Claudia Roth has been the Commissioner of Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid since 2003.
DW-WORLD: Opposition Christian Democrats say Germany hasn't been an immigrant country since it stopped recruiting foreigners in 1972. Do you think Germany is an immigrant country?
Claudia Roth: It’s one of the biggest lies of past decades to say that Germany isn’t a real immigrant country. We have been an immigrant country for over 50 years, and people have come here who have helped to build this country. But what we are not is an immigrant country that has managed to regulate immigration, to protect the right to asylum and to foster integration.
What is successful integration?
Successful integration is much more than acquiring language skills. Integration must be related to legal integration, to education and work. Legal integration means, for example, eased naturalization, a citizenship right that we changed.
Successful integration means that the wealth people possess, who come here from other cultures, from other languages, from different religions is understood as wealth and not as a threat. That we build on these abilities by providing native language opportunities and at the same time fostering the German language much more purposefully and much more consistently among the people who come here.
Successful integration is also an expression of the education opportunities that immigrants' children have in our country. If social origin remains the most decisive factor in Germany
Education access for immigrant children: "We have a lot of catching up to do."
when it comes to access and school problems -- that children with immigrant backgrounds, above all, have -- we have a lot of catching up to do. In the areas of work, training, joblessness the numbers show that immigrants are much more frequently affected by unemployment, that young people have big difficulties advancing into higher spheres.
We have big deficits, and that also arises from the ideological refusal to say we are an immigrant country. People come here; people should come here. It makes our country richer, more multifaceted.
Has integration made progress in Germany or has it regressed?
It hasn’t regressed. At least there’s a consensus that integration is important. There are certainly many very positive signals of successful integration, but there are also negative signals. Groups exist that withdraw into their alleged own cultures. You have the feeling there are groups of immigrants who wall themselves into an alleged culture of their country of origin. Turkey, for example. Sometimes I have the feeling things are much more open in Istanbul or Izmir than in some areas of Germany. A similar problem: ethnic Germans (from Eastern Europe), who for decades in Russia, in the other countries where they lived, holed themselves up in their alleged German culture and came to Germany and noticed it’s somehow totally different, and then they aren’t able to cope.
Some have pointed to the Muslim headscarf as a symbol of cultural isolation and social exclusion following a ruling by Germany's high court allowing a Muslim teacher to wear her headscarf in class if there is no state law against it. Does it in fact signify the social exclusion of women?
I wouldn’t put it so simply. We Greens advocate throughout the world that there shouldn’t be constraints requiring wearing a headscarf. Why should I advocate constraints in Germany not to wear a headscarf?
But the case that the issue is pegged on, a teacher who is German, who studied at German universities, who is everything but the exemplification of an oppressed woman, but rather lives highly emancipated and self-determined, to claim that she is the example of the greatest form of oppression is wrong.
There are many reasons why women in our country wear headscarves. I might like them or not. I wouldn’t forcefully impose something in the German democracy that I fight in other countries: the constraint of self-determination. I don’t believe in carrying out women’s liberation in the form of discrimination. And women’s emancipation, women’s equality is definitely not expressed just by the headscarf.
Is wearing a headscarf compatible with integration?
I think so. The headscarf issue isn’t an issue of the willingness to become integrated, rather it’s important what’s in people’s heads, what’s happening underneath the headscarf and how our democracy is interpreted and accepted.
Can a strictly devout Muslim become an integrated German citizen?
A strictly devout Muslim can be integrated into our society just as a strictly devout Catholic can.
Does Islam have a future in Germany and Europe?
"Islam has a present and a future."
It doesn’t only have a future, it has a present, whether we like it or not. It’s a question of democracy. Even now Islam is the second largest religious community in the European Union. Islam per se isn’t an enemy just like Christianity per se isn’t an enemy. We would be wise to treat the religious practices of different religions in our society equally, with the greatest meticulousness, particularly by virtue of our own historical responsibility and democratic sensibilities.
Why has Germany failed to pass an immigration law yet?
Because the ideological barriers are infinitely high here. Because this issue is always an issue that surfaces in the maelstrom of populist politics here. Because problems are very easily diverted onto weak groups in out society that have little lobby, like immigrants. Because people refuse future-oriented modern policies despite knowing better.
We need this immigration law. We need it urgently, because we can’t compete anymore with other European countries. But we only need an immigration law if immigration is truly regulated. What we don’t need is an immigration limitation law.