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Boycotting Integration

DW staff (sp)July 11, 2007

Upset by the government's recent changes to the immigration law, four leading Turkish groups are boycotting an integration summit Thursday called by Chancellor Angela Merkel. But Berlin says the meeting will go ahead.

It's not looking too bright for the summit at Berlin's chancelleryImage: AP

A summit meant to ease the lives of Germany's estimated 15 million immigrants hit a major hurdle when four Turkish groups representing a chunk of the foreign population threatened to withdraw from talks this week with Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

The groups, who were part of the first such integration summit held last year, say they feel hurt and discriminated against by the government's recent changes to a 2005 immigration law which tightens restrictions on foreign spouses joining their non-German partners in Germany.

They also say in the spirit of integration the government should have consulted them before making the changes. The groups are now demanding that the government either revoke the changes to the law or else they will boycott the meeting.

"We've concluded that it doesn't make any sense to participate in the summit because the German government hasn't understood the seriousness of our concerns and apparently doesn't want to talk about making possible changes to the immigration law," Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish Association in Berlin and Brandenburg (TGB), told the online version of Der Spiegel on the eve of the summit.

Helga and Horst, but not Ahmed and Aische?

In addition to raising the minimum age for foreign spouses to 18, Germany wants them in future to learn basic German before they enter the country. The aim is to combat forced marriages believed to be widespread among Germany's Turkish community.

Turks make up the largest group among the country's 6.7 million foreigners. But Turkish groups are irked that the regulation only applies to non-Germans.

Türken in Deutschland Frauen mit Kopftuch
The German government says the new law is meant to combat forced marriagesImage: AP

"If Helga and Horst are allowed to get their partners here why not Ahmed and Aische too?" Kolat said. Speaking at a press conference, Kolat added the law amounted to "ethnic discrimination" and applied "double standards."

Kolat also raised doubts about the law's effectiveness in fighting forced marriages. He pointed out that the number of brides being imported from Turkey had fallen in recent years. Those who do come in, Kolat said, tended to be better educated.

"We too believe that every forced marriage is one too much and should be severely punished," he said. "But the law is no means to counter forced marriages."

Government says summit will go ahead

The integration summit on Thursday is one of a number of measures drawn up by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government to reach out to its large immigrant population amid mounting concerns in Europe about radicalization and home-grown terrorism. German media regularly reports about the poor school performance of children from immigrant families, conflicts over the wearing of the Islamic headscarf and the building of so-called parallel societies in large cities.

The summit, which brings together representatives from the government, migrant groups and independent experts, plans to introduce a weighty "national integration plan" which analyzes the problems of immigrants and includes some 400 voluntary commitments for states and local governments to promote the integration of foreigners. The plan is a result of a year's work by the various groups that are part of the integration summit.

German politicians say the threatened boycott by the Turkish groups should not be allowed to disrupt the work achieved so far.

Maria Böhmer Ausländerbeauftragte
Maria Böhmer says the groups threatening the boycott are hurting the 2.5 million Turks in GermanyImage: AP

"The summit will take place in any case and there will be no empty chairs," said Maria Böhmer, federal commissioner for integration and immigration issues and a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU). "You don't solve problems by staying away, but only when you speak to each other."

A "self-boycott by the organizations" will not help the 2.5 million Turks in Germany, Böhmer added.

"Dream of multiculturalism has failed"

The rift between the Turkish groups and politicians ahead of the summit also reflects a tougher attitude in Germany towards immigrants after decades of politicians refusing to accept its status as an immigrant country.

Böhmer insisted that the new immigration law was not discriminatory and said integration also meant accepting the values and laws of the country that immigrants came to.

"The dream of multiculturalism has failed," she said.