Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Center for European Studies
Since around 2015, Germany and other European countries have experienced a large increase in the number of refugees entering their countries. As a result, there has been much pushback from native Germans against this new foreign presence; recent terrorist attacks carried out by radical Islamists throughout Europe have only made Europeans more skeptical of allowing refugees in their countries. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been especially criticized for her open-door policy. Last year, she and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer have clashed heavily on the issue of migration and refugees, threatening the already fragile government coalition. However, more recently, Germany has decreased the number of refugees accepted while increasing deportations to other EU countries. While the number of refugees is showing no signs of decreasing to pre-2015 numbers in the near future, Germany and other European countries are coming to terms with the fact that they must not only offer refuge but also successfully accommodate these refugees. Current discussions of the refugee crisis frame it as a new phenomenon, but these discussions ignore other influxes of refugees in Germany’s past. It would be beneficial for German politicians to also reference what they have done in the past when they are looking at how they should approach this “crisis”. The issue of integration and assimilation has been a salient topic in recent discussions surrounding refugees. On one hand, many Germans expect the newly arrived refugees to fully assimilate to their customs, but many refugees are not willing to completely forfeit their own culture for Germany’s. In contrast to earlier times of refugee migration, these refugees are coming from places whose cultures are viewed as antithetical to German and European culture. In this essay, I will investigate how German society approaches the question of assimilation/integration through an analysis of the mainstream media representation of refugees in Welcome to Germany. I will show how the unidimensional and shallow character of the refugee in this film is indicative of a German society that is unwilling to accept refugees as fully human with complexities and faults. Welcome to Germany is a popular German film centering around a family’s decision to adopt a Nigerian refugee named Diallo that promotes a narrative that is counteractive to progressive work surrounding the political and social treatment of refugees in the country. I will analyze how Diallo’s role in the movie and his relation to the Hartmanns, the family that takes him in, contribute to a more close-minded view of refugees. I will also put this into the context of the film’s relative success in Germany and how the movie was received by the public.