SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE

02/01/2008 10:32 AM

'We're Sitting on a Powder Keg'

Immigrants Protest Death of Moroccan Teenager in Cologne

By and

Following the violent death of a Moroccan teenager in Cologne, hundreds of immigrants have taken to the streets in nightly demonstrations to protest what they see as evidence of their second-class status in Germany. Police warn the city could be ready to explode.

The owner of an electronics shop on Cologne’s Kalker Hauptstrasse had rolled down the shutters on the windows in case there was unrest. Now they have photos of a 17-year-old Moroccan boy taped to them. The teenager, whose name was Salih, was killed in front of the shop two weeks ago.

The sidewalk is a sea of candles as hundreds of people chant: “Salih! Salih! We want justice!” They feel that Salih was one of them -- a youth from an immigrant family.

For the police, the case is clear cut. According to their version of events, Salih allegedly wanted to mug a 20-year-old German man, who tried to defend himself. But he panicked and pulled out a pocketknife that he plunged into Salih’s heart with an unlucky stab. Prosecutors said it was a clear case of self-defense, and there are witnesses. But none of that matters any longer.

Every night last week, up to 300 protestors gathered at the spot where Salih died to demand “justice” instead of letting his killer walk free. They are protesting against “racism in Germany” -- but since it appears clear that this case involves self-defense, it’s obviously about more than just the unfortunate Salih. It’s more about how immigrants and their children feel they are currently being treated in Germany.

The incident has struck a chord with those who feel disenfranchised from German society -- those without a proper education or vocational training, those without a future. The frustration is palpable. “We’re sitting on a powder keg," warns former police commissioner Winrich Granitzka, who is also head of the Christian Democratic group in Cologne’s city council. "There’s the danger we could see a situation like in the suburbs of Paris.”

Cologne certainly isn’t Paris and the district of Kalk can't be compared with the high-rise suburban ghettoes surrounding the French capital. But Kalk, which used to be home to a chemical plant, is certainly depressing. The only bright spot is the large and colorful new shopping center, which stands out from its gray surroundings.

Immigrants and people with at least one non-German parent make up 54.7 percent of Kalk’s population. The amount of young people between 15 and 18 living there is above average; education levels, on the other hand, are below average. Some 90 percent of people without a job in the area count as long-term unemployed.

“It seems to me as if they only send losers here,” says Kemal Düzardic, a 22-year-old friend of the dead teenager. He and the others gather near the photos and candles even in the cold and the rain. One question weighs heavily on their minds. What if a German had died and the killer had been one of them?

A mere eight hours after the incident happened, the police announced it had been a case of self-defense and no charges would be pressed. The statement was "somewhat unfortunately formulated,” admits Cologne police officer Catherine Maus in hindsight.

The "unfortunate" wording came at a particularly unfortunate time. “We have too many criminal foreigners,” Roland Koch, the conservative governor of the state of Hesse, said in late December. In his re-election campaign, which many observers considered xenophobic, Koch made clear he thought immigrants should assimilate and shouldn’t expect Germans to accommodate their cultural practices.

Of course, many of the Kalk youths who were born and raised within sight of Cologne’s towering cathedral and speak the local German dialect don’t consider themselves "foreigners." But Koch’s populist attacks still resonated throughout the immigrant community.

“Stop this Racist,” was the headline in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, accompanied by a caricature of the Christian Democrat politician with an extra-long nose. The Social Democrats, the left-wing Left party, the Greens and even a few Christian Democrats distanced themselves from Koch. Only the mass circulation newspaper Bild took his side and delighted in featuring new stories about "foreign" repeat offenders with long criminal records on an almost daily basis.

But the people with immigrant backgrounds in Kalk read Bild too. “What’s with this crap?" says one irritated young man. "We grew up here, we aren’t criminals. So why are we treated differently than other Germans?”

'We Feel like Second-Class Citizens'

For more than 40 years, the German mainstream tried to assert that Germany wasn't a "country of immigration." That attitude has had repercussions. Around 72 percent of Germany’s 1.7 million Turks -- the largest group of foreigners living in the country -- don’t have proper vocational qualifications. Some 40 percent of young people from immigrant families neither study nor pursue a traineeship after they leave school. They do odd jobs or hang around -- and they make up a disproportionate amount of violent offenders.

“The city of Cologne does a lot for integration,” says police director Michael Temme, who has been keeping a careful eye on how his officers have been policing the demonstrations. But he admits there are “hot spots” in the city, including in Kalk. And so every evening he finds himself wondering if this will be the night when a spark finally ignites the powder keg, if this will be the night when shop windows get shattered and cars go up in flames.

“We feel like second-class citizens,” says a middle-aged Moroccan man. “It will never stop, maybe it will even get worse,” adds a young man. A group of intimidating-looking youths chant: “Salih, Salih!” They want a different kind of justice. It sounds more like a call for revenge.

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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