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Refugees in german society

Feminist scholars have criticized patriarchal power relations in societies for contributing to unfair gender divides. Women’s narratives of everyday life in London and Jerusalem about what it is like to live in the city in regards to belonging were assessed through interviews with majority and minority populations. For some, home was a contested space where they didn’t feel a sense of belonging, as they had no rights due to patriarchal domination. Therefore the city was a liberated space, a private space where women could be more free and form their own sense of belonging by using public spaces everyday when going about their household gendered duties such as shopping or taking the children to school. On the contrary, some women were unable to form a sense of belonging in the city due to fear of safety issues and/or exclusion from certain public spaces due to religious norms. Some women did not feel safe to be out in certain areas such as urban parks or using public transportation at certain times due to ‘hostile men’ harassing them. Other women felt safer in urban spaces in particularly because these were the spaces where all ethnicities and genders could use the same space together. Where as some religious/symbolic places were off limits for women, especially if they were not wearing specific clothes. The situations were more extreme in Jerusalem than in London, this is understandable as spaces of belonging are constructed through cultural and ethnic norms in the different cities and Jerusalem is a more religious and less cosmopolitan city than London. There has been a call for an increase of gendered participation in urban spaces not only in visibility but also in decision making, as just like in the home, when women have a choice to participate, this can lead to increased sense of belonging at home and in the city (Fenster, 2005). For female refugees arriving in Germany, gaining a sense of belonging can also depend on patriarchal power relations. Whether they come from a very traditional family where they do not have so much freedom or if they themselves prefer to remain mostly in the home, will affect their experience of German society and where their attachments and belongings lie. Also women who have moved from a rural area into the city of Berlin for example, may struggle to feel a sense of belonging because of how busy/different it is from what they are used to or on the contrary they may feel a sense of belonging amongst the mixture of cultures that live alongside each other. For both genders, area of residence will likely play a considerable role in how people feel a sense of belonging in Germany. Many refugees, after leaving reception centres in Berlin, were placed in refugee accommodation on the outskirts of Berlin for example Marzahn, where many people with far right opinions who are openly anti Islam also reside. Some refugees have been publicly assaulted or hurled with racist abuse, which of course would make living life in these areas very challenging. However we cannot generalize as this has not been the case for all refugees living in such areas and there are ongoing community projects and voluntary engagement in these areas as well to support refugees living there (Young, 1017). Research Design and Methods As is clear from the literature, there are multiple aspects that can have an impact on immigrants’ feelings of belonging in the host country. The literature tells us firstly, that the host countries’ receptiveness and discriminatory practices towards immigrants can exclude immigrants therefore make them feel unwelcome and that they do not belong. Secondly, that various emotional attachments to the origin country such as family ties, and to the host country such as economical ties can form multiple and sometimes contradictory belongings resulting in immigrants feeling confused as to where they really belong. Thirdly, that when immigrants stay connected with their origin countries by living a transnational life and finding a place for their origin identity in the host country, feelings of belonging can be heightened in the host country depending on individual level factors too. Finally, that ethical and political value differences for example surrounding religious and gender equality matters affect how the host country perceives immigrants and how immigrants perceive the host country, when values are perceived as too distant this can lead to marginalization by the host country or rejection of the host country. This is the consequence of order in society that leads ethnic groups to create these boundaries to protect their own values. The politics of belonging is the overarching dimension that affects all the other dimensions mentioned as immigration policies such as that immigrants are not allowed to work or have permanent residence allow negativity about immigrants to flow into the dominant discourse. In summary, exclusionary political discourse surrounding value differences and discrimination have a negative affect on belonging but transnationalism and the formation of multiple attachments can also promote feelings of belonging, albeit at times contradictory feelings of belonging. This thesis aims to discover some initial answers about the experiences of refugees living in Germany. We want to focus on refugees as much of the current research that we have reviewed looks at guest workers, first and second generation migrants and it is important to do research on the perceived obstacles and promoters of feelings of belonging in the current times, of refugees going through the settlement process as this is a new and on-going topic which has not been researched much yet, we need more information to understand their experiences so far. Doing so has the potential to push further research to add to policy settlement ideas by creating a constructive dialogue of understanding and hopefully to also improve social cohesion between refugees and the majority population. To find out the experiences of refugees we conducted in-depth semi structured interviews, we chose to reach out to a sample in the Berlin area in Germany for ease of access and because Germany in particular received a large amount of refugees, therefore a diverse sample could be sought. Research Question: How do refugees perceive the obstacles and promoters of feelings of belonging in German society? To answer this research question we collected a non-random sample of refugees from Berlin and the surrounding areas, the sample and interview guidelines were acquired by collaborating with the Institute of Sociology’s AFFIN project at the Freie Universität, we successfully collected a sample for our research with refugees by using the snowball sampling technique. Snowball sampling is typically used to access socially stigmatized and difficult to reach samples. It entails reaching out to personal contacts to find initial contacts and then using their social networks to find other potential participants (Atkinson and Flint, 2011). We sought participants by inviting prospective participants to take part, contacting acquaintances with sufficient connections and also reaching out on social media platforms and in online refugee