Language and Integration Mediators in Germany: Tackling Communication Problems Head-On

Misunderstandings frequently arise between migrants and specialist staff in government agencies and in schools. The new job of language and integration mediator is intended to provide a long-term solution to this problem.

The youth welfare office contacts the family of a pupil with a behavioural disorder, a woman is diagnosed as having breast cancer, a refugee tries to work through his traumatic experiences in therapy… In difficult situations, people need to talk to specialists in government agencies or medical or social institutions about their needs and possible solutions. Such dialogue is more difficult when the people who come together have different cultural backgrounds and different native languages, for example, migrants and specialist staff.

In response to this problem, a large number of local and regional projects have been developed in recent years in which bilingual and bicultural people who have experience of migration themselves are trained to become so-called language and integration mediators and who go on to work as neutral mediators at relevant institutions. During their training, they not only learn interpretation techniques, but also reflect on cultural differences in dealing with illness, gender roles, taboos and shame, learn to intervene appropriately when misunderstandings arise and to defuse conflicts.

The mediators-in-training acquire medical, psychosocial and legal knowledge and specialist knowledge about the education, health and social systems in Germany. In addition, they are familiarised with principals of professional ethics, with care structures in Germany and with the role of specialist staff in the relevant institutions. This puts them in a position not only to facilitate communication, but also to create a confidential and secure atmosphere, thereby raising the quality of dialogues.

Integration in Germany: Better than its reputation

4 December 2010
The German media are inclined to present people from an immigrant background mostly as school failures, petty criminals, welfare recipients, Islamists or thugs. But the current annual report compiled by the Committee of Experts on Integration and Immigration gives surprisingly good marks when it comes to integration in Germany.

Dutch City Offers Advice and Haircut to Immigrants

September 8 2010

The SVB (national insurance agency) in the Dutch city of Utrecht is offering Turkish and Moroccan immigrants an explanation- in their native languages -of the welfare payments for which they can apply, together with a free haircut. The program engaging “welfare hair-dressers” and targeting elderly immigrants is being test run in Utrecht but may soon spread to other cities. The SVB wants to promote the supplementary pension payments available, as some 15,000 eligible have not claimed their rights to these benefits.

Bundesbank official Sarrazin under fire for anti-Muslim views

26 August 2010

Bundesbank official Thilo Sarrazin faced increasing pressure from across the political spectrum due to his controversial views on Muslims and immigrants on Thursday, as calls grew for him to leave the Social Democrats (SPD) and his central bank post. Sarrazin’s new book, called Deutschland schafft sich ab – Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country in jeopardy,” is due to be released on Monday. In the book, Sarrazin warns that Germans could become “strangers in their own country” because of integration. He plans to begin a book tour beginning next week.

“There is no other religion with such a flowing transition to violence, dictatorship, and terrorism,” he claimed, before making the equally provocative assertion that Muslim immigrants were “associated with taking advantage of social welfare state and criminality.”

Along with members of the Greens and the Left party, politicians from the conservative Christian Democrats are now calling for him to give up his seat on the central bank’s board. Members of his own party said Sarrazin was “abusing” the SPD’s name. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger of the pro-business FDP party called Sarrazin’s theories “confused and unbearable.” “Germany is a country of immigration and we can be proud of the liberal values and openness of our society,” she said. The head of the Social Democrats in Berlin, Michael Müller, said it was possible the party would take new steps to kick the 65-year-old former Berlin’s finance senator out of the party. Sarrazin survived a previous attempt this year to revoke his party membership for previous controversial comments.

Parallel Societies Start at School

A recent study entitled “Learning to Live Together at School” commissioned by the Ministry of Education has led to “alarming” discoveries, according to the head researcher Edit Schlaffer. Claudia Schmied, the Minister of Education, has herself stated that the study is for internal use only, and that details will not be given, though a summary has been published in the magazine Erziehung & Unterricht (Education & Instruction).

The study shows how children with an immigrant background and those without not only have very little points of contact with another, but often reproduce the same stereotypes as their parents. Children without any immigrant background accuse immigrants and their children of having come to take advantage of the Austrian welfare state, and associate them with large families, headscarves, and aggressive, macho behavior. Conversely, children with immigrant backgrounds (the majority of whom are Muslim) believe the “Austrians” drink too much alcohol; do not believe in god; are generally hostile towards Islam; and “take home a different girl every night.”

Despite these prejudices, the study also shows that both sides “respect” one another, and the “bad immigrants” are usually to be found in other classes, whereas the “good immigrants” are those with whom there is more contact. Nonetheless, such contact is often difficult to bring about, due to the fact that many Muslim girls do not participate in communal activities like excursions or sports weeks. According to the study, the Muslim girls in general do not live like other Austrian girls, as going out, relationships with men, and sleep-overs at friends’ homes are in general not allowed.

