Three decades ago, I read the graffiti at my university “Everyone is a foreigner in almost everywhere” – it did not require much thought so see that there was no disputing this. Today the hullabaloo and concern about the refugees is great and even football stars are publicly vilified by politicians.
The right-wing populists are on the march in some European countries. The situation in Germany has become somewhat defused since the “deal” with Erdogan but the “problem” was thereby shifted away from the Balkans to the much more dangerous routes across the Mediterranean. There is a constant stream of images of upturned boats – we are not shown the dead bodies.
Neither do we see the inhuman criminal economic interests of the people traffickers and arms dealers, the geostrategic games with resources which have war and human lives as their blood tax. The most unpleasant thought would appear to be that the western nations are the cause of the refugee flows.
The other side of the coin is that every foreign-looking person is seen in a knee-jerk reaction as a threat – all the more so if our own economic situation is insecure and we see them as competitors with regard to our own value system, property and social benefits, jobs and housing. Anyone who sees themselves as being on the losing end looks for scapegoats. And “foreigners” are always good for that.
The “new arrivals” need our concrete help. It is most effective when integration deliberately refrains from integration because it declares being different and foreign to be normal. The diffuse fear of being swamped by foreigners can only be resolved in one-to-one meetings with refugees.
Andreas Siegert from the Social Research Centre in Halle accurately describes such a change of perspective: “Foreigners are stupid, but the one next door is really nice.” And he tells the story of the three Syrians playing for the local football club in Saxony-Anhalt who are cheered on by right-wing fans in bomber jackets. It is a paradox of social psychology but true: our prejudiced ideas are contradicted by practical reality.
If integration is to succeed, it must adopt a differentiated and timely approach: with children in learning the language and social contacts, the earlier the better; with adults in a task, meaningful work or activity. That overwhelms German bureaucracy, the length of its processes creates detrimental slack.
Hence volunteering and independent initiative are required. Everyone can make a start locally in their neighbourhood, their city district, social facility or club – without ignoring the background of economic policy which predetermines the internal and external displacement and refugee flows.