Integrating Syrian Refugees in Eastern Germany

A Cultural Textbook

by Kamilia Rostom (Author)
©2020 Monographs X, 288 Pages


This book covers the integration of Syrian refugees in Germany, especially eastern Germany. In this novel genre of “teddytext” the author visibly reacts with scholarly evidence to explain how eastern and western perspectives converge and differ. The author guides refugee integration by showing Syrians how Germans think, and vice versa. First comes a panoramic overview of the West’s “Diversity Transition,” now changing ethnic to mixed societies. The rescue effort is both corporatized and voluntary process-action, a mass form of government-civil society cooperation modernizing and speeding up conventional integration processes. Main obstacles include the national east-west split, the east’s capital strike, and governmental efforts to manage Germany’s spoiled identity through politicized stigma management imposed via the remembrance policy. These together make easterners second class citizens. Former refugees are ethnic victim groups unable to take full part in Germany’s corporation-colonized lifeworld. This includes former Prussians and returned USSR German settlers whose political awakening seized on refugees in a struggle for power to oppose the remembrance policy. Brandenburgers oppose refugee integration through Know-Nothingism, deception, and ostracism, in part because refugee integration would threaten their “dirty togetherness” social organization. Nonetheless, refugees interviewed and examined in Berlin and Brandenburg are educated, motivated and, despite their traumatized condition, determined to stay and succeed. Their integration is happening more quickly and promises to be more completely successful than ever before. Improved skills recognition and refugee education are keys. Integration would be even better if Germany itself were integrated.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I: Analysis
  • 1. Overview
  • 2. Coming to Grips with Integration: Culture and Science
  • 3. What Challenges Confront Social Integration in Germany?
  • 4. Springing into Action
  • 5. The Corporatized Integration Machine and Process-Action
  • Part II: Empirical Findings
  • 6. Integration Heaven: Berlin
  • 7. Integrating into Berlin
  • 8. Integration Hell: Hennigsdorf
  • Part III: Synthesis
  • 9. Walled in Heads
  • 10. In Memoriam
  • 11. Remembrance
  • 12. Assessing the Refugees’ Readiness to Integrate
  • Appendix
  • Index

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Special thanks go to my M.A. supervisor, Carleton University Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies’ now former Director Dr. Achim Hurrlemann, and to my second reader Dr. James Casteel. Berliner historian Ursula Ahrens-Bues gave me marvelous and invaluable criticisms of an earlier draft that transformed a long essay into a teddytext. M.D. Dorin Colibasseanu of the Mayo Clinic blessed me with both substantial criticism and continual encouragement. Camy also thanks Jon B. Alexander, Jr. and Leo MacDonald for helping to improve the current work. Angela Girard, of Statistics Canada—bless you Angela—lost much sleep helping with illustrations.

Among those too numerous to list who gave astute advice and continued encouragement, my best ever German teacher, Carleton’s Dr. Ulrike Tallowitz stands out, as does that gifted teacher Dr. Valdana Stanisic-Keller encouraged me to undertake graduate study at Carleton University.

I hereby declare Peter Lang New York a heroic pandemic-proof publisher. Special thanks to Farideh Koohi-Kamali, Rachel Raiola, Gaelyn Foster, Michelle Smith, Jackie Pavlovic and, from India, Divya Vasudevan.

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Part 1


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Overview: The Great Transformation

Just as the forests and fields of the physical environment are being replaced by streets and skyscrapers, the primordial institutions around which societies have developed are being replaced by purposively constructed social organizations.

James C. Coleman

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This integration study is like none other. Written by a former Arab refugee, this text explains, interprets, and assesses Syrians’ integration into Germany. Other studies take a host’s perspective, with refugees on examining tables. I treat Syrian refugees and German hosts together. To Germans, I speak to you as a loving daughter. I offer underground notes from a refugee’s perspective. I will look at Germany’s politics, your anxieties, even your passions and red lines of conflict. This woman once stood where new refugees stand now. Germans saved me, and my integration succeeded. This text will show you how to help Syrian integration succeed as well.

Since I address Syrians in Germany and you are informal people so is your text. Call it a new genre, the genial textbook, the teddytext. In a standard text, the author hides somewhere in the sky like a cloud raining down wisdom. In a teddytext, the author goes along quite visibly as you read, holds the reader’s hand and gives a little hug now and a little chat then along the way. That helps me to show you eastern and western thinking differences. To Syrians I speak as an older sister, first introducing you to integration’s context and basics. Later the focus shifts to eastern Germany, where most integration problems exist, to unravel some of the more obvious intertwinings. I will present known sociological truths on why that’s so. How to improve matters? I’ll explain where Arab and German perspectives converge or clash. In this, I beg for your indulgence. As a former Arab refugee in Germany, I speak for and to fellow refugees, presenting your lives without veils or veneers. Here you will find your and your hosts’ viewpoints and feelings as I found them.

