Refugee Reception and Perception in Germany and Canada

Project Researchers

Elke Winter
Project Lead

Associate Professor at University of Ottawa

Project Description

The years 2015 and 2016 were amount the most turbulent in recent history of refugee movements in the Western world. Amongst other factors, the Syrian conflict generated massive flows of people seeking refuge in Germany and elsewhere, many of them families and unaccompanied minors. Canada has resettled over 42,000 Syrian refugees since November 2015. This is the largest undertaking since Canada resettled 60,000 Indochinese in 1979/80. Governor General David Johnston called the arrival of the Syrian refugees a “defining moment” for Canada (Furey, 2016). In Germany, about 1 million refugees literally marched to the country’s doorstep and have put the country before a huge and ongoing challenge regarding asylum decisions and refugee integration. While the initial reception of the Syrian refugees has been overwhelmingly sympathetic both in Canada and in Germany, concerns about refugees’ apparent unwillingness to integrate and their seemingly privileged access to social benefits and jobs are getting louder. Indeed, if the first months had been dominated by arrival and (short-term) settlement issues (e.g. housing), the long-term perspectives in both countries are dominated by questions of identity/ies and integration – whether social, cultural, economic, or religious. Slowly but surely (accepted) refugees are expected to not only “settle in” but also to “fit in”. Since only relatively few members of the mainstream society have the chance to actually meet recent asylum seekers and (accepted) refugees, issues of identity and integration are heavily shaped and communicated through the mainstream media. The influence of media portrayals on the success of immigrant and refugee integration has been demonstrated abundantly. As most vividly shown by the 2007 media-fabricated “crisis of reasonable accommodation” in Quebec, any “real life” efforts or successes in immigrant and refugee integration are almost futile if public opinion does not take notice or the media opts to portray refugees in a negative light. Knowing about refugee perceptions (in the media, public opinion) helps to anticipate and avoid these kinds of “crises” and/or counteract detrimental portrayals.

Project Findings

In its first year (2017-2018), research for this project focused on preparing a comparison of the representation of Syrian refugees in one German (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and one Canadian (The Globe and Mail) newspaper. Inspired by the notion of sublation (i.e. allowing others to become us) as developed by Bauder (2011) and drawing on critical discourse analysis, the research team examined newspaper articles that were published between September 2015 and January 2016. Our results show that the representations of Syrian refugees in these newspapers generally reflect the national traditions of both countries (i.e. Germany as an ethnic nation and Canada as a settler society), however, they also highlight some peculiarities and contradictions: The articles in the Süddeutsche Zeitung reveal stark divisions within German society regarding “the refugee question” (supporters versus opponents), as a result of which the German national solidarity seems to be compromised in favour of an alliance between Germans supporting refugees (the majority) and the refugees. The articles analysed in The Globe and Mail demonstrate that the media coverage of Syrian refugees in Canada is less negative in comparison to that of other refugee groups. However, this positive representation is mainly used to highlight the “true” character of the Canadian nation, i.e. its generosity and benevolence toward minority groups.

Project Publications