Before the hurricane hit and sent hundreds of students running home for an extended Fall Break, a group of students settled in on the cozy couches of Ward Hall’s fourth floor common area to await the arrival of Frau Annette Klein. Frau Klein is a Consul General for the Federal Republic of Germany, and she was invited by Professor Nancy Decker and Professor Martina Vidovic to speak on the current immigrant situation and refugee crisis in Germany. These topics corresponded nicely with Dr. Decker’s RCC course, Economics of Migration.
Frau Klein is the Consul General for the German Consulate General in Miami, FL. The Consulate General that she is in charge of is part of a chain of offices that act as additional support for the German Embassy located in Washington D.C. They are designed to cover various geographical areas. The Miami office covers Florida, Puerto Rico, and the American Virgin Islands. Rollins was honored to be her first stop in Florida before she even began her new position in Miami.
She spoke mostly on the migrant and refugee situation in Germany, offering information primarily on the refugees. Her conversation included the benefits and difficulties of life through the refugee’s perspective, and through the nation’s perspective. The difference between the two types of immigrants are that refugees are forced to flee their homelands due to war or persecution, while migrants voluntarily leave because living conditions are not easy.
She worked to familiarize students with the refugee’s plight by sharing a bit about what life was like for those who found safety in Germany. First, the refugees flee to Europe and must ask for asylum. As heartbreaking as it is, some may be turned away. However, for those who do stay, they have a new challenge ahead of them. They must first adjust to reality as they realize that their notion of Germany being a nation of abundant wealth is false.
Next, it is important for them to get back to a stable life. They learn German so that they can get jobs, but this is more difficult for some than others. For some, the process is slow because they are traumatized from their experience abroad. But for those who are learning, they will accept any job that they can get, even if it is just to learn the language. They will later switch to better jobs once they have established themselves.
Germany is grateful and proud to say that the refugees are very cooperative and often willing to take any job offered.
Furthermore, although refugees are thought to be unwelcome due to stigmas of violence and dependency, Frau Klein explained that this was simply not true. The stories and stigmas that do ruminate typically originate from migrants rather than refugees. The crime rates among refugees, including Syrians and people from Iraq, are lower than Germany’s average. If there is any crime, it is over petty things such as riding a bus without paying for the ticket, or taking an apple because they are starving. The refugees and the migrants alike do their part in breaking the stigma of dependency.
Germany’s belief in providing a sanctuary for immigrants of all kinds to reestablish themselves is reinforced by the immigrant’s positive influence on the economy and welfare of Germany. Twenty percent of new businesses are created by immigrants, and German population is also strengthened by immigration due to their low birthrate.
This new information leaves us with a new respect and sense of responsibility regarding the refugee crisis globally, and in the United States. Further challenges and calls for support are going to be placed on our governments. The refugee crisis in Syria had been predicted, but very few paid attention or prepared for the flood of refugees. Similar predictions are currently centered on Sudan. Frau Klein prompted students with a question that she says every government and person alike should be asking themselves: what will you do about it? To give a bit of perspective on how many refugees the United States is accepting, or rather not accepting, Germany is roughly the same size as the state, Montana. Despite this lack of land, they have accepted many more refugees than the United States.
When I asked Dr. Decker and Dr. Vidovic what they thought our responsibilities as students were from this point forward they stressed the importance of being open, and reading about the world. Germany is an excellent example of compassion and ethical responsibility, and we are thankful that Frau Klein came to Rollins to share some of her insights with us.