Integrating Asylum-seekers in Germany

by Sophia Kownatski

On Thursday, May 2, Annette Lützel (practitioner-in-residence at GHI West) spoke to a group of 20 to reflect on her experience as a psychologist and social worker in Germany, in a lecture titled “Asylum and Integration Policies in Germany – from the 1990s to 2015.” Lützel spoke not only from an academic perspective, but also from her experience in assisting asylum seekers through the years, offering personal insights on the the legal troubles and trauma that accompany an asylum seeker’s journey.

Lützel explained the legal bases and frameworks in place during the 1990s, when almost one million asylum seekers fleeing conflict in East and Southeastern Europe entered Germany. Between then and 2015, laws, politics, and public sentiments toward the refugee and asylum process in Germany have shifted, and Lützel traced landmark changes in her lecture.

In the 1990s, Lützel outlined, Germany had high unemployment, asylum seekers had limited rights, lived in insecure situations, and often failed to meet the legal basis as warranted by the German constitution to receive refugee status (at the time, those fleeing civil war did not meet the standard of being persecuted by the state or through political motivation). Germany’s aging population and fear of losing a young labor force, along with the election of a Social Democrat/Green governing coalition led to an easing of immigration policies, most notably reforming the legal basis for refugee status in the German constitution. Changing attitudes toward asylum seekers are most evident in the Wilkommenskultur (“welcoming culture”) of 2015, when Germany accepted about 700,000 asylum seekers. This initial eagerness wore off, and led to a number of deals with Turkey and Lebanon to stem the flow of refugees to Germany. Despite difficulties and protests, Lützel highlighted the change in cultural acceptance of refugees, evident across the country, including with her Language Teaching Project in partnership with the University of Hildesheim.

In the Q&A, one audience member asked about the relationship between federal, state, and local governments in refugee policy. While policies are mostly top-down, Lützel pointed to education policy – including refugee education – as a primarily state-run project. Another asked about the Language Teaching Project, which Lützel explained often assists in providing additional resources, such as job search programs, because of the lack of social workers in the region.