a member of parliament for the Greens party in the state of Brandenburg, which up to four years ago had the highest concentration of neo-Nazis in Germany.
The Greens is the party that defends minorities in Germany the most. Halem says the obstacles faced by refugees are due to the huge influx in recent times. This led to anyone who knows the language being used as a translator without assessing their professionalism or suitability. Moreover, the housing and labour markets were not ready for the masses of refugees that arrived on German soil. Halem believes that Germany can turn things around, particularly by criticising those who exploit the fear of refugees, foreigners and the unknown for their own political gain—especially rightwingers.
The policy of the Greens, according to Halem, is based on welcoming any person who enters Germany and dealing with them as a German citizen. The member of parliament said: “Despite some people taking advantage of the issue for their own political gain, helping refugees immediately after they arrive at the German border is a necessity. Moreover, integration is a major issue for my party; we will defend and demand this as a single solution for society and for immigration as a global challenge, which is increasing of course.”
Halem acknowledges that the number of refugees was surprising and Germany was not ready for it, especially as the country’s bureaucracy is not known for being fast or flexible. However, she said “with time, the bureaucracy began to show flexibility and were concerned with finding solutions for people within the limits of the law. Moreover, there are people who had nothing to do with civil society or volunteering before, but they have become concerned with helping refugees and helping to establish shelters. This is a positive and much needed move.”
The MP continued: “It really is a cause of pride; it is a wonderful and very beautiful thing that people care for this humanitarian issue. The reason is deep in our historical roots; it is attributed to the experience we ourselves lived as refugees at the time of the second world war. We cannot forget that in the late 1960s we received Turks as labourers with contracts; but we made a mistake then because we forgot they would bring their families and integrate. So, we behaved differently that time and, early on, thought about integrating those who escaped to Germany, and their families, to find a place in society.”
Based on the size of the situation and the pressure, the present chaos is expected and, in fact, legitimate, she said; but the negative aspects can be assessed and changed for the better. “That is why I am optimistic.”
As for the crises caused by some refugees, such as sexual harassment and assault, Halem said these are individual mistakes and must be handled objectively, quietly, and with tolerance. “We have a responsibility to make German society’s ethics and concerns clear for those who escaped to our country so they can deal with the facts and expectations of the hosting society without violating its system and falling foul of the law. All people make mistakes, including the Germans of course,” she said.
On the international responsibility towards refugees, estimated at 60 million worldwide, she said: “we have to ask what we have done to have this huge numbers of refugees escaping wars, dictators, authoritarian powers, and oppression. We have to take into consideration Europe’s capabilities which enable it to absorb more than just one million people.”
On refugees’ complaints of mistreatment, including trouble with brokers, translators and other organisations taking advantage of the newcomers, Halem said: “We must not start [investigations] by doubting employees and individuals; we must assume that they have good intentions unless proven otherwise.”
As for integrating refugees in the labour market, she said for refugees who come to settle and want to enter the labour market, the doors for education and qualifications them must be opened to them, thus enabling them to compete in that market. Of course, that takes time, and the refugees need places and employers that would be willing to hire them.
Syrians, with their large numbers, are actually a great chance to increase the chances of cooperation with Syria in the future, she said. “I believe that if they are integrated into German society in the right way—imagine with me after the war comes to an end and they go back to their country—to what extent they will have an effective role in helping in reconstructing their country, when they go back with the advanced German know-how,” Halem explained.
On concerns about the creation of a “parallel society” by certain refugees who bring ethnic and religious fanaticism with them to Germany, she said that no doubt there are mistakes to be avoided while working to integrate them, and we will be able to do that more efficiently if we take all the citizens’ concerns into account.
“We, as a party, believe that strong roots and not fearing for one’s identity will help in easing integration. We also believe that any society is able to create a new, ideal identity based on pluralism and will become stronger for it. We believe that an identity based on pluralism and accepting others, results in a happier citizen than those who reject, marginalise, and exclude ‘the other’. All people must participate in the identity, laws, etc.” she explained.
It is “unimaginable” that people use the refugee issue as a political tool and the Greens will work hard to stop them from achieving their goals of racism and division. “Unfortunately, we have to admit that the right derives its political strength from Germans’ fears,” she concluded.