According to the High Commissioner for Refugees of the United Nations, by early 2023 there were more than 100 million people worldwide, about 40 percent of them children, who had been forced to leave their homes due to war and violence. About half of these had been forced to leave the homeland as well. The war in Ukraine alone forced eight million people abroad. About seven million had fled Syria, six million Venezuela, and three million Afghanistan.

The numbers of refugees continue to increase. New conflicts between countries and civil wars are constantly breaking out, even in places where until recently we thought them unlikely. Everywhere there are minorities who are not respected by majorities or rulers and feel forced to leave their homelands. Everywhere there are disputes over national borders, borders that were often drawn relatively arbitrarily by colonial powers and bring people together in countries that do not constitute nations. Climate change and vast international inequalities in wealth and future prospects are also driving more and more people to migrate.

Between 2005 and 2010, an average of about 30,000 people applied for asylum in Germany (BAMF 2023). After that, the number increased from 200,000 in 2014, 477,000 in 2015 to 746,000 in 2016. Partly due to restrictions introduced and the Corona epidemic, the numbers declined, but in 2022 the total again reached a quarter of a million, trend rising. On top of that, Germany took in more than a million registered refugees from Ukraine. Most asylum claims in 2022 were made by people from Syria (32%), Afghanistan (16%), Turkey (12%), Iraq (6%), Georgia (4%) and Iran (3%). Almost half of the asylum applicants (46%) were between the ages of 18 and 35 and about 70% were male. About a quarter to a third of applications are not granted in any way.

Migration and integration are inextricably linked to many fundamental questions in both the social and political sciences and in politics and society. These are questions of identity, belonging, autonomy, emancipation, discrimination, diversity, social cohesion, solidarity, responsibility, social order, and social policy. How important are identities, how do they come about and to what extent are they changeable? Do newcomers need to adapt or abandon parts of their existing identities in order to integrate successfully in the receiving country? Are there values, beliefs, customs, expectations that, from a normative or empirical perspective, can impair integration in a Western country like Germany? What triggers discrimination and racism, and in what conscious or unconscious, overt or covert, structural or incidental ways does it manifest itself? Can one criticize other cultures, values, or views of life on rational grounds? Is there a limit to the cultural diversity that societies can bear? Can societies become too diverse? Are parallel societies a problem? To what extent can migrants and refugees call on the support and solidarity of Western citizens and societies? To what degree does the West bear responsibility for refugee flows? What motivates people to emigrate and what motivations are defensible? What can migrants who leave everything behind to build a new existence elsewhere teach us about human existence: what values and goals are humans trying to realize, what needs have to be fulfilled? What forms of support or policy instruments can best help newcomers integrate into a host society? How does migration relate to populism and democracy?

Many of the questions that can be asked with respect to the integration of newcomers can also be asked with respect to natives. Large groups of people born and raised in our societies are regularly characterized by low social, political, cultural, or economic participation. To what extent should politics and society make an effort to integrate them? Should they be able to count on it? And how should this effort take shape? Among other things, the integration of newcomers here brings into focus the weaknesses and strengths of various kinds of welfare states. In the first years after arrival, refugees are generally highly dependent on the welfare state to build a new life. They mostly rely on it for an income, for housing, language and integration courses, general education, and vocational training. In this they are not essentially different from many others who reside at the bottom of the social ladder. These people, to a large extent, also depend on collective care arrangements in order to continue participating in society. However, how can the government best support them? Where do deficiencies occur and how might they be remedied? We will see, for example, that many care tasks in Germany have been outsourced to private parties who have to compete with each other in a market for public procurement. Does such a system work?

Furthermore, a central issue in the discussions about the welfare state is to what extent it should be activating or protective: does the government primarily guarantee the loss of income that can occur in the event of unemployment, illness, disability, old age or other setbacks in life, or does it above all try to help people build an independent existence through all kinds of activating programs? The shortcomings of Germany’s welfare system, which is primarily a parachute and not a trampoline, is probably nowhere more apparent when it comes to the integration of newcomers.

In short, many issues commonly associated with migration and integration are no less relevant to the present-day academic, political, and public discussions about the problems and shaping of the host societies. Therefore, the relevance of debates on migration and integration reaches significantly further than is often assumed.

