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Iraqi refugees waving as they arrive at Hanover Airport Photo: Holger Hollemann/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

In Germany, and staying

Clara Walther / ccb
October 10, 2012

Resettlement means a new start - for 300 refugees this year, who will be allowed to stay in Germany forever, as well as for Germany. The country is charting new territory in its refugee policies.


Europe is the dream destination of many refugees throughout the world, but for some, especially seniors, women and children, the journey to what may seem like a Promised Land ends in death. In 2010, about 1,500 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to Amnesty International.

"For years, Germany has evaded international responsibility in the refugee question and just left people to suffer," Andrea Kothen, of the non-governmental organization Pro Asyl, told Deutsche Welle. "So we thoroughly welcome the decision of the state interior ministers to become part of the Resettlement Program." 

Survivors of a boat which had sunk on an Italian coast guard vessel EPA/GUARDIA COSTIERA / HANDOUT
Many refugees are lucky to make it alive across the MediterraneanImage: picture alliance / dpa

The German Resettlement Program

Resettlement is a completely new approach in German refugee politics. Participants of the Resettlement Program are taken from refugee camps in Turkey or Tunisia and flown directly to Germany. They are allowed to stay in the country legally and forever.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has practiced resettlement for years. Germany, however, only committed itself to cooperate with the program in 2011.

"We want the UN Refugee Agency to see us as a reliable partner. Therefore, we - the interior ministers of the 16 states - have promised to permanently accommodate 300 refugees a year," Uwe Schünemann, Lower Saxony's interior minister, said as he welcomed 105 Iraqi men, women and children on Tuesday (09.10.2012), as they arrived at Hanover Airport.

The 105 who have been chosen are considered in particular need of protection according to the criteria of the UN Refugee Agency. A German commission came to the same result after a thorough investigation.

For the 105 "chosen," a new life of peace and security is about to begin. 

Prospects in a foreign country

Most of the new arrivals fled to Turkey during the Iraq war. Because they belong to religious minorities like Assyrians and Chaldeans, a return to their country of origin is out of the question. And Turkey can hardly deal with the large number of refugees with which it is currently having to cope. Each year, 50,000 people from war zones and hot spots in Asia and Africa come to Turkey, where they can only be provided with the most basic essentials.

Schünemann Photo: Nigel Treblin/dapd
Schünemann says Germany will resettle 300 refugees a yearImage: dapd

"Many people spend years, not just months, living on the run, without any legal security," says Andrea Kothen of Pro Asyl. "It's not a rare thing for children to be born in refugee camps. These families need to be provided with prospects for the future."

And prospects in a foreign country don't simply materialize. Germany has finally come around to recognizing that fact as well. In 2009 and 2010 the country accepted 2,500 Iraqi refugees as part of an ad-hoc treaty. They were supposed to stay in the country permanently, but many of them are still struggling with their new life in Germany. Language barriers and unemployment have stood in the way of their successful integration.

Language classes and work permits

Politicians claim to have learned from these experiences.

"We are confident that our integration assistance for Iraqi refugees will work," Schünemann told DW.

And indeed, a lot of efforts have been made to prepare the refugees for their new home. German social workers traveled to Turkey to speak with them about their future, and to practice their first German sentences with them. 

The Iraqi refugees will spend two weeks in the reception camp at Friedland. After that, they will travel to municipalities in six different states.

The inside of a Nissen hut at Friedland Photo: Swen Pfoertner/dapd
Friedland has been a reception camp since 1945Image: dapd

The refugee families are supposed to go apartment hunting with the help of local authorities. If their vocational training or academic diploma is recognized in Germany, they can start working immediately. The goal is to give the refugees the possibility of earning their own money, so that they can truly and permanently arrive in Germany.

 “In the end, it's all about the local support systems, like whether the people at the labor agency are informed about the fact that the refugees can immediately start working,” Andrea Kothen says. “A successful integration into the job market is only possible under these circumstances.”

Germany is in the early stages of the Resettlement Program. Compared to other European nations, the country still extends the permanent right of residence to a relatively small number of people.

Sweden for example takes in 1800 refugees a year under such a program. That's six times as many as Germany.

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