communities. Qualitative research fits to the present study, as we want to uncover the experiences of refugees and understand the social world from their point of view. To really understand what the perceived obstacles and promoters of belonging are for refugees we need to see through their eyes about how they make sense of the environment that they are living in. Using an Intepretative Phenomenological Analysis approach helps us to reach this goal as it allows the participants to express their lived experiences. Being respectful and sensitive the approach allows us to find out from the participants their understanding of the major common phenomenon that they have experienced that is forced relocation; leaving their homeland and starting a life somewhere completely new with all the challenges that come with this. By examining their lived experiences we are able to make an interpretation of what it might mean for their sense of belonging in Germany and how it has impacted their lives in general (Alase, 2017). Through using a qualitative method we are able to access this information in a detailed descriptive account. When dealing with a small sample of people it is usually more pragmatic to use a qualitative approach, especially when the aim is to create a natural environment to understand the perspectives of the respondents rather than emphasising causality like in quantitative research (Harding, 2013). Although qualitative research has been criticised for being too subjective, difficult to replicate and non-generalizable (Bryman, 2004). We believe for our goal and context, this method fits the best as our aim is to simply uncover some initial findings about the experiences of refugees in Germany and it can potentially be an instigator for further research. By conducting semi-structured interviews, it allowed the subject to elaborate and the interviewer to prompt for more rich detailed answers. The interviewer carefully followed the interview guidelines with questions that covered specific topics, but additional prompts and questions were used following anything interesting that could be explained further to assure we fully understand the situation (Ibid, 2004). The questions were carefully composed to fit with the research question and we formulated our questions in a way that did not harm or influence the participants. Our interview guide consisted of 7 questions that pressed on topics surrounding values and belongings and 5 follow up questions that enabled us to dig in in to any areas of interest surrounding political ideals, gender and religious values (Appendix 1). The majority of the participants chose to have the interview conducted in English (6) or German (4), these interviews were conducted by myself in English or Lukas in German, only 1 person preferred to do the interview in Arabic, in this case we used a trained Arabic interviewer and asked a translator to translate the transcript. The interviews took approximately 20 minutes to 50 minutes. The participants were fully informed about the process and reciprocal benefits of the research and we ensured a shared understanding throughout the research process (Mackenzie et al, 2007). We provided the participants information on paper about the project and presented them with a data protection mutual agreement in their chosen language (Arabic, German or English), which was signed by both parties, we also assured them that they were free to pause or opt out of the interview at any given time. By doing this we could build a good rapport with each participant, making sure they knew they could trust us. To make sure they felt comfortable in the interview environment we asked the participants to choose where they would prefer the interview to take place and offered them refreshments. Having built a good relationship with our participants and following the Intepretive Phenomenological Analysis approach, although we had our research questions, we could also treat the situation like a conversation as we asked further questions about personal points of importance raised during our time together and answered any questions asked throughout. All interviews were audio recorded and later transcribed by listening carefully to the audio and converting it to written form. By taking these careful steps in our research design we are allowing for a replicable and dependable study. Our aim was to conduct semi-structured interviews on participants who have been living in Germany for a while but no longer than 4 years as we wanted to research the experiences of refugees in the initial stages of life in Germany. All but two of our participants met this goal, one of the participants that didn’t had lived in Germany for double this time, which led to an interesting finding in our analysis. We tried to maximise the responses we received so that we obtained people living in various residential areas who are of different gender, age, educational background, and ethnicity. The reason being to compare within our sample any individual level factors affecting belonging for example, sense of belonging between genders may vary in the sense that it may be more likely for adult females to feel a sense of belonging with family and home ties as they often carry this culture into the host society by remaining at home and maintaining traditional practices, whether it be through personal choice or not affects this too. Younger females however may identify more with Western values but also be restricted by strict family rules, therefore form multiple contradictory belongings (Phinney et al, 2001). The data was analysed by thorough directed content analysis of the translated transcripts, this way we were able to use the theory and literature we have assessed to identify key concepts and use them as coding categories to help us sort our data and make sense of it, creating new categories where necessary following their lived experiences, the aim being to fully understand the phenomenon being studied whilst also supporting and extending existing theory in a deductive continuum; although we review a great deal of literature and try to determine if this is still the case, we also try to find out what is new phenomenon for refugees in current times (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005; Harding, 2013). Through establishing categories from the literature and also creating new categories from reoccurring themes in the data we can ensure our method is transparent and therefore replicable (Bryman, 2004). When analysing the interviews we don’t disclose the names of our participants to ensure complete confidentiality. The analysis began with reading through each transcript several times to enhance validity, we then colour coded the transcripts by interpreting what the participants lived experiences meant for the different dimensions that affect sense of belonging in Germany such as acceptance, attachments, transnationalism, value differences, politic of belonging and individual level factors. By making summaries of what the different dimensions meant for the participants and using a comparative method of analysis, we can clearly identify similarities and differences within the data (Harding, 2013).

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