Germany's Cold Shoulder Wastes Immigrant Talent
Dempsey, Judy. "Germany's
Cold Shoulder Wastes Immigrant Talent." International Herald Tribune, 15
BERLIN: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, over a
Russians, most of them Jews, immigrated to Israel. It was an enormous
challenge for such a small country, then of five million people.
government, in true Zionist tradition, activated its integration
The Russians were immediately sent to compulsory, state-funded
classes. Good, cheap housing was built south of Tel Aviv along the
of the Mediterranean. Child care centers were expanded. Retraining
Within a few years, the Russians had made their mark. Young male
female engineers, scientists and computer technicians flocked to
build what was to become Israel's successful high-tech industry.
went into business, banking, medicine or teaching. Of course, not
who came from Russia to Israel during that time made it. But the
that the immigrants were made to feel welcome.
The contrast with Germany, with a population 15 times as large,
be more striking. During that same period of the 1990s, some 2.8
Aussiedlers, or ethnic Germans from Russia, came to settle in Germany.
Many were highly educated, particularly the women who had been
the sciences, which was common throughout the former Soviet Union
Eastern Europe. "We are talking about engineers, scientists,
doctors. Here was a great chance for Germany," said Dagmar
integration specialist at the Otto Benecke Foundation, an independent
organization set up 40 years ago to provide retraining courses
particularly for young immigrants to help them integrate.
For a short time, the German government provided language courses.
the wave of arrivals from the former Soviet Union coincided with
debate inside the country over immigration. With hundreds of thousands
people fleeing the wars in the Balkans, conservative politicians
tighter restrictions all around, while the Social Democrats said
time Germany admitted it needed an immigration policy. Unemployment
to rise, too, fueling calls by the conservatives to restrict the
people entering Germany.
Manuela Westphal, professor of pedagogy at Osnabrck University,
that the Aussiedlers and other immigrants were the first to bear
brunt. "German language courses were cut back. Housing benefits
reduced or scrapped. There were few child care centers for mothers
wanted to retrain and enter the labor market. Women were particularly
hit," she said.
Even if highly qualified women tried to get a job, the bureaucratic
hurdles they had to jump in order to have their qualifications recognized
were often insurmountable, said Mona Granato, an expert at the Federal
Institute for Professional Training. "You have here a situation
16 federal states have their own education system, often with different
standards or requirements. You can't imagine how demoralizing the
situation became and continues to be for young qualified immigrants,"
Often, the Aussiedlers became resigned. The women's priority was
their own children well educated so that they would be able to climb
ladder. But Granato says that many of the daughters, who saw how
qualifications of their mothers led to very little, become discouraged.
"They often ask what is the point of studying engineering or
if their mother could not find a job," said Granato. "In
the end, young,
qualified women go into the services sector. Call it de-qualification.
Their potential is not being used."
It is even worse for the third generation of Turks. While their
grandparents and parents came as gastarbeiter, or guest workers,
up for the big shortage of unskilled labor during the boom times
German economy during the 1960s and 1970s, some of the third generation
have tried to break out into the professions.
But Westphal says even internships and training are not accessible.
"Company managers will opt for the German," said Westphal.
sometimes even explain that their customers would prefer to deal
A study published this September by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation,
is funded by the Social Democratic Party, showed that of the 182,000
applied for by young qualified people, less than a third were given
those with an immigrant background.
That figure may seem high compared with the situation in France,
young immigrants complain of open discrimination. But Steffen Krhnert,
social scientist at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development,
says these figures disguise an even more depressing reality. He
roughly one in six German residents have an immigrant background.
twice as likely as Germans to be unemployed and dependent on social
Reprinted with permission of the International Herald Tribune.