Immigrants in Germany accused of failing to integrate into society say all their efforts to do so are thwarted by discrimination.
The message German society sends to new immigrants is clear: learn the language of Goethe and accept our values, or you do not have a place here.
That was the tough talk from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in a controversial speech recently branded multiculturalism a failure, opening up a flood of debate on an extremely sensitive issue.
Immigration, which has for many years in Europe been considered a taboo topic, has suddenly exploded onto the public stage.
Immigration officer Arnold Mengelkoch takes RT to New Koln, in the west of Berlin. “They call this area the Gaza strip because the further along it you go the more Arabic it becomes,” he explains.
With high immigration over the past few decades, Germany has seen the development of mono-cultural communities such as New Koln.
The foreign influence there is obvious. Foreign signs and foreign shop fronts abound. Add to this the discussion of education failures, welfare abuses and crime among immigrant groups and one is handed some very tangible issues that tap into the deep insecurities that many people still hold about immigration.
A recent survey conducted by the Freidrich Ebert Foundation in Germany found that almost a third of respondents felt that immigrants were coming to exploit the country’s welfare system and should be sent home when jobs are scarce. Almost the same number felt that the country was being overrun by foreigners.
“You can see this poster here is a good example,” Arnold Mengelkoch says pointing to a multi-language building plaque. “You have German, English, Turkish [languages]. Everybody can read that. But if it is only in Arabic or only in Turkish, people think: ‘Where do I live? Is this an Arabic city?’”
Much of the ensuing debate has focused on Muslim immigrants, with some migrant families reluctant to integrate into a society they feel is prejudiced against them.
“I don’t think that changing my personality, or the way I look, or the way I talk, or even my mother tongue would have any effect on the German culture,” said immigrant Anissa Feras.
Projects like this local community centre are aimed at aiding integration and teaching children the German language from an early age. But with few bilingual Arabic or Turkish schools, families like Anissa's are sending their children to private schools where her children do not yet learn German.
“To be honest, if there were a German school which would respect [my child’s] religion, I wouldn’t mind her going to that school,” Anissa said.
Despite the tough rhetoric from the top, Germany acknowledges that immigration is desirable for its economy, given that the immigrants are willing to integrate.
“We in industrial countries need the people to come in – every country needs that,” Mr. Mengelkoch said.
Asked if he thinks there has been a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, Mr. Mengelkoch agrees and says it stems from the subject of religion.
“The people are not used to Islam, Islamic traditions, Islamic clothing and scarf. They are not used to that, and they have to become used to that.”
The great German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, said that no one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others. The main challenge now with the debate blown wide-open is to try and bridge cultural divides which have been simmering quietly for a long time. And with such strong statements from top German figures and seemingly wide public support, the message is now loud and clear: taboo or not, the issue of immigration can no longer be shied away from.