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People and Politics Forum 14. 11. 2008

"What can immigrants do to advance integration?"

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More information:

Germany, a Country of Immigration – Why Integration is a High-Priority

"We asked for workers, but it was people that came” – that’s how the writer Max Frisch once put it. When the first guest workers began coming to Germany more than 50 years ago, politicians didn’t think about the long-term consequences of labor migration. Millions of people have come since then, first from southern Europe, then Turkey, and later from northern Africa. Now their second- and third-generation descendants live in Germany and have played a large role in the success of the country. But many of them are poorly integrated, living in parallel societies and sometimes in hostility to democratic values. Some of them drift into religious fanaticism or crime. Rupert Wiederwald takes a look at the whole issue of integration, one of the greatest challenges in German politics today.

Our Question is:

"What can immigrants do to advance integration?"

In Britain, Martyn Fletcher lashes out at what he sees as both old and entrenched anti-foreigner sentiment in Germany, and new attitudes:

"As a university educated former British Army officer that served in Germany during the 70s and 80s, I was often surprised by the level of disdain, rudeness and indifference that was shown to foreigners including myself. That said, on recent trips to Germany I have been greatly surprised by the younger generation that have demonstrated a more open and welcoming approach. Education of German and foreign citizens therefore, is the key to integration. Education not only of the young but of those senior elderly politicians with entrenched attitudes who thinly disguise their hostility to foreigners in their land."

This catalogue would be a good idea, suggests I.Priebe, in Canada:

"Learn the language of the country you chose to live in. Have positive attitude about the country you are immigrating to. Respect the country's lifestyle and laws; do not try to change these to the ones of the country you came from. Nobody is forcing anyone to immigrate into any country."

But Andi Surya, in Indonesia, says Germans, take note!

"The question should be reformulated as follows: "what can the German government do to educate its anti-foreigner-people?" or "what will happen if there is no foreigner who likes to trade with Germany?". Immigrants will naturally integrate into the land where they stand, learn the language or even join the army and fight for the country if there is public ACCEPTANCE. It doesn't work with the popular German "Fremdenfeindlichkeit"(anti-foreigner sentiment). The mentality of some of the German leaders reflects their own people. Go to eastern Germany and find the proof. Integration works, maybe not for the first generation, but for the third, for sure."

And Gerhard Seeger agrees that it's never one-sided:

"Of course immigrants don't have to surrender the traditions and customs of their home country, and hardly any do it, regardless of where they came from or whey they now reside. But they can be expected to give up things that are against the law in their host country, such as marrying off 12-year-olds. So-called honor killings go without saying. Exploiting religious freedom to preach religious hate would be another minimum demand."

In Britain, Charles Smyth says often enough "multiculturalism" is deliberately misinterpreted:

"Immigrants must understand that, although Germany is an EU member-state and adheres to many international norms of behaviour, they cannot expect to gain very much, in the long term, if they simply regard Germany as somewhere to claim the social benefits they do not receive at home, but are prepared to back up any demand for such benefits including the establishment of a Little Iraq, Little Kurdistan, etc., as an adjunct to multiculturalism, by undermining German society and culture via political duress.. In addition, so as to improve the likelihood of employability, immigrants would be more than well advised to gain a reasonable mastery of the German language. An issue which is well addressed by the likes of Deutsche Welle and/or the Goethe Institute."

Language skills are crucial, says Mary Otto, in Canada, but immigrants also need a sense of direction and support:

"...the host country should welcome the immigrants into the society in a very inclusive way opening all educational, economic, social and political avenues to them with absolutely no consideration of homeland, religion, colour of skin, language etc.... The immigrants should have the very same chances to participate in the society as the native-born citizens. The goal should be to make the newcomers feel part of the new country and want to contribute to it."

But in Brazil, Rosemarie Thierens, is less than conciliatory:

"...If you want to live and work in a foreign land, then you have to adapt to that country's customs, learn the language and understand the culture. If you can't, then best to stay where you are. The Turks in Germany take everything for granted... and just as an aside: I wonder if the Turkish state is funding the construction of Christian churches, Catholic or otherwise..."

Isadora Toscano, also in Brazil, harbours similar feelings and says it's a European-wide issue:

"We all must remember that integration of immigrants to any host country society is not only about this country's government good integration policy making. It is imperative that the immigrants also make the effort first of all respecting the country's culture, the law and learning the language. For many sons and daughters of immigrants born in Germany, it is imperative to be German before other nationality or religion. They make the choice not to integrate, not to regard themselves German, they hate German culture, they don`t speak German. The same happens in England and other countries. It is not fair to blame only the government when this issue is a two way thing. Both sides must do their part."

And Erwin Scholz, in Costa Rica, again comes up with some cosmopolitan couplets, or similar:

"Just don't matter what country or clime,

we've all been migrants down the line.

Whether you're Igor, Karl or Franz,

what's no help is arrogance."

In Argentina, Jorge G.Riva says respect leads to acceptance:

"Immigrants must learn the language, the culture and the story of their host country if they want to be accepted by society, and it will show respect for the citizens of that country."

Rene Junghans, Brazil:

"First and foremost, immigrants must integrate themselves into German society. The integration process begins with learning the German language, understanding German values, and of course, respecting those values. This means becoming familiar with and respecting German laws, culture, religion; and for school-aged children it means attending German schools where they must make an earnest effort to learn. Their immigrant parents must encourage their children to take this path. School graduates have to make an effort to learn a profession and to integrate themselves into the German working world. Just as most Germans show respect for different religions and lifestyles, so too should immigrants show respect for those of their host nation. The immigrant who chooses to sustain his livelihood through crime should be deported in short shrift. If he comes back illegally, he should feel the full force of the law. That also means spending time in jail before he is re-deported. Those who behave well and treat others with respect will find the integration process simpler, and discover a new 'home' in Germany, largely free of prejudice and hostility. This is the case here in Brazil. I've been here 36 years and Brazil has become a second homeland to me. Why shouldn't that work with immigrants in Germany? There's a wise, old saying: If you yell into a forest, the returning echo is no different from what you hollered. This applies to the immigration and integration process today!"

The People and Politics desk reserves the right to edit and abbreviate texts.