United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism Githu Muigai has spent 10 days visiting various towns in Germany as part of a fact finding mission on the country's relationship to immigrants and minority groups.
Speaking from his last stop in Berlin, Kenyan-born Muigai welcomed the fact that Germany, as a key European player, had finally resolved its status as an immigration country.
"The recognition that this country is today a country of immigration and will continue to be in the foreseeable future has made it possible for all involved to rededicate themselves to addressing the underlying problems that come with a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society," he said.
Germany has come a long way since former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's dogged insistence that it was not a country of immigration, Muigai added. Seven years ago the conservative Christian Democratic Union rephrased its former leader's stance, saying that Germany was not a country of immigration in the sense that it had not been historically formed by immigrants.
With Germany home to around 19 percent first and second generation immigrants, the country has acknowledged that it has attracted large numbers of immigrants and will continue to do so.
Minorities missing from public life
Muigai, who was the first UN racism special rapporteur to visit Germany in the last 12 years, said Germany needed to do more to integrate more ethnic minorities into its political system, the police and its courts. People with a migrant background were, according to Muigai underrepresented in public life.
"I think that this great country needs to turn its attention to the problems of daily racism and discrimination; that is the racism and discrimination to be found in daily life in schools, public places, in housing, in employment etcetera," he said.
Last November, the Greens became the first major party to elect a Turkish-German as leader, Cem Ozdemir, but ethnic minorities are generally a rarity in German politics, making up fewer than 15 national representatives.
Muigai, who was in Germany under an open invitation as special rapporteur, also said that due to the historical experience of Germany with Nazism, there was a "tendency to equate racism with extremist politics." While it was essential for the state and society to remain vigilant at all times, he said a greater problem remained discrimination within society.
"Much remains to be done"
"I received representations that suggested that the education system in Germany is not responding to the special needs of migrant communities with the sensitivity that the circumstances require," Muigai said.
"The problems in the education system are translating into problems in the employment system and the two together are enforcing each other to create an inequality that may probably not be intended but that is the outcome," he added.
Muigai's comments were offset by praise for the country in its efforts to tackle the issues of discrimination, singling out the cities Stuttgart and Nuremberg for their good practices in the fight against racism. Muigai also made a plea to the media, calling on them to help stop the spread of racial stereotypes.
In response to a question over the continued success of Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), Muigai said that poverty and lack of opportunity led people to turn to right-wing politics, adding that while constitutional legal mechanisms should be used to keep the party in check, its weak political showing was a testament to the lack of real public support.
There are regular calls for a ban on Germany's biggest far-right party, the NPD, which has no seats in the Bundestag national parliament, although it does have representatives in two of Germany's powerful regional assemblies.
Muigai's full report will be presented to the Council of Human Rights in 2010 and will also focus on the situation of Muslims in Germany following the increase in security measures since Sept. 11, 2001.
Author: Tanya Wood
Editor: Sean Sinico