How Germany Opened its Heart to Syrian Refugees

Since 2011, Germany has welcomed about 100,000 refugees from war-torn Syria — substantially higher than most other nations in the EU and far more than Canada, according to refugee advocate Hanns Thomae.

2015-0615 How Germany Opened its Heart to Syrian Refugees

Amjad Al-Saleh, whose family fled their home in Marea due to Syrian government shelling, is comforted by his mother as they take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey. Almost 4 million Syrians are now registered as refugees after fleeing the wartorn country, according to the UNHCR

By: Debra BlackImmigration Reporter,Published on Thu Jun 11 2015

Since 2011, Germany has welcomed about 100,000 refugees from war-torn Syria — substantially higher than most other nations in the EU and far more than Canada, according to Hanns Thomae, a 63-year-old German refugee advocate. In the first four months of this year alone about 20,000 refugees came to Germany, he says. That’s on top of 47,000 refugees in 2014. Thomae was in Toronto this week to discuss how refugee groups, churches and faith groups in Germany lobbied and challenged the government to open its doors to Syrian refugees. The former director of Refugee Outreach for the Evangelical Church in Berlin and Brandenburg spoke to the Star on Monday.

How were advocates able to get Germany to admit and welcome so many refugees from Syria?

“Certain reasons and factors came together … Churches have been working for quite a number of years on the protection of refugees in Germany. Another factor is the mood in society (in Germany) now is positive towards refugees. They agree we should help refugees. Right-wing extremists tried to fight this and tried to organize public opinion against this. But almost nowhere did the right-wing people succeed in organizing against refugees. We are lucky the government did not play the xenophobia card. We had former governments that did this in the 1990s. Lawyers and courts did — during the last few years — a good job so protection of refugees would become better. (For example) in the early 1990s the German government made a law that social help for refugees is much lower than social help for Germans … In 2012, the court decided this law was unconstitutional.”

What could Canada do to admit more Syrian refugees?

“Canada could do what Germany and Sweden did. Send border police to Lebanon for example, do the checking there and have some planes to bring refugees from there to Canada. This would not only solve the situation, but it would be a very important demonstration of solidarity and it would give hope to refugees … We brought 10,000 refugees from Lebanon and Jordan. UNHCR made suggestions who this would be and the German border police went there, did the checking and decided who was allowed to come … We (also) have a program that Syrian people living in Germany can invite members of their family to come to Germany when they can pay for their living (expenses) … I don’t know how many Syrians live in Canada. (But) to start with, you can let members of their families come to Canada or people who once have been to Canada, maybe did their studies here, can come here. Just to start with. Go step by step. I think it would be a very important political signal if Canada would decide to take a (larger) number of Syrian refugees (or all refugees). Maybe other countries would follow.”

Any other specific advice for advocates and the federal government?

“I do not know the political situation in Canada. But … everyone knows that these refugees they lost everything. They lost their country, their jobs, their houses, maybe their families and friends. They need help. It’s very clear the neighbouring countries can’t take all the refugees. We should try to make this clear and to give understanding that we are and live in countries that do not suffer war. We do not suffer poverty, insecurity. We have an obligation to help these people … When they finally reach the country the most important thing is to integrate them as soon as possible, open the labour market, acknowledge their professional qualifications … It’s good for the country. A government, if it’s not ideologically blind, should understand this.”

Refugee crisis by the numbers

30,000 — Syrian refugees pledged to be accepted by Germany since 2013;

1,285 — Syrian refugees pledged to be accepted in Canada (with 10,000 more promised asylum earlier this year);

3,500 — Syrian refugees pledged to be accepted in Switzerland;

5,600 — Syrian refugees pledged to be accepted in Australia;

2.2 million — Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon;

1.7 million — Number of Syrians registered by government of Turkey;

24,055 — Syrian refugees registered in North Africa;

Most recent numbers from UNHCR, May 2015. Data does not include total number of refugees accepted since crisis broke out or most recent numbers and pledges.


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