This report looks at social relations, individual attitudes and migrant integration experiences in small and medium-sized towns and rural areas (SMsTRA) in Germany. Drawing on participant observations, interviews with post-2014 migrants, and focus group discussions with long-term residents in six case study localities, integration of post-20014 migrants is analysed as a whole of community process along four dimensions: (i) spatial, (ii) social, (iii) ideational and political as well as (iv) governance-related factors.
The report finds that a considerable share of the interviewed post-2014 migrants see SMsTRAs as good places to live, in case private housing and work can be found. SMsTRAs are valued for their dense civil society network of support, calm atmosphere after exhausting years of flight, and, for families, as safe places for children to grow up.
The report identifies the following decisive factors for community-making: Firstly, spatial structures of small and medium-sized towns and rural areas matter: On a greater scale in terms of residential segregation and accessibility of services as well as on the micro-scale regarding the availability and quality of places of encounter in neighbourhoods. Findings suggest, secondly, that social encounter and contact between adult locals and post-2014 migrants rarely happen by accident in public spaces but require moderated places of encounter or places embedded in social structures, such as volunteering or the workplace. Thus, it remains a challenge how to establish contact with “the silent majority of the population” who neither openly oppose migrants nor engage in pro-migrant activities. Thirdly, the research shows that granting a certain legal status and thereto related (hindered) access to rights such as language classes or access to the labour market as well as the possibility to build up a future or live on hold, significantly impacts if post-2014 migrants feel part of the local community or not. Fourth, the report shows that the COVID-pandemic was a backlash for local community building as people were drawing back in their private sphere. The pandemic has resulted in a loss of social contact between post-2014 migrants and long-term residents.
Lastly, the report considers how the arrival of refugees from Ukraine is perceived by long-term residents and post-2014 migrants and how this impacts local community-making processes.
Authors: Friedrike Enßle-Reinhardt, Hanne Schneider and Birgit Glorius