German public opinion on refugee integration is divided one year after Chancellor Angela Merkel's "we can do this" pledge. Too many unanswered questions may be partly to blame, says DW editor Verica Spasovska.
Angela Merkel is sticking to her "we can do this" pledge on refugees from last year. The public sentiment that statement fostered, however, has faltered. Optimism among Germans is more cautious, and a survey conducted for Deutsche Welle reveals two important findings: A majority of those asked believe refugees are making Germany more diverse. However, there is also an overriding expectation of more terrorism to come. Recent Islamic-inspired attacks and attempted attacks combined with the cascade of New Year's sexual assaults carried out largely by refugees in Cologne and elsewhere have put many Germans on edge.
The good news is that most Germans maintain a positive perception of refugees, seeing their presence in the country as enriching for society. This is an enormously important basis for the long-term success of integration efforts. It also runs contrary to the view from 40 years ago, when millions of guest workers came to Germany from southern Europe. Then, no one was talking about diversity.
The survey's other finding should also be taken seriously. Fear is on the rise, which naturally should not be stoked and instrumentalized – as the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is doing – however, these concerns cannot be swept under the rug.
Integration costs money
Perhaps "we can do this" would be more convincing if it were clearer what that might actually look like. Economic integration is a good example: Doesn't the government need to invest much more to ensure success and be transparent about that? Some 40,000 refugees have now found work in Germany, yet three-quarters of all refugees lack necessary skills. This means the state and the private sector have to first make most refugees work-ready. Training is expensive and requires patience. Investing both will pay off in the end, but quick results cannot be expected.
Shouldn't more security measures also be put in place? The federal police are expanding – the right move, but it costs money. Last but not least, deporting criminal foreigners can go faster than it currently does. This would serve as an important sign of deterrence, in particular following the New Year's sexual assaults. Of course, change doesn't happen overnight and deportation must comply with the law. Individual cases may require a significant amount of time to process.
The chancellor's "we can do this" pledge last year ushered in a unique willingness to help among Germans, the effects of which are fortunately still palpable. However, we need to take a deep breath if the momentum is to last over the long term. Moreover, we need to have an honest conversation about the social and economic challenges Germany faces.