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Germany's Warm Welcome To Migrants Marks Shift In Attitudes


Germany has been accepting immigrants for a long time. This current wave of migrants and refugees is different. Tens of thousands of people are showing up every week. A minority of Germans view that as a threat. But most tell pollsters they welcome the arrivals. The asylum seekers have become essential to Germany's growing economy. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports on the history of immigrants putting down deep roots in Germany.

CANDIDO MACHOCHE: (Speaking German).

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Candido Machoche is a popular man in the Eastern German town of Freital, and he loves to stop and chat.

MACHOCHE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: The 57-year-old is a professional brew master who takes great pride in the Pilsner produced at the Dresden brewery where he works. Machoche is also an elected councilman in Freital, a scenic hamlet of 40,000 where he's lived for three decades. He is a loyal member of Chancellor Merkel's CDU political party, is married to an ethnic German and has three grown children. In his free time, he coaches a local boys' soccer team.

MACHOCHE: Come, come, come, come.

NELSON: Sports is one way Machoche says he broke the ice with locals who were uneasy about black people back in 1980 when he first arrived from Mozambique. He had come to what was then East Germany for vocational training.

MACHOCHE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says nowadays, he feels as much a part of German society as any ethnic German who lives here. That's because growing ties between EU countries in recent years have helped diversify German thinking, as has a growing need by Germany's aging population for qualified foreigners to fill high-skilled jobs.

These days, 1 in 5 Germans comes from an immigrant background. Peter Matuschek of the Forsa polling firm in Berlin says roughly 9 out of 10 Germans see their country as a land of immigrants and perceive that as a good thing.

PETER MATUSCHEK: There is a broad consensus that we should accept refugees for reasons of war, political prosecution, religious prosecution and so on. But of course, there is a sentiment that, well, we should not accept, in the long run, people coming from countries in order to look for a better life if this is the only reason.

NELSON: That's especially true in the former East Germany, says Reiner Klingholz, who heads the Berlin Institute for Population and Developments.

REINER KLINGHOLZ: Clearly, in this situation, people from other countries - immigrants - could be seen as competitors of the labor market. So for that reason, in areas in Germany where the unemployment rate is higher than average, we might see - and we actually do see - more people who are reluctant to this kind of immigration in high numbers.

NELSON: That reluctance has helped increase support for anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organizations and has fueled attacks against asylum-seekers and their group homes. Back in Freital, Machoche blames growing unease with immigrants in Eastern Germany on unemployment and economic hardship in the region.

MACHOCHE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says a few acquaintances are taking it out on him by refusing to join him for a beer and a chat as they had in the past.

MACHOCHE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Machoche says he hopes Berlin will curve the large number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany because he fears, quote, "the good people will grow tired of them." Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Freital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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