1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
African workers traning in Germany
Laws have tackled discrimination in the workplaceImage: dpa

Fighting racism

September 22, 2011

The UN kicks off the third Durban Conference against Racism on Thursday. In Germany, where all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, campaigners say greater effort is needed to help victims of discrimination.


The scene is not so unusual. Four young men, about 20 years old, stand in a subway station in the Bavarian town of Nuremberg and start to berate a man for the color of his skin. They insult and swear at him and accuse them of taking their beer.

Eric, from Burkina Faso and only a little older than them, threatens to call the police if they do not stop. It works, at least this time.

Such examples of racism do not only affect Africans in Germany. The Berlin-based Anti-discrimination Network has recorded numerous examples of discrimination.

There is the case of the neurologist who refuses to treat an elderly Turkish woman because she speaks no German - even though her daughter has agreed to attend and translate everything.

One of the thousands of anti Racism protester that took part in a march in Durban
The Durban conference called on countries to draw up action plans to curb racismImage: picture-alliance / dpa

In other complaints dealt with by the network, a Columbian girl now living in Berlin says that she is not invited to job interviews because German is not her mother tongue. And a young doctor is immediately rejected from the application process in a private practice because she refuses to take off her headscarf.

Such cases are typical.

"Racial discrimination is viewed as an everyday phenomenon, something normal," said Nuran Yigit, the Turkish-born head of the network.

"Often, there is a feeling of resignation and powerlessness about it. People who are affected by discrimination will often say there is nothing that can be done about it."

"For that reason, we work unequivocally with the mission to motivate and enlighten those who are affected – so that they can defend themselves."

The organization provides lawyers, advisers and psychologists to those who are victims of racism, helping some 120 people each year.

Room for improvement

Berlin should serve as a model to other German states, claims Yigit, who says that a national plan to tackle racism is long overdue. The Durban World Conference against Racism in 2001 called upon states to develop plans to tackle racism at all levels, something which Yigit believes Germany has yet to do effectively.

"This national action plan is formulated very weakly and primarily contains measures that Germany had already put in place," she said. "It is not very focused on action or the future."

A girl wearing a headscarf, with a German and Turkish flag in front of her
Germany's Turkish community also faces discrimination in some quartersImage: picture-alliance/dpa

One concrete piece of progress was the so-called Equality Law, which was adopted five years ago as part of a determined political process to enshrine EU directives in law. Although it has its limitations.

"In the field of work this law provides many opportunities for us to act against racial discrimination, but in other areas it is more difficult," said Yigit.

"For instance, when it comes to access to goods and services, the law is a little restricted."

In practical terms, this can have repercussions when it comes to looking for apartments, opening bank accounts or even trying to get into a club. Here, it is often much more difficult to obtain justice through legislation than it is in the sphere of employment.

Growing global challenge

Protection from racial discrimination and marginalization is not only an issue for Germany, but a growing challenge internationally according to human rights expert Follmar Otto.

Immigrants arriving in Lampedusa
Europe is trying to shore up its border controlsImage: picture alliance/dpa

"Globalisation is not only about good and services but it is also about more migration," said Otto. "This is happening at a time when the EU is following a very strict policy of putting up more barriers."

This has increased the need to tackle discrimination, according to Otto.

"It is important not only for immigrants who have permission to stay in a country, but especially for the growing number of people who are in the European Union with no right to stay," said Otto.

These so-called "illegals" are not only the first to be hit by the global economic crisis, they also have fewer opportunities to play an active role in society.

While global companies might favor the concept of having a multi-cultural staff, added Otto, the current economic climate means an end to discrimination and alienation for financially impoverished immigrants remains a distant dream.

Author: Ulrike Mast-Kirschning / rc
Editor: Rob Turner

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section Related topics