Migrant Lives

If History Is A Guide, Today’s Refugees Are In Trouble

Many refugee families after World War II took generations to get on their feet. A new German study finds today's influx of refugees face the same risk, and new ones too.

Refugees arriving in Berlin in October
Refugees arriving in Berlin in October
Florian Schmidt

BERLIN â€" There are obvious parallels between the current flow of refugees into Europe and the massive displacements produced 70 years ago by World War II. And that, according to a new study by the Kiel Institute of Economic Research (IfW), is not good news.

The big problem for both groups, the comparative study concluded, is employment. "The first generation of current refugees basically doesn't stand a chance in the German job market," says economist Sebastian Braun, author of the report.

World War II refugees struggled to find gainful employment all the way up to the 1970s, Braun and his colleagues found. The jobs they did find tended to be poorly paid â€" "even though their level of education was quite high and they already spoke German," the researcher explains.

Up to 8 million people came to West Germany from the splintered remains of the former Third Reich. Most of them hailed from East Prussia and the Sudetenland, and most of these settled in the West between 1945 and 1946. By 1950 their share in the total population of Germany was nearly 17%. For the sake of comparison: German authorities registered nearly 1 million refugees last year, equivalent to only 1.2% of the country’s current population.

"Due to the destroyed cities and the disastrous economic situation, many Germans viewed the integration of the displaced as an unsolvable problem," Braud says of the World War II refugees.

German refugees from eastern Prussia in 1946 â€" Photo: Bundesarchiv

Authorities decided it would be best to settle them in rural areas, away from the destruction of the large cities. But then, as now, there were fewer job opportunities in the countryside than in urban areas. “Which is why many surged to other areas, such as the Ruhr region, where their chances of finding a job would be increased," the economist explains.

Braun thinks this development pattern is about to be repeated, with the idea of revitalizing the structurally weak regions of Eastern Germany. But he doesn't expect the strategy will work, and says the greatest danger is that the refugees of today will become the long-term unemployed of tomorrow. "This phenomenon emerged with the displaced post World War II and was a reality until the 1970s," says Braun.

Employment prospects improved for the second and third generations, but for the first wave, the job situation was always precarious. "It will not be any different now," according to the researcher, who expects it will take newcomers up to 15 years to have any real hope of finding a job.

And unlike many of their World War II counterparts, todays refugees lack German language skills, satisfactory educational training and job qualifications. "The displaced in post-war Germany spoke German and had the same education as other Germans," say Braun. "And yet they still faced major problems for years seeing as they were discriminated against and lacked social networks in their new environments."

Taking that into account, the situation certainly doesn't bode well for new arrivals, who despite the availability of language courses and other improved integration routes, might take even longer than their predecessors to find a well-paid job.

"But this also means that Germans will not have to fear any competition in the job market from refugees, as the asylum seekers are in competition with each other more than anything else," says Braun.

The researcher says the message that many politicians are voicing â€" that education and equality are the key to integration in the job market â€" is commendable, especially if Germany is to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Early childhood equation is particularly important. "We need more kindergarten spaces," says Braun. "The earlier we get onto that the better."

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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