This book addresses the issues of migration and integration by reporting on a research project that Social Science Works implemented in a district of the state of Brandenburg in 2021 and 2022. We zoom in on the observations and experiences of refugees, civilian volunteers, civil society organizations, and policy makers in Teltow-Fläming and attempt to generate from these observations and experiences more general insights on the major themes mentioned above.

First of all, refugees, the experts of experience on the issue of migration and integration, very extensively will get the floor. Many times, they are mostly talked and decided about. However, by engaging with them, we can gather important insights and greatly increase the chances of successful integration. In addition, those who try to help refugees in Teltow-Fläming in their daily lives and with their integration will be heard: social workers, municipal officials, representatives of civic and public organizations, civilian volunteers, et cetera. Higher level policy makers, particularly those of the Teltow-Fläming Regional Administration, who originally initiated this study, are also indirectly addressed: how do they deal with the problems associated with migration and integration, and how do they develop policies in this area. By painting the political and social context in which this project developed, we can also learn something about this context. How, in particular, do authorities deal with migration and integration in a land that had relatively little experience with migration, where resistance to migrants is relatively high, where democratic structures have only recently been introduced and where a democratic culture has yet to develop?

This book is a reflection of my views on what the social and political sciences can contribute to the development of useful knowledge, as well as to democratic opinion and policy development (Blokland 2018; 2024 forthcoming). The strength of political scientists and sociologists does not lie in developing or discovering timeless, universal, objective laws and theories. By focusing on this, we continually run the risk of becoming socially irrelevant and impotent: the one-sided emphasis on methods and theories deemed necessary to realize the goal of a social and political science modeled on natural science persistently relegates to the background the concrete social and political problems facing societies and their citizens. What makes more sense is to start with problems and explore what theoretical insights, if any, may be available to help advance their alleviation. Often, however, there are not many useful, applicable theories. Instead of kneading one’s own observations until they fit into theories, it is then more productive to try to gather from the bottom-up observations, experiences, generalizations, ideas, insights, and perspectives that together can shed light on the problem at hand (cf. Lindblom 1990). By a continuous test with the experiences of the people who face the problems on a daily basis, be it in the position of those who suffer from them or those who are trying to do something about them, one also has a greater chance of developing theoretical insights that do justice to reality and are useable at the same time.

Furthermore, we perceive problems because we contrast the observations in question with our normative views of how the world should be. When there is no discrepancy between our values and reality, there is no problem. The problems we deal with are therefore inevitably normatively charged. The same is true of any solutions: they are distinguished by the degree to which they enable the realization of our values. So instead of frenetically avoiding normative issues, this in an attempt to be “objective,” here these normative issues are explicitly related to our empirical observations. Hence, the usual separation between empirical and normative political science is not followed. Nor is the formulation of policy considerations and recommendations waived. When one wishes to deal with relevant problems, it is self-evident that one must also ask how these problems could possibly be alleviated. Moreover, problems are often only truly understood in all their facets when they are analyzed in conjunction with possible solutions.


Finally, a word of thanks to the many people who contributed to the creation of this book. First and foremost, thanks go to the residents of the refugee shelters who were willing to talk to us, sometimes at great length. It was not always easy or risk-free for them to speak about their backgrounds, experiences, and problems. Also, because they wanted to be heard, they nevertheless did. Thanks are also due to the forty or so stakeholders who shared with us their knowledge and insights. Certainly, the social workers regularly exposed themselves to risk with their openness, even if it was of course not life-threatening.

The interviews with refugees were conducted by six different people from Social Science Works in five different languages: Laila Keeling, Sahba Salehi, Anjali Zyla, Nadia Lejaille, Isabel Romijnders, and Hans Blokland. Marwa Farraj translated for us from Arabic into German several times. Laila and Anjali, who together conducted about half of the interviews with impressive sensitivity and skill, provided additional support for the collection and analysis of the quantitative data. Zélie Marchand and Annie Schwerdtfeger helped with the creation of an index, among other things. All were also helpful in translating and editing each other’s interviews. Nadia proofread a first version of this final report. Genevieve Soucek checked the text for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and other linguistic deficiencies. Hans Blokland is responsible for the analysis of the interviews and other data, as well as the policy considerations and recommendations. All shortcomings of these parts are mine.

The mutual cooperation and solidarity of these Iranians, French, Dutch, Americans, and Germans with immigrant backgrounds, was exciting, stimulating and heartwarming. It is actually not that complicated, to live and work together.

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