In addition to the interviews that each member of the Missoula to Berlin reporting team set up in Germany, the group was treated to numerous lectures from various experts on the refugee crisis in Europe. On the third day of our visit, Werner Schiffauer, a professor of cultural studies at Europa Universität, gave an engaging lecture about refugee integration and the social implications of religious diversity that changed my perspective on the european refugee crisis.
Beaming in the brightly lit conference room, Schiffauer’s interest in the topic was infectious. Besides his owl-like eyebrows and Bavarian accent that filtered even into his fluent English, what struck me most was his emphasis on the good that has come from the refugees in Germany.
Schiffauer explained that the media has focused heavily on the negative implications of the refugee situation, such as the financial burden of accommodating refugees, the threat of terrorism and the backlash from right-wing extremists. While this is necessary to the discussion of refugee issues, what Schiffauer highlighted was the unparalleled “Refugees Welcome” movement. Volunteer workers have spearheaded an astonishing number and scope of projects in the last year to address this issue. Refugee shelters were often overwhelmed by the number of donations and many were even forced to stop accepting donated food and clothing items.
It is this grassroots effort that Schiffauer finds so heartening. For many Germans this unprecedented rise in altruism became a partial expression of atonement for their role in the holocaust and the second world war. Unfortunately this movement has been downplayed in the media. “The media focuses on the rise of the right-wing,” he explained, “but ignores the monumental left-wing momentum since 2015.”
According to Schiffauer, this willingness to give and desire to innovate is the sliver lining of the crisis. While volunteerism and left-wing momentum have decreased in the past six months as fewer refugees have entered Europe, unprecedented numbers of German’s are still engaged. This selflessness in the face of fear and uncertainty is what gives me hope for the future of refugee integration in Germany.
It’s not only Germany which can benefit from the human willingness to give. Even many conservative Germans find the United States’ meager acceptance rate of 10,000 refugees laughable. As someone who has observed the refugee situation in Europe firsthand, I suggest that the United States government reevaluate its minuscule acceptance quotas. My hope is that we, as a nation, can address our fears and uncertainties associated with immigration in a reasoned manner in order to become more selfless and giving to those in need.