Schlaffer believes that it is precisely with regard to the different conceptions of gender roles that both groups could be better brought together within a framework of discussion and debate. Alev Korun, integration spokesperson for the Green Party echoes this sentiment, saying that the time of “living together and past one another” is over and that it is now time to come together and debate our different views, and that schools should do more to encourage such productive encounters.

The Intercultural City of Berlin-Neukölln: Image Change through Cultural Diversity

The northern part of Neukölln is an urban district of superlatives. More than 60 per cent of its inhabitants have a “migration background” and 73.5 per cent of the children live in poverty. Nowhere else in Germany do so many inhabitants draw unemployment benefit, government transfer payments or Hartz IV welfare benefits. The number of aggressive and hardcore criminals has trebled since 2006.
Since 1999, parts of Neukölln have received special funding, for instance for environmental and cultural projects, security measures, the construction of playgrounds and sports areas and the redesign of house entrance areas. Two years ago, a group of European Commission and Council of Europe delegates were impressed by the diversity and quality of educational projects in Neukölln. Council of Europe expert Phil Wood was very enthusiastic in his praise for the district, saying: “Neukölln is a view of the future of many cities in Europe and around the world that will be shaped by immigration. The interculturalism that is already normal here will be the reality of many cities in the years to come.”

In 2008, Neukölln was selected to be a German partner in the European Intercultural Cities Programme, a network of eleven cities with a high proportion of immigrants that was to develop joint strategies for dealing positively with interculturalism.

Evicted Muslim Family Refuses the Offer of a New House by Nuns

The daughter of a 46-year-old Moroccan man who threatened to hang himself from the balcony of his house to avoid eviction, said they were refusing refusing the offer by the Social Services of temporary accommodation.  The lodging would have been in a religious institution run by nuns that would have housed the girl and her mother while waiting for a new home. There were two main reasons given for the refusal: first, the young woman wants her family to live together, second, she fears that in the new accommodation they wouldn’t be able to pray and to observe their religious obligations. During an interview, the man expressed his wish to find another job and live in a decent house. The girl, for her part, is putting pressure on the welfare commissioner to find an acceptable solution.

BVA institute polls suggests prejudices on the rise in France

More than one in 10 French people admit to being racist and many have prejudicial views of immigrants, homosexuals, blacks, Arab and Jews, according to a poll by the BVA institute for two anti-discrimination groups. 28 percent of those polled think that Arabs are more likely to commit crimes than members of other groups, a number that has more than doubled since a similar poll was conducted last year.

Almost half of respondents, 49 percent, thought that immigrants are better able to exploit the social welfare system than are the native French. “In the past few months we’re seen racist speech entering the mainstream,” said Dominique Sopo of SOS Racisme, criticising the identity debate and the government’s attempt to ban the full-face Islamic veil.

The BVA poll was carried out between May 21 and 22 on a representative sample of 1,029 subjects aged 15 or more.

The islamic third way

The famous Italian historian, Franco Cardini, asks whether the time has come for Italy to examine Islam in a peaceful way, avoiding stereotypes and demagogic strategies. He admits, however, that looking at recent national events, there is not much hope. More precisely, he refers to the new Committee for Islam set up by the Italian Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni (Northern League). This Committee, in Cardini’s view, might be e troubling sign because it includes notorious Italian Islamophobes as well as people that are highly critical of Islam, while excluding UCOII, one of the most important and large Islamic associations in the country. This lack of balance has caused the resignation of the Committee’s president, Mario Scialoja, who is well known as a moderate Muslim leader. As Cardini points out, the integration of the more than 1.5 million of Muslims remains unresolved. Another issue which this historian highlights in this article as in urgent need of conversation and talk, witch might change the way that the Italian public and its politicians has viewed the Muslim Brotherhood, broadly labeled and considered a fundamentalist and terrorist organization, even though it has never been seriously investigated. Emblematic, in this respect, is the fate of Tariq Ramadan, one of the most intelligent and interesting representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. He is often considered to be a dangerous agitator and was even prevented from entering France. This is indicative, says Cardini, of our low level of understanding of Islam. He recommends a book, recently published in Italy by two famous Italian Islamologists, dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood in the contemporary world. What emerges from this study is a complex image of the group which, besides supporting certain guerrilla activities, is clearly widening and deepening its social and welfare commitments. The crucial question, then, is whether it will be able to play a leading role in setting up an autochthonous model of democracy in the Arab world, rather than the one favored in the West.

Amsterdam man fined for refusing work on religious grounds

An Amsterdam court has backed the decision of the Amsterdam Welfare Agency (DWI) to fine a Muslim man who refused work which would require him to shake hands with women and cut his beard. The man was fined 200 Euros by the DWI on the grounds that his convictions prevented him from accepting work as a security guard. According to the DWI this would also have frustrated efforts to get the man employed as traffic warden or seniors’ home. The court argued that in this case, finding a job
takes precedence over freedom of religious expression.