Forum at Schloss Bellevue on April 7, 2016
"Integration policy will come at a major cost for our society - large amounts of energy, great commitment, lots of money. But I am confident that the costs and expenditures are a sound investment in the future," Federal President Joachim Gauck said at the opening of the symposium titled "Refugees in Germany: Enabling Integration - Strengthening Solidarity" on April 7, 2016, at Schloss Bellevue. This joint event put on by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and Germany’s federal president made connections between the concrete problems in cities and communities, recommendations for political action, and the important topic of societal solidarity. Around 200 guests - including experts, academics, politicians, and honorary guests - carried on all-day discussions about the challenges facing politics, communities, and citizens.
During her welcome address, Uta-Micaela Dürig, Chief Executive Officer of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, emphasized that integration demands great effort from all participants. "In the day care centers and schools, at vocational training facilities and universities, in the workplace and during leisure time, in quarters of the city, at clubs, and at cultural events: this is where it is decided if integration will lead to participation - or to disconnected, parallel worlds."
Successful integration on a local basis
The topic of how integration can be successful on a local basis was the subject of the first podium with practitioners, moderated by Mitri Sirin: The elementary school headed by Gisela Schultebraucks-Burgkart in Dortmund invites parents of refugee children to "parents’ cafes" and offers language classes even for the younger siblings who are not yet of obligatory school age. As its founder Petra Schickert reported, AG Asylsuchende, the nongovernmental organization for asylum seekers in the Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge administrative district, is building networks for supporters and refugees. Dr. Hussein Hamdan advises communities in Baden-Württemberg on topics relating to Islam. Lord Mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker recommended directly addressing the fears and concerns of citizens: "I always ask them exactly what they are afraid of. Often it is merely a general fear of the unknown, which can be assuaged by bringing people together." Detlef Scheele, chairman of Germany’s Federal Employment Office, makes the case for integrating refugees more quickly into the work environment and not waiting until they have completed all of the language courses: "Many of them could already help out at a training center, for example, enabling them to begin learning German at the same time."
The refugee forum took place one day after the presentation of the final report of the Robert Bosch Expert Commission to Consider a Realignment of Refugee Policy. Armin Laschet, chairman of the commission, presented the recommendations. As part of seven subsequent topical forums, participants debated the topics of education and language acquisition, urban development, access to training and the job market, commitment of volunteers, cultural education and participation, societal solidarity, and domestic security.
How can societal solidarity be achieved?
The final podium with Germany’s federal president posed the biggest questions that reach beyond daily policy: How can societal solidarity be achieved? Professor Hans Joas (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), ZEIT editor in chief Giovanni di Lorenzo, Dr. Milad Karimi (Centre for Islamic Theology - Münster University), and former constitutional judge Professor Gertrude Lübbe-Wolf discussed this topic with President Gauck. The more diverse a society, the more important it is to agree on mutual rules - so much was unanimous. The constitution provides a framework for this; however, other factors are also very important for solidarity: "People are most likely to identify with a society if they are given the feeling that they have opportunities and are being treated fairly," said Gertrude Lübbe-Wolf. "That is ultimately more important than preaching about values."
ZEIT editor in chief Giovanni di Lorenzo made the case for honesty in reporting: "People have occasionally had the justified impression that some media outlets won’t mention problems with refugee policy by name." For him, however, the German media is generally among the most independent and best in the world. Federal President Gauck agreed: "For 50 years, I experienced a dishonest press firsthand - that’s why I cannot abide by generalized media bashing."