Why is Germany perceived as the land of opportunity for refugees? Syrians in particular share more cultural common ground with Greeks than with Germans, but the belief that we have heard repeated is that refugees cannot make it in Greece due to the financial crisis. Despite not knowing a lot about the culture or lifestyles of Germans, asylum seekers believe that Germany offers the best benefits, healthcare, and employment opportunities. One service provider described how Germany has replaced America as the country in which people collectively dream of upward mobility and economic success.
One reason for this fixation on Germany may be due to a cascading effect: Merkel was one of the first and most vocal European leaders to welcome refugees, so while the borders of Greece were still open, Germany became a destination for refugees in 2015. Germany not only has the reputation for being refugee-friendly, but new arrivals now often seek to join their family members who already came to Germany ahead of them. The prospects of economic opportunity, a welcoming society, and reunification with family members make Germany the top destination for nearly every person we have spoken to.
However, now that Greece’s borders are closed, most asylum seekers must apply through the formal relocation process and accept whatever destination countries are offered to them. When we asked people whether they would be satisfied with relocation in another European country besides Germany, most people actually said yes, that their ultimate priorities were safety and education for their children.
Once people have been settled for some time, it will be interesting to investigate whether the reality of life in Germany differs in any significant way from the high expectations and pre-conceived notions refugees held before arriving. It will also be interesting to learn how the process of formal relocation changes the dynamics and distribution of asylum seekers around Europe, and wether the German dream will still prevail.