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The Economist Corner – essential readings XVI

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Immigration in Germany

Multikulturell? Wir?

How a fresh debate on multiculturalism in Germany clashes with the country’s need for more immigrants

HOW well does Halime Cengiz fit into Germany? A “typical guest worker’s child”, she wears a hijab and spends much time at the Mevlana mosque in Gröpelingen, a Bremen neighbourhood with many immigrants. She has a German passport but “would never say I’m German” (or Turkish). She calls herself “a Bremer with Turkish roots”. Yet she also speaks flawless German. Neither her marriage nor her veil was forced on her. Part of her mosque work is with churches, lowering barriers between Muslims and Christians. She urges parents to send their children to kindergarten to improve their German. The parents fret about their children becoming “too German”, but Mrs Cengiz allays such fears. She may be a model migrant after all.

Good immigrants and bad, how many and of what kind are all worrying Germany just now. A book claiming that Muslim immigrants and the underclass were bringing about Germany’s downfall by breeding too fast had a print run of over a million by the end of September (and cost its author, Thilo Sarrazin, his job on the Bundesbank board). Seeing its success, politicians abandoned political correctness. Further immigration from Turkey or Arabia is no longer welcome, said Horst Seehofer, Bavaria’s premier and head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian arm of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. The CSU asked that immigrants embrace the Leitkultur (dominant culture). Even Mrs Merkel joined in. Multiculturalism—the idea that immigrants can recreate their culture in Germany—has “utterly failed,” she said last month. New polls confirm Germans’ hostility towards immigrants, especially Muslims.

Awkwardly, Germany is bashing foreigners just when it needs them. The workforce is shrinking and growth is raising demand for skilled labour. Skills shortages cost the economy €15 billion ($21 billion) last year, says Rainer Brüderle, the liberal economy minister. He wants to import qualified workers on a Canadian-style points system. Mr Seehofer is dubious. On November 3rd Mrs Merkel held an “integration summit” to talk about immigrants already in Germany. Next week the government will discuss immigration again.

Even Germans who disagree with Mr Sarrazin praise him for drawing attention to a problem. Actually he may be making the situation worse.

Some 15m people in Germany have a “migration background” (ie, immigrants or their offspring), second only to America. Some 4m are ethnic Germans from the former communist block. But many others came as guest workers in the 1950s and 1960s, especially from Turkey. On indicators of social and economic health, these migrants lag. In Bremen, where more than half the young children are from migrant stock, they are less likely to go to kindergarten than native Germans. Just 8% of foreign teenagers are in vocational training, compared with 37% of Germans. In a city struggling to recover from a slump in shipbuilding, 16.4% of migrants were unemployed in 2008, against 7.5% of native Germans. More than 40% live below the poverty line, three times the rate for non-migrants.

It is no surprise that joining the German mainstream is hard for children of manual labourers who were once expected to return home. In big cities they crowd together and go to schools from which native German children have fled, making it harder to integrate, says Stefan Luft, a scholar at the University of Bremen. Turks are especially prone to living in a parallel world because there are so many of them. For too many immigrants the dole is an acceptable alternative to work. Islam can be an additional barrier, but only for Muslims who choose to make it one. One study estimated that 10-12% of Muslims have radical Islamist leanings, and a quarter of Muslim teenagers are hostile to Christians and Jews or to democracy. Read more in The Economist.

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Written by Theophyle

November 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm

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