Between the Ground and the Air: Refugee Residences and Integration in Berlin, Germany
Kuehl, Alexander Leo
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Integration is of critical importance to refugees displaced from their home countries and to host countries with large influxes of refugees. This actuality is especially evident in Germany, where the government introduced the Residence Rule with the August 2016 Integration Act in order to prevent residential concentrations of refugees and promote residential dispersions of these populations within the host society at the neighborhood level. Through in-depth interviews with refugees living in a collective accommodation shelter in Berlin, I learned that the informants implicitly align with the German government’s perspective on the intersections between residential locations and integration. This is evident in the refugees’ preferences for living in residential dispersions with Germans and Berliners, and convictions that residential concentrations of refugees impede this population’s integration into the host society, while residential dispersions facilitate integration. My methodological approach prioritizes the seldom-explored refugee perspectives on integration and refugee choices over residential locations to reveal the reasons for this unexpected alignment. First, the refugees endorse interactions with Germans and Berliners as a way to facilitate cultural exchange and ultimately increase integration and conflict mitigation with the host society. Second, the informants invoke inherent refugee experiences – from displacement, to transit, to arrival phases - to explain the importance of integrating with the majority society, or in some instances separating from other refugees. I argue that both sentiments translate to refugees favoring apartments and residential dispersions over collective accommodations and residential concentrations. This thesis is a formative contribution to refugee and forced migration studies due to its focused consideration of the refugee’s volition to live in a residential dispersion and to take interim steps to achieve a high level of integration. Policymakers will find this work’s recommendations for reframing approaches to refugee integration mutually beneficial to refugees and host countries.