Policy Paper

Three Years into the Refugee Displacement Crisis

December 10, 2018
Astrid Ziebarth
Timo Tonassi
3 min read
Photo Credit: Talukdar David / Shutterstock

Executive Summary

In 2015–16, Germany experienced a massive spike in people seeking protection. During this timeframe, no other European nation received as many people fleeing conflict and destitution. Providing shelter and offering protection are tasks that require global and EU responses. This report, however, focuses on the unique impact of the recent displacement crisis on Germany at the federal level. Three years after the start of the crisis, one can now begin to assess how the needs of both those seeking protection and the society receiving them were met — as well as which gaps and challenges remain. As migratory pressure from Europe’s neighborhood builds unabated, it is important to utilize post-crisis moments to reflect upon hard lessons learned since 2015 so that potential foreseeable challenges can be met instantly with targeted policy responses moving forward.

This report presents information in two parts. The first briefly summarizes the main events of 2015–16. It highlights central legal changes to Germany’s protection law occurring in response to as well as public reaction to those changes. Most of the important policy changes pertaining to protection, such as Asylum Packages I and II or the 2016 Integration Act, served to streamline processing and integration procedures. While public support for protection seekers prevails among Germans, 2015–16 was a stress test that challenged public attitudes toward newcomers and launched a right-wing backlash in Germany.

As migratory pressure from Europe’s neighborhood builds unabated, it is important to utilize post-crisis moments to reflect upon hard lessons learned.

Germany’s process for receiving protection seekers has undergone a major transformation. Whereas the country’s first task was to gain proficiency in meeting newly-arrived protections seekers’ most basic needs, now its focus lies on integration: how to fit those with a high chance of attaining a resident permit into the country’s social fabric and its institutions. The second part explores these integration challenges in sectors such as the labor market, education, and housing. The German government spends large sums to provide adequate emergency accommodation for those seeking protection and has passed legislation to make its labor market more accessible to newcomers. The country is also struggling to integrate hundreds of thousands of young protection seekers into its education system. This part further highlights current policy challenges linked to protection seekers, such as providing legal pathways for seeking protection, family reunification, and deportations of those whose protection requests were denied. Here, the government must address various issues ranging from deals with countries of origin to increasing numbers of appeal cases to making deportation procedures more efficient. If legal pathways (e.g., resettlement programs) are meant to impact protection seekers’ behavior, quotas need to be adjusted accordingly. This logic, however, must be weighed against the financial and social costs of such initiatives. Finally, this part also includes a look at volunteer management and communication, two issues that are often overlooked despite their significance. Volunteers do much of the integration work on the ground with newly-arrived protection seekers. More research on volunteer management and additional qualification courses (specifically for volunteer coordinators) are needed. Media outlets must strive to report all facets of protection-related migration (positive and negative), while being as inclusive as possible when representing differing viewpoints and actors. At the same time, policymakers are faced with the task of how to talk about migration and protection with the public and especially those who have concerns about migration.

Policy Paper