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Remigration - the new bad word in Germany

For some time now, the political right in Germany has been using the term ‘remigration’ to seek a ethnic cleansing in the country. These views cannot be justified from a gospel perspective.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES AUTOR 273/Johannes_Reimer 24 DE ENERO DE 2024 09:40 h
Photo: A metro station in Berlin, Germany. / Photo: [link]Egor Myznik[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

A German term becomes the non-word of the year 2023

Every year, a jury in Germany chooses the non-word of the year. Last year it was the term “remigration”, a term otherwise only used in academic circles, “which usually stands for the return to a narrower or wider context of origin of migration at the end of a migration chain” [1]. In migration sociology, it refers to the remigration of the descendants of migrants to the country of origin of their parents [2].


Remigration can be initiated by migrants themselves or forced. For example, we returned to Germany as a family in 1976, several generations after our ancestors had emigrated to the Russian Empire. That’s why we were also referred to as repatriates or returnees. I have written down my own story of the return migration in an autobiographical narrative [3].

But remigration can also be forced by the respective state, in which case it is referred to as “repatriation”, “expulsion” or “deportation”. My own family was deported several times from their place of residence in the former Soviet Union, always having to leave their possessions behind and go through suffering once they arrived at the place of deportation. Nothing has such a negative impact on a person’s biography as the forced deportation of innocent people [4].

[destacate] It shocks me when the politicians who advocate forced remigration also publicly flaunt their faith in Jesus Christ and the Christian values[/destacate]The reasons why migrants return to their home country can be diverse and range from integration difficulties in the host country to homesickness or an improved socio-political situation in the country of origin.

And the reasons for forced deportation from the host country are similarly diverse. In this case, the migrants either lack the relevant immigration authorisation or have committed serious crimes, and are deported as criminals.

For some time now, however, the political right in Europe has been using the term to force a fundamental ethnic cleansing in their state. Here, people with a migration background are to be deported en masse and only on the basis of their ethnic difference.

In Germany, such plans are being discussed by nationalist political circles. And political parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are happy to get behind them. These first weeks of 2024, this reality is causing mass demonstrations across the country against the AfD and similar circles. Remigration has indeed become an extremely dangerous term, a dirty word that has the potential to offer eternal nationalists a platform reminiscent of Germany's National Socialist past.


Return is not a foregone conclusion

Most people leave their homeland because life has become impossible under the conditions they have found. Wars, flight, persecution, or even unimaginable poverty cut off the migrants’ air to breathe. Returning to these circumstances seems not only risky to these refugees, but also life-threatening, as the latest field studies on remigration show [5].

When right-wing politicians talk about remigration, it seems rather inhumane in view of such circumstances. How can you possibly want to deport people who have sought and found shelter and bread in our country back to their misery? And even more so people who have integrated into their new homeland, found work and a place to live, and who actively contribute to the prosperity of our society?

What shocks me above all is when the same politicians who advocate forced remigration then publicly flaunt their faith in Jesus Christ, speaking of their fundamental loyalty to the Christian faith and corresponding Christian values.

Hardly anything fits together here. Would Jesus, in whom these politicians supposedly believe, turn away needy people and even forcibly deport them? Especially if hell on earth awaits them in their old homeland? Would He take away people’s hard-working new home just because their ethnicity, skin color or culture doesn’t fit in with the majority population? Hardly, at least not the Jesus I know.


A friend of people in need

Jesus saw himself in principle as a friend of the needy. He said of himself: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was not seen among the well-heeled elite of his Jewish people. He was where people gathered who were looked down upon by this elite and did everything to drive them from the court. In Mark 2:16-17 we read:

“And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he ate with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them: ‘It is not the strong who need a physician, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’”.

And it was by no means only those in need from his own Jewish people. Yes, Jesus also emphasised that he was primarily sent to the lost children of the house of Israel. An argument that I also often hear right-wing politicians say. “Our mission is limited to Germany. We are responsible for the welfare of the Germans”. The story of the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is often cited at this point. We read the story in Mt 15:21-28, where it says:

“And Jesus departed from there and escaped to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out of that region and cried out, ‘O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is afflicted with an evil spirit. But he did not answer her a word. Then his disciples came to him and begged him, saying: Let her go, for she is crying out to us. But he answered and said: I am sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And she came and fell down before him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. And she said, “Yes, Lord; but the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table”. Then Jesus answered and said to her, “Woman, your faith is great. May it be done to you as you wish! And her daughter was healed that very hour”.

Of course, Jesus did indeed have a special mission for Israel. But did He therefore leave the needy from the other peoples to one side and reject them? No, He also helped them. Even a Roman officer whose servant was ill did not refuse his request and healed him (Matthew 8:5-13).

