Integration debate

Germany and Immigration – “Integration courses for all”

Annette Treibel; © Campus-Verlag


The sociologist Annette Treibel, author of the book “Integriert Euch!” (i.e. Integrate Yourselves!), believes that Germans and immigrants are equally responsible for ensuring that they live together in harmony.

In light of the many refugees coming to Germany, people here are once again engaged in a controversial discussion about whether we live in an immigration country. How do you view this debate?

Many people see the USA, Canada and Australia as being immigration countries but feel that Germany is different. As a sociologist, I like to say that Germany is a new kind of immigration country: in terms of the way it perceives itself, it is still on the way to becoming an immigration country. One hears talk of people “coming to Germany”, though this suggests that they will leave again sooner or later. This is hardly the case, however, and for decades German politicians have been creating legal and political immigration instruments that have a very real function in everyday life. In other words, the political elite has passed laws designed to facilitate immigration, yet to this day it fails to make any public and self-confident assertion of the fact that Germany is an immigration country.

Why is there such a lack of self-confidence in Germany when it comes to this issue?

In our media society, it is above all spectacular and negative news that is of most interest. Good news is boring. Having said that, a few more boring reports about successful cases of integration would have helped to increase our self-confidence as an immigration country. In scientific terms, there has long been a “migrant middle class” in Germany: the descendants of the “guest workers” have climbed the social ladder. There has been less reporting of such successful developments than of more problematic trends. The academic world, on the other hand, has taken it for granted for the past 30 years that Germany already is an immigration country.

“Fast-tracking the debate”

If Germany is already an immigration country, how could it increase its self-confidence about this status?

As a result of the many refugees from Syria and Iraq, the debate about immigration in Germany has become fast-tracked. At last a great deal of discussion is taking place, which I see as an opportunity to talk with broader public reach about cases of successful integration and immigration. For some time now, Germany has ranked as the second most attractive destination for immigrants after the USA. This has mainly to do with developments in recent years – for example, pressure from certain economic sectors such as the catering industry and geriatric care has resulted in legal exemptions being granted when it comes to work permits. This makes it easier for foreign workers to come to Germany.

“Integrate Yourselves!” – Who is this appeal – the title of your book – aimed at?

My key proposition is that we live in an immigration country and that integration is a project that concerns everyone. I make a distinction between “old” Germans – those who have been Germans in Germany for many generations – and “new” Germans. The latter include people who have immigrated to Germany and may or may not have been naturalized, as well as those from immigrant families who were born and raised here. In many cases, they no longer have any connection with the original culture of their parents or grandparents. I would urge people finally to stop addressing these “new” Germans as foreigners but rather as natives. By the third generation, they can no longer be automatically assumed to have expert knowledge of the societies from which their grandparents originated. This is what I mean when I advise everyone to integrate themselves in Germany as an immigration country.

“Education and support”

How does such an appeal reach “old” Germans who feel worried and insecure?

They need not only education but also support. It would be a good thing to have integration courses for everyone, in which their questions could be answered: How can we all live together in an immigration country? Is it also okay for us to live parallel lives in some cases? From a sociological perspective, I take a relaxed view of this: modern societies contain all kinds of subcultures and milieus which do not mix, or do not mix immediately.

What can additionally be done to support successful integration?

One crucial aspect is for structures to be supported. This will depend on how much money is channelled into the education system, into integration courses, into language courses and into the professionalization of teachers who are increasingly confronted with multilingual students. What sort of support is there for the economy to ensure that the much-needed workers are actually given a chance? Many companies, schools and local authorities have been focusing on immigration for years and have acquired considerable experience when it comes to Germans and immigrants living together. We should ask these people more often how this can be achieved.

Annette Treibel is a professor of sociology at the Institute of Trans-disciplinary Social Sciences at Karlsruhe University of Education. Since 2011 she has been a member of the Rat für Migration (i.e. Council on Migration) under the auspices of the German Commission for UNESCO. In her book “Integriert Euch! Plädoyer für ein selbstbewusstes Einwanderungsland” (Campus-Verlag, 2015), she reveals that many immigrants have long lived at the heart of German society as a matter of course.
Bettina Mittelstraß
is a freelance journalist with a special interest in education and research.

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
November 2015

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