In the German city of Duisburg, the suburb of Hochfeld is known for its vibrancy. It's home to people from 100 different nations. But with the recent influx of eastern European migrants, the community has changed.
Mitko Slavev wants a bright future for his two sons. He came to Germany in 2007 with the hope that they would receive a good education and plenty of work opportunities. The Slavev family were among the first wave of Bulgarian families to migrate to Germany after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU. They moved to Duisburg-Hochfeld, a former workers district, now home to migrants from all over the world. In the meantime, there are around 1,700 Bulgarians in Hochfeld. They form the third largest group among the population of 16,000, after the Germans and the Turks. Slavev's 19-year-old son Zhivko learnt German here. This year, having finished his schooling, he's looking for an apprenticeship - his brother is also seeking work.
But Mitko Slavev complains that the Bulgarians get bad press in the area. He cites sensational articles in the local paper about the "demise" of Hochfeld. The talk is of litter, prostitution, the black market, crime and poor housing. That sounds like a giant task for the Duisburg police. Spokesman Stefan Hausch says the police have raised their presence in the district to reassure residents, though they haven't registered any "significant increase in crimes."
Despite persisting rumors that theft is on the rise in Hochfeld, however, the number of cases fell by more than 40 percent between 2006 and 2011, according to police statistics. The number of domestic break-ins also went down in 2011.
Stereotyping eastern Europeans
There are numerous reports about Duisburg failing to get its "Roma problem" under control in Hochfeld. In Eastern Europe, the Roma face massive discrimination, which gives them an added incentive to leave their homes. But Herbert Heuß of the German Council for Roma and Sinti believes that their numbers have been "exaggerated." In reality, no one knows how many Roma have migrated to Germany, let alone to Duisburg-Hochfeld. Their ethnicity is not recorded.
New migrants from eastern Europe in Duisburg are often "defamed" as a group, according to Karl-August Schwarthans, head of integration at the German welfare association, AWO. His multi-ethnic team gives advice to Slavev and immigrants like him. Schwarthan says the main reason people come to Germany is the desire for a better future for their children. They want to integrate, because they want to stay in Germany, he says: "You will rarely hear a bad word about Germany from migrants from Bulgaria, even though they often have very unpleasant experiences."
Exploitation of migrants
Mitko Slavev learns German grammar well into the evening. In Bulgaria, he worked as a mechanic and during his first years in Germany he often went back home to earn money. Now he's attending a German course and he wants to apply for a regular job in Germany. He's lived here for more than three years, so he's allowed to do so. In the first three years, immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania are only allowed to be self-employed or find jobs which no one else wants. In 2014 they are to be granted the full working rights of other EU citizens.
Employers have been profiting from this transitional phase, where workers only have limited rights. "Many people are abusing the situation," says Eduard Pusic. He and his Bulgarian colleagues advise migrant families. He says some of their flats are damp, the heating doesn't work, or there's no bath. The landlords often demand inflated rents. Some have even illegally turned off the water or electricity to their tenants.
The migrants put up with such treatment, because they can't get any other housing, and because they may have lived under worse conditions back home. "There are huge prejudices against them," Pusic says. Many Bulgarians end up offering themselves for work on the black market. Often they work for weeks "on probation" and get laid off without having been paid.
Duisburg's integration strategy
In December 2011 the Duisburg city council agreed on a "strategy for dealing with south-eastern European migrants." The project is being coordinated by the head of the department for family, education and culture, Karl Janssen. He rebuffs suggestions that the migrants should be sent back home: "People come here with the hope of living a better, more dignified life. It's about integration, because the people want to stay, and since they are European citizens, they are allowed to stay."
However, the city of Duisburg is so heavily in debt that it can only afford to pay for mandatory duties. Healthcare does not come under that heading. Children who urgently need medical treatment but do not have the necessary health insurance are temporarily put under the care of the youth welfare office. But Janssen says they must find a better solution. That's why they are currently seeking financial support from the state parliament in North-Rhine Westphalia, from the government in Berlin and from the European Union to speed up and improve integration.
The next generation
"What have you been doing with the Roma-boy," demands a Turkish boy of his sister. The Turkish boy has seen her with Zhivko Slavev. This is a scene from a play, directed by Macedonian director Sami Osman and starring local teenagers. The cast includes young Bulgarians, Bulgarian Roma, Turks and Vietnamese. The work, entitled "Between yesterday and tomorrow," includes scenes from their daily lives in Hochfeld. Osman, who worked for years with a Roma theater group, wants to encourage the youngsters to develop their self-confidence. That will earn them the respect of their neighbors, friends and classmates. "Everyone must show what they are capable of," Osman says. "I am also Roma and people respect what I do."
Zhivko Slavev has discovered a passion for the theater and has become Osman's assistant. The 19-year-old has also recently been elected as head of a local youth group. What does he dream of? Zhivko laughs. "Dreams don't cost anything. I've been thinking of doing some sort of social work like a traineeship to help immigrants." But he may continue in further education. At the moment he's got his mind on the premiere of the play, which is to take place in the center of Duisburg, not far from city hall.
Author: Andrea Grunau / ji
Editor: Gabriel Borrud