Strengthening Resilience in the Age of Disruption” is the topic today and our current times. Times that are marked by existential crises unfolding simultaneously such as climate change resulting in drought. Or extreme heat and hunger or Russia’s war in Ukraine, spiralling energy and food costs. Or the continuous fight against COVID-19. The crises of our world have a huge impact on our societies – but also on migration and integration policy in Germany.
When sketching out my thoughts on a modern immigration society in Germany for this evening, eight places around the world spring into my mind: Bucha, Lampedusa, Lagos and Schwerin. Hamburg, Berlin, Rostock and Washington, DC. These places show that we live in an interconnected world and are dependent of each other. But they also all illustrate the courageous migration, asylum and integration policy we require in Germany.
As part of the new Federal Government, I, we, stand for a fresh start, progress and respect. And if we are honest, Germany’s integration policies over the last decades have been too timid, too anxious, too late. Hence there is a lot we need to remedy and catch up on. Our aim is to build a country that enhances social diversity, that gives the same opportunities to all of its 83 million people and that consistently combats discrimination and racism. All this to make us a modern and timely divers society shaped by migration.
What does this mean in concretely? And what do the eight places from around the world have to do with it?
Let me take you to the first place, Bucha. The war crimes show what Russia’s war is doing to Ukraine. The war has been raging for half a year, causing so much suffering, death and destruction. Women and children, old people and even some who survived the Shoah, have fled their homes and made their way to Germany. To date, one million people have come to us.
How Europe reacted to the people fleeing from Ukraine was a triumph. What we saw was and still is solidarity - finally Europe has shouldered responsibility. For the first time in history, we activated and implemented the Temporary Protection Directive in the Member States. This means that refugees from Ukraine were granted a secure perspective and are not required to complete asylum procedures. In our country, they have access to employment, integration courses in order to learn German and are given social security benefits centrally by our job centres. This solidarity needs to serve as a blueprint -a master example - for the EU when reacting to future refugee intakes . And the integration from the very start has to be the blueprint for our country: fast decisions on asylum and residency, integration from day one, no employment bans – that is what we need and all this is laid down in the coalition agreement of this new government. There is no question that we have been successful in taking in the refugees that came to us in the last few months. But major challenges remain. We urgently need more adequate accommodation and flats. We need to support schools and the labour market. After all, now that people have arrived, we need to work on shaping our future together. Even if many are hoping to return to Ukraine as soon as possible.
Second place, Lampedusa. We need to finally understand that no-one leaves their home for the sake of it. Those who flee have good reason to do so and have to be able to present their request for protection. Without pushbacks and in fair proceedings based on the rule of law. Similarly, there must be no “first” and “second-class” refugees. In the case of Ukraine, the EU showed solidarity. But when people flee across the Mediterranean to Italy, Greece, and Cyprus, solidarity also needs to be the order of the day. For years, the negotiations on reforming the Common European Asylum System have failed to make progress. Some are obstructing progress and engaging in tactical manoeuvres seemingly oblivious to the fact that people are drowning off the coast of Lampedusa and Lesbos while they do so. Solidarity here is only practiced voluntarily by a small number of countries instead of anchoring it legally and putting it on a firm footing. Last week on a visit to Prague, Federal Chancellor Scholz underscored in his speech on Europe that the EU needs an asylum system built on solidarity and immune to crises. We have a duty to offer a safe home to people in need of protection. That is what this Federal Government stands for. That is why Germany will continue to work towards fair distribution and admission. That is why we are working with others to reduce the burden on the Mediterranean countries when it comes to taking in refugees. That is why we are strengthening resettlement together with the United Nations. So that others follow this path. So that we can put a stop to people dying on the high seas. So that we create more legal routes. Moreover, we do not loose sight of the fact that we have to deal with the root causes. Climate change in particular, alongside war and persecution will be a factor that is going to continually force people to flee.
Third place: Lagos, Nigeria. In his speech last week, the Federal Chancellor also rightly highlighted that Germany needs immigration. After all, our society is ageing and even now we are short of skilled workers in many sectors. That is currently the biggest factor impeding economic success. We therefore need to ensure that everyone in the country can feed in their potential. But we also need more skilled workers from abroad. This brings me to Lagos. It is a young and growing location for innovation. It is here that the tech pioneers, doctors and engineers of tomorrow are learning the tools of their trade. Hence, we want to set up here what Germany needs to attract labour and skilled labour from around the world. It is here that we want to offer pre-departure measures to prepare people for living and working in our country. If we want to be a modern country of immigration, then we have to offer integration and services before arrival. We want to provide tailor-made information, language courses and migration advice for all who want to come to us. And let me point out that Germany needs to really step up its efforts to ensure that workers and skilled workers decide to head here and not elsewhere. That is why I support the pre-departure work of the Goethe-Institut and others in Nigeria. We want Lagos to serve as a model. We want migration hubs which promote Germany and engage in pre-departure measures. But of course we want to do so without causing brain-drain, which is why we link pre-departure measures and development cooperation. Parallel to these efforts, we are improving the German Skilled Immigration Act so that more people can come to look for a job and for non-academic professions. Moreover, we are focusing on family reunification. Those who come as skilled workers are to feel at home here and also be able to bring their families with them. This is the only way to ensure they really settle in our society. I am actually stating the obvious here but this is a lesson Germany’s migration policy had to learn.
