Germany faces the political and social challenges of migration.
In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she would open borders to refugees, especially to those fleeing the war in Syria. This act immediately created a new reputation for Germany as being Europe’s most welcoming country. But sometimes well-meaning policies collide with realities on the ground. WCFIA Visiting Scholar Gökce Yurdakul and coauthor Hartmut Koenitz examine the political pressures that have challenged—and even warped—Merkel’s progressive goals toward migrants.
By Gökce Yurdakul and Hartmut Koenitz
The immigration politics of Angela Merkel is a sensitive issue in our household. I told my partner Hartmut that we should write about Angela Merkel’s immigration and gender politics in time for her commencement speech at Harvard, and his reply was a curt “have fun.”
I, Gökce, came to Germany as a Turkish immigrant a decade ago, and for immigrants like me, Merkel has been a symbol of encouragement. Her famous words “Wir schaffen das!” or “We can do it!” (similar to Obama’s “Yes, we can!”) illustrated the legacy of Merkel’s political office in one message: “Welcome to Germany; we will accommodate you.” Her statements felt like a green light for many of us immigrants, and showed more acceptance than migrants to Germany had seen in the last fifty-five years, ever since Germany’s guest worker agreements with Turkey and other southern European and North African countries1 sparked a wave of migration to Germany after World War II.
My partner, Hartmut, on the other hand, takes an entirely different view. Whenever Angela Merkel’s politics is the topic of discussion in our home, he explains how for many Germans of his generation—people who were born in the 1970s in Germany—Merkel mostly represents a standstill, an extension of her mentor Helmut Kohl’s quest to keeping the status quo. In German media and politics, Merkel has been notoriously criticized in the past for her politics of Aussitzen (meaning “sitting out,” or stoically waiting for challenges to pass) as opposed to making fundamental changes, such as in the reform years of the Social Democratic and Green Party coalition (1998–2005) before her term.
Historian Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey tells the story of the African migrants who circulated between the Caribbean and the North America in the twentieth century, and how a subset of them built a transnational life, and racial solidarity, along the US-Canadian border.
As a worldwide movement to unite people of African descent, Pan-Africanism may have found its ideal reflected in a community that resided between Canada and the US in the early twentieth century. With fluid borders to aid their mobility, migrant blacks in the Great Lakes region forged a thriving community with arts, sports, intellectualism, and political consciousness at the center of social life. It was a brief yet remarkable piece of black diasporic history that calls into question the utility of rigid national borders and identities.
By Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey
The international refugee crisis—the result of internal strife and wars, poverty, climate change, and unstable governments—threatens the global order. In the Americas, this calamity is forcing migrants to seek safety and opportunity in the United States and Canada. From the turn of the twentieth century to the Great Depression, agricultural downturn, low standard of living, and natural disasters and epidemics compelled roughly 100,000 immigrants from the Caribbean and Central America to seek opportunity in the United States. Canada’s strict policies prohibiting black immigrants meant that fewer than three thousand entered the Dominion in the same period.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, black bodies often circulated around the Caribbean and Central and North America, driven by plantation economies and imperial rivalries. In North America, in fact, cross-border migration specifically between the United States and Canada represented self-determination. For example, the Underground Railroad, a network of clandestine safe houses and passageways, facilitated the escape of tens of thousands of enslaved persons to northern US states or into British North America (Canada) during the antebellum period in the early 1800s. After Congress enacted the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, a law that allowed the capture and return of runaways, upwards of thirty thousand fugitives and free persons crossed the border into Canada. Some of these refugees returned to fight in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Many more returned to the US in the promising Reconstruction years.... Read more about Cross-Border Cosmopolitans