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Analysis: Europe struggles with migration

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Germany Correspondent   |   March 23, 2006 at 4:01 PM   |   Comments

BERLIN, March 23 (UPI) -- Europe has an immigrant problem and governments appear clueless how to tackle it.

Mass migration from Africa is straining Spain's borders, France was gripped by immigrant protests last year and Germany wonders how to best integrate its foreign-born population.

Interior ministers from Europe's six largest states met On Thursday in the German Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm to discuss the challenges of mass migration and find possible solutions to Europe's integration problem. The summit came just a few days after at least two dozen Africans drowned off the Canary Islands during their attempt to seek asylum in Spain. Apart from plans to cooperate more closely to combat illegal immigration, the six ministers agreed to formulate an integration treaty for immigrants. Such a treaty would formulate the rights and duties of immigrants. The proposal came from Paris; last year youth, mainly with immigrant backgrounds, with a series of weeks-long violent protests threw France into turmoil.

Meanwhile, the German right-left coalition government is in a row over how to best test immigrants applying for a German citizenship.

At the Heiligendamm meeting, Germany's center-right Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble (Christian Democrat Union) re-voiced his plan to introduce a unified citizenship test applying to all German states. So far, each state has its own methods.

Leading conservatives -- including German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- want to introduce the tests to double-check the immigrants' basic ethical convictions, while most Social Democrats oppose such tests.

A top conservative has urged Berlin to adopt the U.S. model.

Edmund Stoiber, the leader of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, told Thursday's Bild newspaper immigrants who want to become Germans should undergo "an interview followed by a test -- like in the United States or Canada." He added that lawmakers from the Social Democrats, the government coalition partner, should abolish their opposition to such a test, arguing that each applicant must share the basic German values.

"It has to be clear that in our country the monopoly of power belongs to the state and not the Turkish man," he said.

Quizzing citizenship applicants for basic knowledge over the country may prove as an effective measure, but often, politicians use the wrong tune, according to an expert.

"I was the first in Germany to suggest naturalization courses for immigrants during a Bundestag hearing on the new citizenship law in 1999."

"Some of the politicians use these tests as threats or possible stumbling blocks for immigrants trying to become Germans," Friedrich Heckmann, head of the European Forum for Migration Studies, a research institute at the University of Bamberg, on Thursday told United Press International in a telephone interview. "That's the wrong approach. One has to win these people over. One must not threaten them."

He added Europe's integration problems are rooted in two main phenomena: Europe's low economic growth, which prevents many immigrants from getting a job; and the immigrants' low educational level, as they mostly stem from rural regions and lack an extensive school education.

"Europe is increasingly turning into an information society and low-qualification jobs are disappearing," Heckman said, adding that especially the children of immigrants should be supported to become fit to compete with natives. "If we don't do that than we lose a lot of potential and talents."

The starting shot to the debate over citizenship test in Germany was fired in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The southern state, one of the richest in Germany, is in conservative hands. The CDU-led interior ministry there at the start of this year introduced a catalogue of questions for passport applicants.

The questions touch on issues such as homosexuality, forced marriage and gender equality. They range from "Imagine that your adult son comes to you and says he is homosexual and plans to live with another man. How do you react?" and "Your daughter or sister comes home and says she has been sexually abused. What do you do as father/mother/brother/sister?" to "What do you think if a man in Germany is married to two women at the same time?"

Immigration officials document the responses, which the applicant has to certify with a signature. Those who "fail" the test will be refused citizenship. Intentionally fudged answers, the state warns, could lead to German citizenship being revoked even years later.

Muslim organizations at the time reacted furiously, with several groups promising they would file suit against what they call a racist procedure.

The debate was refueled earlier this month when the state of Hesse introduced a catalogue of 100 questions quizzing applicants for trivia on German politics, culture, history and legal principles.

Heckmann said if Berlin introduced a test, it should be one applying to all states.

If executed in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, the tests may elevate the applicants' identification with their new country, he said.

Heckmann speaks from experience: he oversaw a pilot project in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg that taught immigrants aiming for a German citizenship the basics about Germany.

"It all depends how you communicate such a course. In our case, they loved it."

--

(Comments to snicola@upi.com)

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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