Fourth place, Schwerin. The town where I live and the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are home to 4000 people who only have a so-called temporary suspension of deportation. This means that their application for asylum has been turned down but they cannot leave the country. Many have been living there for years in a permanent state of limbo, without any prospects. They have to report to the foreigner’s authority in Schwerin to have this status extended several times a year. We are putting an end to these degrading successive suspensions of deportation and finally creating security and real prospects for people to remain. That is why we just adopted a new legislation on so called “Residence Opportunities” in the federal cabinet. This is a big step, a paradigm shift. Some 135,000 people stand to benefit from this and within a year they can meet the conditions to be awarded a humanitarian residence permit. They can live in peace and freedom, have a job to provide for themselves and their families. Finally, we are creating more humanity instead of mistrust.
Fifth place, Hamburg. In the City Hall of the Hanseatic City, there is a special event held several times a year. When Federal Chancellor Scholz was Mayor of Hamburg, he was always keen to attend. It is the naturalisation ceremonies. It is at these ceremonies that proud residents of Hamburg receive German citizenship in their City Hall. The city had done much to encourage people to take on German citizenship, with the Mayor even sending letters. I am now going to launch a nationwide citizenship campaign. The aim is that just like in Hamburg, we can convince more people to take on the German citizenship. We want everyone who is part of our society and lives the values laid down in our constitution to become German and to enjoy ull rights in their country. Therefore, are currently reforming legislation that governs citizenship in Germany. We are going to accept multiple nationalities and lower the hurdles for citizenship. We want the process to portrait openness and a sense of belonging! Those who decide in favour of Germany have to know and feel that Germany has also decided in favour of them.
Place number six, Berlin. A modern society shaped by immigration and with a strong social cohesion has to ensure equal opportunities and participation. For everyone. From day one. Regardless of the fact if they have immigrated or not. Today, Germany is a diverse country. Every fourth person has a history of migration in their family. Just like my parents and I. In Berlin, it is every third person. This diversity needs to be reflected everywhere: in businesses and school staffrooms but also in the federal ministries and in the Federal Chancellery in our capital. However, there, only one in eight members of staff have a migration history in their family. It should be twice as many! We need to address this. That is why I am now going to launch a diversity strategy for the federal administration which consistently highlights the value of diversity. Also, when it comes to attracting staff to all federal ministries and in all other sectors, we want to strengthen the representation of people from families who have immigrated. To put it plainly, yes, diversity is real in our country. But it also has to become normal everywhere.
Seventh place, Rostock. In a modern immigration society, we also have to face up to the negatives. Perhaps you saw the reports two weeks ago when we remembered the pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen on its thirtieth anniversary. Back then, following the German reunification, disappointment, shattered dreams but also racist thinking triggered hatred. In Rostock, the accommodation of asylum-seekers and Roma was subsequently attacked and set on fire. For weeks before that they had been suffering harassment. It was a miracle that no-one lost their life. Rostock shows where words can lead. And the pogrom is one of a number with racist attacks, which continue to this day. Mölln, Solingen, Halle, Hanau.
Today we have to work harder than ever to combat discrimination and racism. That is what I have been working on since being appointed Federal Government Commissioner for Anti-Racism in February. The Federal Chancellor established this position directly in the Federal Chancellery, showing the importance we attach to combating racism. Yet here, too, we need to be honest. Fact is that for far too long, far too little was done to fight this hatred. We are now catching up on more prevention, more political education, improved financing for democracy projects and tougher criminal law. It must be clear to everyone that Germany is only true to itself when it has a clear line on racism. We must all be anti-racists.
The eighth place: Washington, DC. It was in January that Demetrios Papademetriou passed away there. He was a wonderful pioneer of migration research and a strategist for political consultancy. With his international work, his research and his life journey, he strengthened those most in need of protection. Demetrios was a co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute. I consider his legacy to be our mandate to work for a forward-looking, humane migration and integration policy. No matter how huge the challenges and crises of our world. Yes, we need courage, determination and pragmatic solutions. After all, refugees and migration are part of our humanity and always will be. We mustn’t ignore this. Walls, fences and paragraphs will not stop people in need from leaving their homes. That is why we need good structures and smart solutions.
The eight places around the world show that we are globally interconnected and what Germany now needs to do to shape a modern immigration society.
Demetrios would have been pleased that we are talking about this today and tomorrow. So let’s argue about the best solutions. Let’s be open to new ideas and proposals. Thank you very much.