'We're Sitting on a Powder Keg' Immigrants Protest Death of Moroccan Teenager in Cologne

Part 2: The High Cost of Failed Integration


“Something needs to happen to shake up Germany,” says Social Democratic parliamentarian Lale Akgün, quoting a phrase made famous by former President Roman Herzog. “We need, at long last, social policies that are based on acceptance, and we need a fundamental reform of both education and social policy,” she says. Germans need foreigners and foreigners need Germans, she says.

It's an opinion shared by demographers and labor market experts. If people aren’t given the opportunity to get vocational skills and qualifications, there will be “mass unemployment with a simultaneous dearth of skilled labor,” according to the Institute for Employment Research (IAB).

A study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation has calculated that a lack of integration of immigrants in Germany has already cost the country €16 billion. Many immigrants are unemployed, earn less and pay smaller amounts of tax and social security contributions.

The protesters in Cologne’s Kalk district know this and that’s what makes the situation so explosive. There’s a feeling of not getting a fair chance and of being disenfranchised.

Around a fifth of foreign children see themselves as being “strongly discriminated against" or “individually disadvantaged,” according to a survey by the Germany Youth Institute (DJI) in Munich. More than half feel they are neither respected nor treated equally. “Those are strong opinions that they have formed based on their own experiences,” says DJI researcher Jan Skrobanek.

“We’re not welcome here,” says 14-year-old Fatima from Kalk. She ostentatiously pulls down her headscarf to cover her face as she stands in front of Salih’s photo. “After elementary school we all get shoved into the Hauptschule," she says, referring to the lowest level of Germany's three-tier high school system. "None of us go to Realschule (apprenticeship-track high school), only Germans go there,” she says. Her three older siblings couldn’t find a traineeship after finishing high school. Fatima doesn’t believe her luck will be any better.

Experts agree that youth crime in Germany isn’t an ethnic problem, but rather a social one. Immigrant children from middle-class families and those that do well in school generally aren’t troublemakers. Those that manage to find an apprenticeship or a job have a “significantly smaller feeling of being disadvantaged,” according to youth researcher Skrobanek.

“We have to do everything we can to lower the high proportion of 40 percent of young immigrants without vocational qualifications,” Maria Böhmer, the German government’s commissioner for integration affairs, announced recently.

The federal government wants to spend €350 million over the next three years to work toward that goal. An employer will receive a subsidy of at least €4,000 if they give an apprenticeship to an applicant that has already unsuccessfully applied for one. It’s a beginning.

“But immigrants have to do their part as well,” insists Social Democrat Lale Akgün. “They have to give up their attitude of rejection and join society.”

In a survey carried out by the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, one-third of immigrant parents admitted that they would have problems with a German son-in-law. Hence, not much can be expected from the older generation -- which makes the future prospects of the children that much worse.

“Many children experience an inconsistency in the way that they are raised which they find very challenging,” says Haci-Halil Uslucan from the University of Magdeburg. At home they might be raised in a patriarchal fashion that puts an emphasis on obedience, while at school they are taught self-responsibility, individual choice and equality. “This disconnect is extremely difficult to deal with,” says Uslucan.

Anyone interested in establishing equal opportunities and preventing young immigrants from drifting into criminality has to start promoting language development and education as early as kindergarten, says economist and criminologist Horst Entorf.

Salih, the dead teen from Kalk, had never had any run-ins with the police. “He wanted to get his high school diploma,” says his 23-year-old brother Abdallah, who is studying electronics. Abdallah was part of the street protests last week. But the more radical protesters made him uneasy.

A few days ago, the Moroccan consul general visited Abdallah and his parents. He explained to them that the police investigation had been carried out conscientiously. But Abdallah still wonders whether a foreigner would have been released so quickly.

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