21 March 2016

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has published a survey in which both Germans and long-settled immigrants in Germany were asked to assess the situation of immigrants in the country. In this survey, the non-immigrant respondents painted a somewhat sceptical picture of what, according to their perception, being an immigrant in the country would feel like: 52 per cent were convinced that immigrants were faced with growing levels of distrust, and 45 per cent believed that immigrants were seen as foreign strangers by Germans; 35 per cent were of the opinion that immigrants would sometimes feel Germans treated them in a condescending manner. 41 per cent believed that immigrants liked being in Germany, while only 36 per cent thought that people with foreign roots conceived of Germany as their home country. Moreover, only 23 per cent of non-immigrants surmised that immigrants were able to lead ‘a fully normal life’ in Germany in which their life choices were unhampered by their immigrant background.

Interestingly, however, immigrants themselves rated their situation in the country quite differently: only 7 per cent of them asserted that they felt higher levels of distrust, and only 6 per cent had the feeling that Germans saw immigrants as foreign strangers. Only 8 per cent observed that Germans behaved in a condescending manner towards immigrants. Conversely, 69 per cent were of the opinion that immigrants liked being in Germany, and 65 per cent saw immigrants as conceiving of Germany as their home country. 55 per cent asserted that foreign roots did not play a role in their lives.

The same juxtaposition holds with respect to the answers given to the question ‘Do most foreigners who have been living in Germany for a longer time identify as Germans or as foreigners?’: while the non-immigrant German population estimated that 13 per cent of immigrants identified as Germans and 45 per cent of immigrants did not, 58 per cent of immigrants asserted that they conceived of themselves as Germans, and only 24 per cent claimed that they saw themselves as members of their country of origin. In terms of political preferences, the party-political predilections of immigrants closely track those of the non-immigrant population: when asked ‘Which party do you find most likeable?’, hardly any divergences between the two groups could be observed. Similarly, among both immigrant and non-immigrant respondents, 39 per cent were optimistic rather than pessimistic or agnostic about the future.

It must be made clear that a number caveats must be attached to the survey’s findings. The researchers note that the survey’s representativeness might suffer from a certain sampling bias, insofar as responses were voluntary and people self-selected into answering. This might be relevant especially with respect to the immigrant respondents, since good language skills and also a willingness to engage with questions on political life in Germany are a prerequisite that might exclude that some sectors of the immigrant population from the survey. Perhaps more importantly, while the number of Muslim respondents is too small to make solid statistical claims about this group, we do catch a glimpse of potential challenges for the Muslim community from their answers to the survey questions: while Muslims on average share the relatively positive assessment of the situation of immigrants in the country, only two fifths assert that their immigrant origins do not prevent them from leading a normal life (as opposed to 55 per cent among immigrant respondents generally). Similarly, a third of Muslims assert that they have already been insulted because of their roots (as opposed to 9 per cent of immigrants considered as a group); and a third sometimes feel treated condescendingly by Germans (in contrast to only 8 per cent of all immigrants). A fifth of Muslims also report increased levels of distrust directed against them while only 7 per cent of immigrants overall have this feeling.

All things considered, however, the survey offers a very interesting snapshot of immigrant and non-immigrant perceptions of the lives of individuals and communities with a non-German roots. Apparently, immigrants feel considerably more ‘German’ than their compatriots think. This might be reflective of the long-standing inability of mainstream German society to come to terms with the role of their country as an important migration destination. In fact, the article and the survey are telling in this regard: they often display a propensity to label describe immigrants as ‘foreigners’, thereby emphasising their non-German nature.

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