Out of Bulgaria and Romania: Wave of Immigrants Overwhelms German System

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Worlds are colliding as a flood of impoverished Bulgarians and Romanians stream into Germany, overwhelming authorities. But efforts to help integrate the new residents have been sluggish and many of the immigrants find themselves awash in a system they don't understand.

Photo Gallery: Living in 'Precarious Circumstances' Photos
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In their hands they hold plastic bags filled with letters from German authorities and reminders from debt collection agencies, most of them unopened.

"Why do Germans write so many letters?" asks one Bulgarian woman, shaking her head in disbelief as she stands in a long line outside the Verikom advice center in Hamburg. "In our village we didn't even have a mailman," she says.

To ease her frustration, she has sorted her baffling assortment of mail. Yellow envelopes are overdue payment notices and therefore dangerous. Letters bearing a heraldic eagle are from the state. Colored logos usually mean bills from telephone companies.

Worlds have been colliding ever since increasing numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians began streaming into Germany. In many ways the authorities are just as overwhelmed by the often penniless European Union citizens as the immigrants themselves are by the realities of life in Germany.

This week, the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) will present its 2012 evaluation. The annual report, which analyzes collaboration on integration policy between national, regional and local authorities, comes to a sobering conclusion: Coordination is inadequate, while effective cooperation is largely non-existent.

Planning to Stay

The problem is most evident in the way authorities deal with the new groups of immigrants from southeastern Europe. There is no overriding strategy. Worse still, many regional and national politicians assume the Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants are merely seasonal workers who will soon return to their home country -- just as the German government mistakenly expected Turkish and Greek "guest workers" to do decades ago.

Local authorities are only now beginning to realize that the immigrants from Germany's eastern EU neighbors also intend to stay for good. Berlin is taking a pioneering role in this respect, and aims to ratify an action plan designed to fundamentally improve the conditions for immigrants by 2016.

Week after week, reports from other cities show just how necessary such measures are. In late March a raid in the southwestern city of Mannheim uncovered serious cases in which landlords were charging immigrants exorbitant rents for apartments with inhumane conditions and no lease contracts. Two Romanians in Stuttgart were recently convicted of exploiting girls from their own country as prostitutes in so-called "flat-rate brothels." And new arrivals in Münster have set up a tent camp along a canal.

Countless southeastern Europeans make ends meet as day laborers, sometimes earning no more than €3 ($3.89) an hour, with no heath insurance or contributions to the social insurance system. In Frankfurt alone, investigators estimate that 10,000 to 17,000 Bulgarians are falsely claimed as self-employed, and are actually engaged in work that should be subject to health and social insurance contributions as well as an employment contract.

Because many towns and cities don't have targeted integration programs or state-run advice centers for Bulgarians and Romanians, non-profit groups like Hamburg's intercultural communication and education association Verikom are trying to help out.

'The Last Link in the Chain'

Tülay Beyoglu, the 33-year-old daughter of Turkish immigrants, normally works at Verikom advising Arab or Turkish migrants on issues relating to divorce and alimony. But for some time her office has been inundated by requests for help from Bulgarians who barely speak German and are often unemployed and homeless. Beyoglu is patient, and often works overtime. "We could use another 50 pairs of hands here," she says.

A year-and-a-half ago, a Bulgarian woman came to see Beyoglu for the first time. The woman had been tricked by a Turkish furniture store and is still paying off a dubious loan. She and her family to this day live in a rundown apartment block in the Wilhelmsburg district of Hamburg. The building is known locally as "the Bulgarian boarding house." She does not have a lease, and if she needs proof of residency for the authorities, which is required by law in Germany, she has to pay the landlord a €400 bribe. "Bulgarians are the last link in the chain," Beyoglu says.

Each day crowds of southeastern Europeans converge on her office. Some complain about corrupt employers, others burst into tears recounting how human traffickers robbed them of all their money. Larger families have been known to pay smugglers €5,000 to bring them to Germany. Unwitting parents have given supposed helpers €1,000 simply to file an application for child benefits.

The people who come to see Beyoglu often offer her money for her help. "They're used to having to pay for everything in their home countries," she explains. Many of the more recent immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania are Roma. "They don't understand the German welfare system yet," Beyoglu says.

Repeating Past Mistakes

Such realizations don't seem to have reached the national level yet. Only last December the Interior Ministry sent the European Commission a report on the situation of Roma living in Germany. The report concluded that a national strategy was "not required" because the Roma had access to existing integration programs.

The rule that applies to the Roma applies equally to all other Romanians and Bulgarians. Because there are EU citizens, they can't be forced to attend language and integration courses that are offered free of charge to immigrants who hold non-European passports -- and if they voluntarily choose to do so, they are charged for the privilege.

"The government's report flies in the face of reality," says SVR chairman Klaus J. Bade. "It shows that the political machine won't start moving until after an accident has already occurred."

Bade has taken an in-depth look at the new arrivals from southeastern Europe, and warns of the danger of repeating integration policy mistakes from the past. After all, programs set up for Arabs or Turks who have been living in Germany for many years are ill-suited for the needs of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania. They must first "understand the everyday rules of the Western world -- things that can't be learned in a remote southeastern European village," he says.

'Precarious Circumstances'

Berlin's traditionally multicultural Neukölln district provides a good example of the deep divide between newly arrived immigrants and well-established foreigners. For some time now, Romanians and Bulgarians have been trying to find their place alongside Neukölln's Turks and Arabs.

In April, the district published its second "Roma status report," which found that many Roma live under "precarious circumstances." Furthermore, many children are "underdeveloped for their age and illiterate" and have "little or no prior school experience."

