Joint article by Malu Dreyer, Minister-President of Land Rhineland-Palatinate, and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Published in the “Rheinische Post” newspaper on 10 February 2016.
When we talk with people who have fled here to Germany from the crisis regions in the Middle East, what we almost always hear is that they long to return home. And the same goes for most of the people with whom we have spoken in the refugee camps. Syria is still their home, too. The situation was similar after the crisis in the Balkans. By the mid-1990s, many hundreds of thousands of people had fled former Yugoslavia and were living in Germany. By the end of the decade, two-thirds of them had returned home.
However, the prospect that people will return home must not be used as an excuse not to try to integrate refugees in Germany. On the contrary, it is in our own interest to make integration our top priority. People expect this of us. And in addition, integration measures can also give those who will return home one day the skills to rebuild their destroyed country. Working in German companies or learning about the core values of European democracy are not just ways to help people feel at home in Germany – they are equally valuable for a new start back in Syria or Iraq. This is the dual benefit of the package of integration measures that has now been set in motion at the urging of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). This is one of the issues that will decide where Germany is headed.
But first of all, we have to do our homework here in Germany. The arrival of so many people has a clear impact on the need for language training, integration courses, places at schools, active support for vocational training and our labour market policy. We also need kindergartens that focus on integration. We need more kindergarten teachers and more places at kindergartens. We need more funding for housing.
The work we do today to modernise our society will boost our whole country during the coming decade. Everyone benefits from better access to education and jobs, more opportunities for career advancement, more skilled labour, greater social mobility and a more equitable distribution of wealth. Moreover, these things increase our economy’s growth potential.
An intelligent integration policy takes the social and economic reconstruction of the Middle East into account. We have already started working on many relevant areas. For example, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief is training Syrian refugees as volunteers in its organisation. These individuals are not only helping the Agency in Germany – if they return to Syria, they will be able to make use of the skills they acquired in Germany. The scholarship programme funded by the Federal Foreign Office in the German Academic Exchange Service enables Syrians to study at German universities. The first 271 scholarship holders began their degree last semester. They too will lead their country to a better future one day.
For all this to work, obviously there must be a minimum level of security and opportunities in the crisis-hit regions. German foreign policy is focusing on this aspect – in the interest of the refugees, but also in our own interest in order to reduce the numbers of refugees on a permanent basis.
We are doing our utmost to reach a political settlement in Syria. There is still a long way to go, as the difficulties with the peace talks in Geneva showed all too clearly. However, it is our moral duty to try everything possible to put a stop to the killing in Syria.
Germany is doing more than almost any other country in the world to help Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey because the closer refugees remain to their home, the easier it is for them to return and start over one day. Germany covers the school fees for 60 per cent of the Syrian children who are able to attend Lebanese schools. This was another reason why we increased our funding once again at the last donor conference in London and persuaded other countries to do the same.
Political commentators are fond of saying that the borders between domestic and foreign policy are becoming increasingly blurred. We are putting this notion into practice in our refugee policy. We need a package of integration measures between the federation, Länder and municipalities; a package that includes both domestic and foreign policy; a package for the present and the future. This is how we see taking on responsibility in and for Germany.