Perceiving and Receiving (Syrian) Refugees in Germany and Canada: Exploring Small n Comparisons

Monday, 16 July 2018: 14:45
Oral Presentation
Elke WINTER, University of Ottawa, Canada
Canada’s Governor General David Johnston called the arrival of roughly 40,000 Syrian refugees since November 2015 a “defining moment” for Canada. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” (“we will make it”), which allowed about 800,000 refugees to enter Germany will mark her legacy. In both countries, the initial reaction to the – very differently arriving – refugees from the Syrian civil war was overwhelmingly sympathetic. Increasingly, however, concerns about refugees’ apparent unwillingness to integrate and their seemingly privileged access to social benefits and jobs are getting louder.

There is usually two ways in which the members of the mainstream society learn about refugees. In Canada, roughly 35% of Syrian refugees came through private sponsorship arrangements (not the state). In Germany, volunteering and civil engagement, usually stable at 36% of the population, have increased dramatically since 2015 and many new groupings and associations have come to exist next to established service provider organizations. While this rise in volunteers befriending (Syrian) refugees is impressive, the overwhelming majority of Germans and Canadians do not have the chance to directly meet asylum seekers and refugees. Rather, they form their opinion about “them” by the ways in which immigrants and refugees are represented in the mainstream media: are they portrayed as innocent, pitiful and deserving? Or do seem to be illegals, cue-jumpers, profiteers, and rapists? As such, media portrayals have a huge influence on the success of immigrant and refugee integration.

I first present preliminary results of two recent studies using qualitative analysis to study a limited amount of data, one studying civil society and refugee reception, the other analyzing mainstream media perceptions of refugees. Against this backdrop, I then address the question of how sociology and sociologists can contribute to the successful resettlement and integration of refugees.