Other problems detailed in the report include "noise pollution, higher volumes of trash, property damage and a generally different concept of neighborly coexistence." Neighbors often react to the new arrivals with "a lack of understanding, resignation, cries for help, fury, outrage and even hate." Despite being EU citizens, the Romanians and Bulgarians were last in the "ranking order" of the nationalities represented in Neukölln, the report concluded.

Neukölln school council member Franziska Giffey experiences the report's findings almost on a daily basis. Two years ago she was one of the first people to notice the flood of children from new migrant groups in her schools. Giffey tried to find teachers and tutors with suitable language skills, and alerted her colleagues in both her local authority and the Berlin city government. Even so, she often feels powerless to help. "What we're seeing here is the impact of the migration of Europe's poor," she says. "We can't control the situation, we can only react to it."

In late April, a working group of various Berlin departments in the Berlin city government discussed the plight of the city-state's new immigrants. After much delay, the issue will now finally be addressed by local government.

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1. Speechless
Julia 05/09/2012
Quite sad that the sentence "Many of the more recent immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania are Roma." comes almost at the end of the article, after giving the impression that all Romanians and Bulgarians create the same probems. Coming from Romania, as a highly qualified employee of a German company, having studied in Germany and speaking perfect German I feel offended to be given by one of the top media in Germany, the same stamp as a problematic minority, which creates the same societal problems in Romania and Bulgaria as it creates in Germany. Reading through newspapers in Germany I understand that highly-qualified foreigeners should be welcome in the country because German highly qualified personell seems to be lacking. Such an article can only lead to sending exactly these foreigners away from the country. Congratulations Germany - you're on the right track!
2. from Bulgaria
gateff 05/10/2012
Hello, please, do not put a whole nation under one label. Gypsy minority destroys all societies, even our. As you can see, almost entire gypsy society is unemployed, illiterate, without labor discipline. Here in Bulgaria they do not respect the laws, rules - they just do not want to integrate, not paying bills, ruin and pollute everything around. Yes - very small part of them, wants to be entered in the society. We are poor but hardworking people, who want change and better living conditions... so some of us seek out those conditions in countries like Germany (with better payment, strong laws and etc). Sorry for my bad english. Best Regards !
3. The Roma are neither Romanians nor Bulgarians, really
rumanisch 05/11/2012
The article is welcome as it brings awareness on a system that is not updated to cope with new realities. However, the authors should dig deeper and inform themselves better. Roma communities in Romania largely failed or rather refused to integrate in the Romanian system either. After hundreds of years many can't speak the local language either, or won't. Except for large urban areas anyway, where they were integrated much better - rather forcefully by the communist system. During the communist regime it took long and tough campaings to even force them to get national Identity Cards, as they would go unregistered even in the most controlling of times. Compulsory schooling for children and forceful registration made it possible for many Roma or gypsies to even hold an ID card that now makes them automatically EU citizens. As we grew up in communist times roma were forcefully integrated in classes and distributed evenly among all groups, and having even two or three in each class was a real challenge as civilisations clashed. Most refused to learn to spell and dropped out and had to stay in the same grade for years, until you had roma kids with a moustache in the first grade. So if the authorities think they need Romanians or Bulgarians to help with integration of the roma, they are in for a big suprise, as romanians also have absolutely no idea how to cope with the roma either. Surely there are plenty of roma with post graduate degrees and high administrative or official positions, but the gap si huge and the contrasts very strong, and the general opinion of many Romanians is that even after hundreds of years the integration of the roma largely failed. And many feel it's quite unfair to be put under the same label, just because they were issued and ID card with the same flag on it. Imagine that soon these people described in the article will get a German passport and then move to let's say the Netherlands.
4. This article has no objective value.
WARAMARA 06/09/2012
This article is full of hate and subjective objections. It has no objective value at all. The author Özlem Gezer is a Turkish and it explains almost all! Tendentiously and intentionally he is showing how the Bulgarians and Rumanians are not worthy to be in European Union, and how countries like Germany are suffering the consequences from the impoverished invaders. He is giving extreme examples, relating observations from Turkish employments. In Germany and another Western European countries are studying thousands of students from Bulgaria, and the most of them after finishing their master or doctoral programs can find a good job. They are working and paying their taxes, supporting in this way the economical system oft these countries. It is very painful for me to read this article, I agree that in Bulgaria are Orphan-homes where the children are growing without the necessarily education and are living in miserable conditions, and there are some cases, where the children are under the normal intellectual development. I have worked in projects in some nongovernmental organisations and I know that this should be changed. And it is already changing, since there is a new governmental program, which consists in closing the old orphan homes and in searching for receiving-families for those children. There will be build also houses similar to SOS Kinderdorf, with SOS-Mothers caring for max. 5 children. The problem is that the most of these children are from Roma or Turkish minorities in Bulgaria, where the women have sometimes more than 10 children. The impoverishing is a fact and since 2008 the things are not very optimistic. Also the purest Roma are searching their luck in Western European countries. We do have problems with our minorities and Europe should face them also. I have seen years ago how the big supermarket BILLA (owned by Germany's REWE Group) was built on terrene, where originally were many gipsy-houses (Sofia, Bulgaria). The houses were simply destroyed (the gypsies didn’t have documents for possessing them), and the families are living years after that, in small miserable metallic caravans. Now there is a governmental program which is allowing the legalisation of the gipsies’ property.
5. Genes determine
Eleos 06/14/2012
This article, like many current in Western Europe, is afraid to tackle one very probable underlying cause; namely that genes determine behaviour and potential to a greater extent than is acceptable to the hypocritical establishment that everywhere dominates the media.
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Graphic: Bulgarian and Romanian Immigrants to Germany in 2011 Zoom
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Graphic: Bulgarian and Romanian Immigrants to Germany in 2011


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