Nearly one million ethnic Arabs fleeing war and violence back home have come to Germany since 2015.

This film follows one of them, newspaper editor and Syrian asylum seeker Ramy Alasheq, as he looks into historical patterns of Arab immigration and how the latest arrivals are being received in their new country.

For Ramy and many others, life has not been the same since young men said to be Arab were accused of robbing and attacking German women on New Year's Eve 2015 in his new hometown, Cologne. It is a city that Ramy has come to love. But while he and fellow immigrants initially received a warm reception, there are now widespread calls to halt the entry of Arab refugees into Germany. 

For hundreds of years, Germany has been a magnet for migrants and refugees from all over the world. But its specific focus on encouraging migration from countries in the Middle East like Egypt, Syria, Iraq and to a lesser extent Jordan, Palestine and North Africa, is not often discussed.

Through the human stories of second and third-generation migrants, as well as incoming new refugees, this film paints a picture of how the experience of Arab immigrants in Germany has changed over the decades. 

We ask what it means to be a foreigner in Germany, and at the same time come to understand Germany itself and the reasoning behind its immigration policies. We also hear from German analysts and decision-makers about Germany's dependency on migrant communities to re-populate its dwindling towns and keep its economy strong.


FILMMAKER'S VIEW

By Mariam Shahin

It has been nearly a decade since my initial curiosity was aroused about the fate of the thousands of Arab students and emigres who had come to Germany in the late 1950s.

In 2007, I made a short film about Muslims in Berlin, the city of my birth. Having left at the age of eight, my memory was selective, but I remembered the fun gatherings of my father's friends in our homes in Berlin: graduate students from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. My father became a biologist and cancer researcher, his friends became surgeons, physicians, archaeologists and insurance agents.

When I returned to Berlin to make the film, I realised I knew very little about the community which had been the cradle of my early childhood. Unlike the now increasingly documented narratives of Arab immigrants to the Americas, France, England and other countries, Germany's Arab immigrant history was a vast unknown, even to those who grew up there.

It took the opening of Germany's doors and borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from predominantly Arab countries to stir an interest in the Arab-German relationship

Mariam Shahin

It took the opening of Germany's doors and borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from predominantly Arab countries to stir an interest in the Arab-German relationship.

The reasons for Germany's "doors wide open" policy were a bit of a mystery to me. The justifications are not widely discussed or even documented. There are tidbits here and there - and of course the words of Frank Walter Steinmeier. In 2015, the then foreign minister and now president of the German Republic said that with a shrinking workforce and aging population, Germany needed the refugees to boost its aging workforce.

Travelling from the far west of Germany in Freiburg to the east in Dresden, I found that the relationship between the "old" Arab immigrants to Germany and the new Arab refugees and asylum seekers mirrored the changes of over five decades in the Arab world itself. The older generation, many of whom came in the late 1950s and 60s, basically assimilated and accommodated their status as tolerated and, sometimes, welcomed guests.

The new generation, symbolised by the presenter of the film Ramy Alasheq, a newspaper publisher, poet and asylum seeker from Syria, is fully versed in the multicultural mindset which developed in the past 50 years in dozens of societies around the globe. Unlike many of their predecessors, they don't accept the dominance of one culture over the other. They seek parity - they insist on it.

Germans of the 1950s and 2017 are as different as the old and new Arabs of Germany. In the 1950s, Germans were still shell-shocked from the second world war and grateful for their own survival. They were focused on moving forward and eager to be and remain part of the Western civilisation. Today, Germans are more confident in their ability to lead Europe and the West towards a more integrated global economy and internationally accepted norms.

A poll in late February showed 15 percent of Germans support the right-wing, anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Perhaps this 15 percent will resist the transformation of Germany into a more multicultural society, but the vast majority is willing to accept it - within limits. Both Angela Merkel and her more left-wing challenger Martin Schultz espouse policies of inclusion, which are challenged by both the right and left as being too much or too little.

The new refugees, especially those from Syria and Iraq, are struggling culturally and economically. They will need to conform to the German way of doing things, working through the bureaucratic elephant to reach their goal of becoming citizens with equal rights to others. But they are unlikely to be forced to assimilate culturally, like those who came before them. In cultural terms, they will remain Arabs in Europe's largest country and strongest economy. For them, in many ways, it is the new promised land. 

Source: Al Jazeera