[destacate]Did Jesus leave the needy from the other peoples to one side and reject them?[/destacate]And what He did, His followers should now also do. Christians are sent as He was sent (John 20:21). But no longer to one people, Israel, or even their own nation, but to all peoples on earth (Mt 28:19). In view of the biblical Great Commission, no Christian can ever claim an exclusive ministry for his or her particular nation.

Yes, God sometimes sends us to certain people in particular. But never to the exclusion of others. The universal claim of the Great Commission remains valid for all Christians. And this also includes Christians with a right attitude who like to adorn themselves with the Christian faith. Any kind of national particularism in terms of the Christian vocation to life is, from a biblical-theological perspective, ruled out. Christians are committed to all people of this world.


But are politicians missionaries?

“What applies to missionaries does not necessarily apply to politicians”, claim the nationalists among Christians. Really? From which passage of Holy Scripture have these ladies and gentlemen derived such an exclusive claim?

As a theologian, I find nothing of the sort in the Word of God. On the contrary, Jesus even calls on his followers to love their enemies (Mt 5:44). And who, if not our enemies, do we humans want to keep our distance from? But Christians who follow Jesus cannot do this. They should love their enemies!

This is one of the reasons why the first German chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), a Protestant-Lutheran politician, is said to have claimed that you cannot govern a country with the Sermon on the Mount in your hand.

[destacate] Christians represent not so much the particular interests of their parties, but rather the values of the Kingdom of God[/destacate]Bismarck was baptised and confirmed by none other than the famous theology professor Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and was regarded as a lifelong believer. Admittedly, Martin Luther’s so-called doctrine of the two regiments [6], which assigns responsibility for the state and thus politics to the authorities and issues of spirituality and salvation to the church, will have helped him in such a positioning.

And his conviction has been echoed by politicians of all parties ever since. The extremely popular German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (1918-2015) showed a great deal of understanding for Bismarck’s convictions.

But Luther’s ideas were quite controversial from the outset. Neither he nor his admirers after him could really provide adequate theological justification for such a doctrine.

Above all others, the Anabaptists rejected Luther’s teaching as unbiblical. Christians could not understand their lives as followers of Christ on the one hand and followers of political theories and rulers on the other. They were committed to God and God alone in everything. The Anabaptists were brutally persecuted in Europe until modern times. But where the state does good according to God’s will (Rom. 13:1ff), they are also happy to cooperate with the state.

So, Christians are always missionaries, especially in politics. Indeed, Christian mission is always also a political mission [7]. Here, however, they represent not so much the particular interests of their parties, but rather the values of the Kingdom of God, which exclude all injustice, even and especially when it is intended to serve their own good. They should therefore not use modern slang like “remigration” and parrot right-wing slogans.

Johannes Reimer, Professor of Missiology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and Head of the

Department of Public Engagement at the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).



1. Sarah Scholl-Schneider: Remigration, in: Lexikon zur Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa. (Oldenburg: Carl von Ossietzky University 2015).

2. Dennis Conway, Robert B. Potter: Return Migration of the Next Generations - 21st Century Transnational Mobility. (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing 2009), 3rd ed.

3. Johannes Reimer: Return to the land of the fathers. (Basel: Brunnen Verlag 2008).

4. For more details, see the history of my family: Johannes Reimer: Opa Hans erzählt. The story of my parents. (Bergneustadt: self-published 2023).

5. Peter Leusch: Return is not a sure-fire success. New research on remigration, in: Deutschlandfunk, 2.11.2017, https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/neue-forschung-zur-remigration-rueckkehr-ist-kein-100.html (19.01.2024).

6. See, among other things: Martin Luther: Von weltlicher Obrigkeit, wie weit man ihr Gehorsam schuldig sei (1523). WA 11, 245-281. Kurt aNowak: Zweireichelehre: Anmerkungen zum Entstehungsprozess einer umstrittenen Begriffsprägung und kontroversen Lehre. In: Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche78/1 (1981), 105-127.

7. See more in: Johannes Reimer: Missio Politica. The Mission of the Church and Politics. (Carliste: Langham 2017).




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07:54 h
Professor Reimer is conveniently attacking a straw-man, as most Christians who sympathize with the political left on this matter tend to do. Of course, there are radical right-wingers who demand a sort of ethnic purity for their countries, and this cannot be countenanced based on the Gospel. But those who demand that only those with legitimate asylum claims be allowed in as refugees, or that refugees who refuse to respect the laws of their new country be deported, are NOT "ethnic cleansers".

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