How Germany Turned Its Refugee Crisis into Success

Its “we will manage” attitude could be an example to other European countries.

Cologne Germany
Skyline of Cologne, Germany (Unsplash/Eric Weber)

Migration is back on the European agenda after a fire in the Mória refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos left some 13,000 without shelter.

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson has called for “mandatory solidarity” from member states, but not all countries are willing to accept asylum seekers. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia resist proposals to distribute migrants proportionately across the EU.

With xenophobia hampering an effective migration policy, it’s worth taking a look at the country that has admitted the most refugees: Germany. Its “we will manage” attitude could be an example to its neighbors.

Labor market

Nearly half a million people applied for asylum in Germany in 2015, and another 750,000 in 2016. Many were refugees from the war in Syria, but there were also immigrants from Afghanistan and the Balkans.

Providing so many newcomers with work was slow going, but the numbers have been improving. Between 8,500 and 10,000 immigrants entered the German labor force in each month of 2018. Detlef Scheele, the head of Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, argued there was “no reason for pessimism” and “everything’s going quite well.”

Germany achieved this by facilitating well-attended mandatory German language courses and providing government-sponsored vocational training.


Roughly one in three asylum seekers in 2015-16 were underage. Few had attended tertiary education. Just 30,000 to 50,000 migrants who arrived in 2015 were qualified to go to university.

One year later, only 5 percent of migrant children were not in school.

Most children were enrolled in integration courses, which emphasized German language in order to prepare them for regular classes.

Programs were also provided for adults to go back to school and earn secondary education degrees, which qualified them for higher education.

One step at a time

Germany still has problems. The sheer volume of asylum seekers overwhelmed German authorities, causing delays in application processes and overcrowding of integration courses. Two in three migrants remain unemployed. In 2015-16, crimes committed by asylum seekers doubled.

But the country’s accomplishments shouldn’t be understated. Germany wasn’t an immigrant nation. It is now the second most popular destination for migrants, after the United States. It has quickly and efficiently absorbed a large group of foreigners. It has gained a youthful migrant population to offset its aging native population.

Other European countries should take heart. If Germany can integrate hundreds of thousands of migrants, so can they.