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Politicians Want Migrants to Be Put to the Test

DW staff (nda)
February 13, 2006

The German government will again debate the possibility of nationwide citizenship tests for migrants in a special Bundestag session Monday.

Politicians will discuss whether US-style citizenship courses will aid integrationImage: ZB - Fotoreport

The hope is that politicians can agree on a program that will avoid the controversy that a migrant exam prototype in the state of Baden-Württemberg caused when it was proposed earlier this year.

Maria Böhmer, the Christian Democratic Union minister who was recently installed as the government's point person for integration policy, is hopeful that some consensus can be found in discussions this week. There is already a general agreement that children from migrant families should be given extra help in schools to develop their German language schools but the citizenship test question is another matter.

Böhmer's draft test, which will be presented and debated in government, is designed along the lines of citizenship courses in the United States to "help those who want to become naturalized Germans" by teaching and testing migrants on the German constitution, the history of the country but while "remaining sympathetic to their own values."

"The United States gives courses in the constitution, the history, culture and the values of the country," she said. "Since those who come here don't only want to live and work in Germany but to become German, we should give them as much help as possible."

Ehrhart Körting, from Berlin's interior ministry, is one of those who, in theory, is in favor of the tests although he sees very little point in asking those immigrants who have lived in Germany for ten to 15 years to take the test. "The main focus should be on integration courses for new immigrants coming into the country for the first time," he told reporters recently.

Critics want viable alternatives to citizenship tests

Unterricht türkische Schülerinnen mit Kopftuch im Schulzentrum in Bremen
Some politicians feel that an alternative to courses should be foundImage: AP

Rhineland-Palatinate's Minister of the Interior Karl Peter Bruch is one who will oppose the tests. "We will not have such a test," the Social Democrat minister assured. Bruch is not against reasonable alternatives, he stressed, where a person is interviewed on whether they "respect the constitution and the democratic processes of Germany" and fully supports the improvement of language courses.

There is certainly a deficit in the language tuition of migrant children, something Maria Böhmer wants to address. She believes that every euro invested in improving language courses will be paid back several times by well-equipped and integrated members of society contributing to the economy.

Böhmer sees the future of integration in Germany also taking the form of more educational opportunities and employment chances for youngsters from migrant families. She admits to casting envious glances over the border to France where there is a charter designed to give young migrant workers the chance to find work.

"I have had conversations with trade associations, and I am now involved in bringing the subject of migration into the sphere of the large companies in Germany," Böhmer said. "In France, large enterprises are obliged to give youngsters with a migrant background the chance to learn a profession. This is a good model."

Language and cultural lessons to preven parallel societies

Christoph Böhr from the CDU wants German language tuition to begin at preschool level and for migrant children to have tests before they move on into the school system. Böher also wants parents whose children do not take part to face a penalty.

Symbolbild Religion Moschee und Kirche
Education is seen as an important bridge between culturesImage: Fotomontage/AP/DW

Christian Social Union secretary general Markus Söder has also called for Islamic religious lesson to be included in the general syllabus. Everything must be done, he said, to develop the understanding between faiths and to do everything to prevent parallel societies.

Böhmer agrees that cultural and religious understanding is an integral part of the integration question: "We in our very secularized world should consider what religion actually means to others, what honor is reserved for religious symbols and what level of sensitivity we must adopt when dealing with people with very strong religious beliefs."