Tramping around Germany, I did not study butterfly specimens. Nor do I honor the tangles of taboos surrounding this area, though I do stress their importance. This teddytext seeks to bridge what has been too long two solitudes. To each side I show how similar we are, and why our histories should unite not divide us.

Once-bright boundary lines have blurred, and barriers have fallen. Please step right this way to get a refugee perspective on your current integration process. Jot down what you learn here. Remember and get it all right so you can tell family, friends or enemies. In the grand refugee debate, this is the author’s two nickels’ worth. I’m betting this loveable little text will help you change your life significantly for the better.

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As we seek answers, I ask you to make imaginative switches with me. This will give you practice in alternating between eastern and western perspectives. Answers here rest on western scholarship yet are neither eastern nor western, but both. How can one judge the outpourings of knowledge and misinformation? People in academia, think tanks and government now focus attention on refugees.1 Valid knowledge is available. We understand integration’s basics. It’s time to collect this knowledge and put it in useable teddytext form. Most texts present only others’ data and theories; this one presents original research. We have skipped delays that make other texts outmoded by the time they first appear.

Recent theoretical and technological advances have joined, though not yet formally. Your coming generated a new industry designed to leave no would-be worker idle. This has given integration practice a new funnel-like shape. Enough information has filtered from researchers to decision-makers to spur major modernization—cultural, social and economic. It can also turn long-unemployed natives into productive workers.

Now my eastern side speaks to Syrians. For Germans, this entire area is too taboo-laden for them to see important realities. I hope Germans will read this book. We all need plain, open and honest talk. From a German perspective, the most important question concerns Syrians’ integration potential. Are Syrians doing your best to lessen the disturbance your coming caused? You too wonder how well you both are doing. For Syrians and Germans, I give solid evidence-based answers. Close observers view Syrian willingness and motivation as high. People elsewhere also wonder how well, given your headwinds and help, you are integrating, personally, socially, culturally and economically.

Syrian interviewees helped me understand your hopes and anxieties. I used an interview guideline2, but they spoke to me quite freely. Refugees seldom share with strangers their most personal, sensitive and traumatic experiences.3 This proved no problem. You accepted me. This affable writer—my friends call me Camy so you can too—experienced slower, relaxed traditional means. Impelled by new friends and precious neighbors, my experience was pleasant. I’m three-fourths Egyptian, one fourth Turk, and I arrived as an abused child escaping danger, though I did not escape Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This teddytext conveys one Arab woman’s born-in-Cairo perspective. Being intercultural, my two viewpoints, one eastern, one western, sometimes disagree.

My realist, detached, cynical western eye looks for facts, patterns and trends to classify disinterestedly. This eye delights in numbers, hard data it treats as key. My eastern eye looks out subjectively, with passion, finding statistics informative but cold. This eye feels, winces and cries at seeing misery, pain and agony. Naïve, sympathetic, idealist, it won’t let me look away or reduce tragedy to money values.

My western eye switches with ease between my various roles. Far more sensitive, my eastern eye demands personal consistency. To integrate means to gain the flexibility to play various roles. For westerners, all the world’s a stage. You’ll eventualy outgrow the initial discomfort you get playing western roles.

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To integrate into German life, you should develop a western viewpoint and learn to reconcile what each eye sees into full insights. In doing so will you forget who you are? Take heart. Integration need not affect your Syrian nature. You just add new capabilities. I’m as you will become, neither eastern nor western, but both. Look through this cultural translator’s clouded eyes. Pity us participants and raconteurs, pro and con, trying to make sense of your prospects.

Camy’s integration was a slow pleasant challenge. I stayed twelve years. Today, I find fascinating how fitting in has since changed. No opposition greeted me. Does opposition arise from numbers alone? Betts and Collier answer. “Nearly all of the opinion polls and social-psychology evidence tells us that public concern about asylum is not about numbers per se; it is about a perceived loss of control.”4

What is my best integration tip? Large refugee waves do produce a sense of lost control that may increase of its own momentum. Don’t let your behavior encourage any such impression. Germans hate disorder.

This teddytext casts light on today’s situation in Germany and hints what may come. Broader focus would reveal, for example, that donors’ failure to give enough money to camps in Jordan and urban refugees in Jordan and Lebanon is what mainly sparked Europe’s 2015–2016 influx.5

Today’s society absorbs cultural elements you bring to it. Society becomes more mixed, with broader varieties of skills, perspectives and knowledge. The best integration activities let Syrians help others. You need that sense of usefulness. On this, top academic scholars agree. My sweet Darmstadt neighbors though long ago showed me how being useful would deepen my integration.

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Refugees whose lives I studied were in two sites that exemplify extremes in this, history’s most momentous rescue. Germany has reduced time and customary inclusion activities to secondary status in favor of modern collective action. The process no longer takes its traditional three-generation course.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

In 2015–16, 1,170,000 Syrian asylum seekers came. Almost half were children, one-third adult males, and 17% adult females. Those with work experience, 71%, included 30% manual workers, 25% salaried employees, 13% managers and 27% self-employed. This last group will likely succeed best.6 You are not average Syrians. While well over 75% of escaping Syrians stopped in nearby countries. Better education, more money, and hope of work and a better life brought you further.

