The German government and businesses should do more to get refugees into the job market, local councils have said. Regional authorities say they are too often left with the task of integration.
Germany's local governments have called for more help from their federal counterparts to integrate refugees into the job market.
Nearly 600,000 refugees were claiming unemployment benefits in Germany in mid-2017, some 250,000 more than at the same point in 2016, according to Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB). Just under 200,000 refugees, meanwhile, had found jobs and had begun to pay social security contributions.
"The figures show that we still have massive efforts to make until we have integrated refugees into the labor market," Landsberg told the Funke Media Group, before adding that Germany was stuck in "fixed integration patterns."
Landsberg's comments were backed up by Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who in an interview last week also said that local governments deserved more money to help integrate refugees. "We have to reward the towns and municipalities for taking in refugees," he told the Funke group on Saturday.
"They should get the cost of integration replaced by the federal government," he said. "And they should get the same amount on top for their citizens."
Lines in Berlin, sports halls full and empty
The cost of housing and administering refugees caused much friction in German communities at the height of the refugee influx in late 2015 and early 2016, especially in urban areas like Berlin, where local authorities were often short of cash, and municipal buildings like sports halls were requisitioned as emergency housing for new arrivals.
At the moment, Germany actually has the opposite problem. The closure of the so-called Balkan route through Europe (the borders between Serbia, Hungary and Austria are all now effectively shut to migrants) means that the number of new refugees dropped sharply in 2017.
As a result, a survey by public broadcaster WDR found earlier this monththat a third of all refugee shelters in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia remained empty, with the costs of maintaining the shelters running into tens of millions of euros.
Gabriel, former leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), said it was crucial that local authorities weren't faced with a decision between housing refugees and, for instance, renovating a public swimming pool. "On this basis the municipalities should decide for themselves how many refugees they take in," he said. "That way we can prevent people getting the impression that everything is being done for refugees and nothing for them."
European solution — or Danish model?
Gabriel also suggested that the European Union could step in to organize a continent-wide plan to promote refugee integration. "The EU could implement a program to help finance municipalities in poorer member states," he said — in other words, countries would be rewarded for taking in more refugees.
Figures revealed last week showed that the agency in charge of administering Germany's refugee policy, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), would miss its own integration targets this year. The waiting time for migrants to start integration courses rose to 12.5 weeks by the end of November, well short of the six-week goal BAMF had set for itself. In January, the wait time for an integration course was 10.9 weeks.
Not only that, BAMF also missed a goal of having 430,000 people participate in integration courses this year. Up to the middle of December, only 280,000 participants had taken part in integration courses in Germany.
According to Landsberg of the DStGB, this is in stark contrast to Denmark, where refugees were being integrated into the job market even while they were attending Danish language classes.
Landsberg also said that major companies could do more to get refugees jobs in Germany, arguing that training and qualification for new arrivals was in the interests of German businesses as well.