Turkish boycott clouds 'integration summit'

Representatives of some Turkish groups in Germany protested the country’s new immigration rules in Berlin as Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted the integration summit.

Turkish boycott clouds 'integration summit'
The leaders of Germany's 2.5-million-strong Turkish community were absent on Thursday at a major meeting on integration hosted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, as they were instead demonstrating in front of the chancellery in Berlin.

Representatives of some Turkish groups in Germany yesterday protested the country’s new immigration rules in Berlin as Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted the integration summit.

The leaders of Germany's 2.5-million-strong Turkish community were absent on Thursday at a major meeting on integration hosted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, as they were instead demonstrating in front of the chancellery in Berlin.

Several Turkish groups' decisions to stay away the gathering at the chancellery -- which Merkel hoped would further efforts to integrate foreigners better in Germany -- overshadowed the so-called "integration summit," the second meeting of its kind. Merkel began efforts to draw up a national "integration plan" last July.

Four of the main groups representing Germany's Turks boycotted the meeting held after the Wednesday approval by Merkel's Cabinet of 150 measures aimed at improving the integration of immigrants into German society. The groups argue that the law effectively turned immigrants into "second-class citizens" and that they could approach the Constitutional Court to force changes to the country's immigration act. "This law has closed the door to dialogue. We favor dialogue. We don't want either exclusion of the Turkish community or its being harmed. However, there was need for saying 'stop' at some point. The Turkish community displayed a proud resistance in this way," Kenan Kolat, head of the Germany Turkish Society (TGD), told reporters in front of the chancellery while speaking on behalf of the groups boycotting. "The Turkish community is not taken seriously. We are treated like children who understand nothing of the law," he added.

The main point of contention is an amendment to the immigration law recently approved by the German parliament that makes a foreigner who wants to bring his or her spouse to Germany prove the partner can earn a living and has some knowledge of German. The rules, which also state a partner must be at least 18 years of age, do not apply to German nationals bringing a foreign spouse into the country or to immigrants from within the European Union or countries like Australia, Israel, Japan and the United States.

The Turkish groups, who were part of the first such integration summit held last year, voiced deep disappointment, saying they feel hurt and discriminated against by the government's recent changes. They also maintain that, in the spirit of integration, the government should have consulted them before making the changes.

When asked whether it was sensible for the Turkish groups "to exclude themselves by not participating in the summit," Kolat said this kind of protest would remain unique and would not be repeated, but they wanted to express their reactions. They don't want to halt dialogue and are always ready for the holding of new talks, he added, pledging Turkish groups' further efforts for better integration in the country.

On Wednesday Merkel's Cabinet committed itself to spending 750 million euros per year on measures to better integrate immigrants in Europe's most populous country. It hopes, among other things, to improve and expand "integration courses" and language classes for immigrants. The government estimates that 15 million people living in Germany, which has a total population of 82 million, have an immigrant background of some description -- with origins outside the country or ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union. Roughly 2.6 million people of Turkish origin alone live in Germany. The bill, some amendments into which have been described as "counterproductive" by the Turkish groups, still requires President Horst Koehler's approval.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) lent support to Turkish groups' demonstration waving banners reading "Integration spells contribution instead of exclusion."

Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of parliament for the Green Party, told German television channel N24 he believes the Constitutional Court will quash the law, saying that approval of the said amendments just before the integration summit harmed the image of the event. Nevertheless, the government official responsible for integration, Maria Boehmer, criticized the Turkish groups' decision of boycotting the summit. "It is an exaggerated manner in regards to both the content and the style. With this picture displayed, Turkish associations are damaging their own respectability," the Anatolia news agency quoted her as saying in a statement to the German daily Die Welt.

Representatives from key Turkish groups insist that the measures are little more than window dressing. They argue that a recently passed immigration law, requiring that foreign spouses already have a basic knowledge of the German language and proof of solid financial support before they are granted a visa, discriminates against them. Heading into the summit, they insisted the government change the law before they would take part. "The German government does not respond to ultimatums," Merkel told reporters after the meeting.

Roughly 2.6 million people of Turkish origin alone live in Germany, which has a total population of 82 million, many of them now second and third generation German citizens. In the past, the government has made little effort to try to integrate them into German society, leading large, predominantly Turkish-speaking communities to spring up in the nation's major cities that maintain close ties to Turkey.

Council of Europe warns Berlin over 'discriminatory questionnaire'

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has called on the German government to ratify Protocol No. 12 on the general prohibition of discrimination to the European Convention on Human Rights and the revised European Social Charter, while making a number of concrete recommendations concerning the current state of human rights protection in the country. Hammarberg on Wednesday presented his report assessing the effective observance of human rights in Germany to the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers.

The report, which was prepared after the commissioner's official two-week visit to Germany in October 2006 and which was released only a day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel's so-called "integration summit," recommends that Germany consider permitting double citizenship.

Bringing to mind the fact that German states are responsible for carrying out citizenship procedures and that in the course of the procedure, the authorities may carry out interviews to clarify the applicant's eligibility for citizenship, the report notes that in some states, the authorities have prepared questionnaires for specific groups of applicants to facilitate the process.

"Civil society representatives have reported to the commissioner that the content and use of such questionnaires may be discriminatory towards certain groups of applicants. In particular, they have alleged that the questions would appear to target Muslims. During the visit, the commissioner was informed that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees was in the process of preparing a questionnaire for citizenship procedures, which would be made available to all Lander [states]. The commissioner points out that naturalization procedures should be carried out with due respect to freedom from discrimination. He recommends that the German authorities use a uniform questionnaire, without discriminatory content, for all applicants."

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Temmuz 2007, 10:45
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