Culture works through parents’ guidance; local lore; practices and habits; and shared hopes, fears and aspirations. Germany’s new process-action approach works through joint action involving governments plus civil society and/or business actors. The state may organize and lead but cannot give orders to nonstate partners. Private actors cooperate. They add extra goals, for example, feeding Moslem refugees while dangling the Cross. Actors rely on each other. Shared impacts cross social borders. Effective process-action takes leadership, strategy, resources, incentives and partners. Germany has these in abundance. Your integration is happening within this effort.

Work of process-action agents is widespread. For the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), cooperation among concerned groups is crucial. This includes governments, EU institutions, IGOs, business, civil society organizations and communities. In this German rendezvous with destiny, process-action applies at all levels and areas.7

Future historians will memorialize Germany’s response to your coming as historic. Germans acted upon moral duties they learned from Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant. For Kant, humans are one family. His universal law, Golden Rule or categorical imperative says act as you want others always to act toward everyone. Germans today display this Prussian virtue’s worth.

Logical–Rational Transformations

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Learning to tolerate differences only occurs once differences that need toleration arrive. The modern way is to integrate newcomers quickly and, if necessary, with force. The hardest change may be fitting into modern society. That can cause endless confusion. What does this mean for you? In Syria, traditional norms are strong, so Germany’s rationalistic outlook requires substantial changes. Modernity includes more than developers who gobble up farmland and spit out subdivisions. Chicago sociologist James Coleman calls it the Great Transformation.8 For Coleman, this development brought today’s advanced society into being. Modernization still sets history’s main directions. Its downside? It weakens social ties that once reinforced people’s ability to find solutions to our selfish behavior’s harmful side effects and so makes process-action necessary.

Corporation Takeover

Modernity’s physical change came with big social changes. For historian Arnold Toynbee, modernity’s heart is a conviction that “our future largely depends upon ourselves. We are not just at the mercy of an inexorable fate.”9 Where did modernity start? Coleman’s answer is the French and the first Industrial Revolutions. Europeans might choose the older Protestant Reformation. It began in Saxony-Anhalt, and Brandenburg Prussians spread it with arms. Prussia also encouraged the growth of corporations. For Coleman, the corporation’s invention was decisive. Corporations enjoy rights not based on people. Their growth made rational human organization possible and necessary. Corporations’ impacts, positive and negative, continue to spread. Some effects are direct and some as elusive as April morning mist. Germany’s baby bust came from social changes corporations brought. First male and now female careers have harmed fertility. Those not so employed get hurt most. Victims include housewives, elderly and jobless people, but also children.

In the 1960s, Coleman led a U.S. study that guided Black student integration via busses. His national 600,000 student study, Equality of Educational Opportunity, compared minority with majority students. Coleman found school outcomes depend more on parents’ social and economic status than on money spent. Schools where students can build social and personal capital perform best. Social class integration proved more important than racial integration. Coleman is still our top integration teacher, and his findings apply well to Germany:10

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The interests harmed are those related to certain activities: socialization and childcare, maintaining the household as a socially viable enterprise, and, generally, activities involving care for other persons …. The harm has resulted from the alienation of first the husband and father from the household and subsequently the wife and mother. The consequence is that those products of joint production in the household—resulting from adults’ productive activity‒such as childcare and care for other dependent persons—have become uneconomic.

German society has two parallel structures. First is the traditional lifeworld, where everyday life happens. It rests on the family. The other structure, purposeful by design, rests on systems that corporate actors run. These include firms, trade unions, voluntary associations, and some government agencies. Over time, these actors took over most family functions. The family has begun to unravel. Women leave home to perform paid work. This is harmful when children are below school age because of their vital developmental need to keep secure attachment.11 Mom’s job puts children in daycare. This isolates them from adults who would otherwise have guided their growing up. For Coleman, “corporate actors are the parasites, and natural persons are the hosts.”12

Once the lifeworld was the whole of paramount reality, where everything began and ended.

The trifles of our daily lives,

The common things, scarce worth recall,


X, 288
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. X, 288 pp., 8 b/w ill., 3 tables.

Biographical notes

Kamilia Rostom (Author)

Kamilia Rostom is a writer, photographer, poet, people watcher (she is an Arab, after all), and nature lover. Kamilia studied French at the Sorbonne, got a B.A. in political science at Arizona State University and an M.A. in European studies at Carleton University. Her languages are Arabic, French, English and German. She has worked as a U.S. national senatorial political assistant, an associate editor at the Canadian Science Policy Research Center, an event coordinator for the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee #26, and most recently worked to help make and apply refugee policy at the European Union Commission, DG Education and Culture in Brussels. Her scholarly contributions include work on Arab, especially legal, culture. She has recently published on behalf of the EU Commission themes of refugee education, integration and governance best practices throughout the EU.


Title: Integrating Syrian Refugees in Eastern Germany