IMMIGRANT YOUTH AND DELINQUENCY: SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE GERMAN DEBATE
by Sven Engel (Efus News, 21 March 2007)
A wicked debate has taken hold in Germany on the issue of violence, migration and youth. In 2006, when the Rütli school in Berlin’s difficult Neukölln neighbourhood published an open letter asking for help on the rising violence and socially desperate situation at the school, it immediately made national news in the middle of the Berlin Senat election campaign.
In fact, the number of cases of aggression, violent behaviour and school bullying has risen in Germany in recent years, as is the case in many other European countries.
However, the discussion soon turned against Neukölln’s large Turkish immigrant community, essentially blaming the supposed “failed integration” of immigrants into German mainstream society for the problems in the school, with slurs of cultural racism here and there. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) called for “zero tolerance”, more arrests and faster deportation. Brandenburg’s Interior Minister Jörg Schönbohm made a proposal to lock up youth in a form of “prison internship” for several days. However, politicians from the left and green parties have warned against deportations and called for more efforts in social inclusion and prevention measures. This is particularly intriguing considering that most of Germany seven million foreigners are second- or third-generation immigrants, who are being withheld German nationality by the rigid jus sanguinis principle, which was somewhat softened in 2000 with a new law that gives German-born youth at 18 years of age the option to choose between a German passport and the nationality of their parents.
Looking more closely at the problems of youth and violence, a quite differentiated picture appears. According to the police crime statistics of 2006, Berlin saw a reduction of overall crime by 2.4%, thus reaching the lowest level ever since reunification in 1990. Even higher reduction rates exist in burglaries (-8.3%) and drug related crime (-14.5%); this is counter balanced by an increase in violence (+4%), abuse of children (+19.3%) and credit card fraud (+15.1%). Of all suspects (and not convicts!), 30.9% are ethnic German, the rest of foreign origin (which does not exclude even third-generation immigrants). But looking at youth under 21 years of age, this figure is exactly reversed: young suspects are 71.1% German and 28.9% non-German. Looking at overall population figures, it is very clear that this is pretty much the overall percentage of foreign-nationals living in Berlin. Among reoffenders, the percentage of foreign nationals is much higher though, as much as 80% of severe reoffenders in 2006. Criminologist Claudia Ohder, who has studied about 250 such cases, points out that many are from countries with a very violent background and have memories of severe discrimination: Albanians, Kurds, Bosniacs, Palestinians, Lebanese. If this is compared with long-term immigrants mostly from Turkey and southern Europe, often living in Berlin in the third generation since the 1950s and 60s, it seems that the problem is not so much immigration as global violence and the resulting trauma.
More importantly, the social situation of families and youth is the key decisive factor for worrying levels of deliquency. It is not as much the immigrant status as the socially difficult situation of many Berliners that is important. The troubled neighbourhoods of the German capital have much higher levels of unemployment (up to twice the overall rate of 16%), far fewer apprenticeship placements, with youngs immigrants finding it even more difficult than their German peers to find their way to good education, decent jobs and socially stable perspectives in a city which is already on the brink of economic collapse.
The worse the social situation in a neighbourhood, the more violence in a school, the sooner middle-class people will move out, and the more immigrants you will find there in certain parts of Berlin. The question of cause and effect, however, can easily be exploited by a dangerous amalgam of mixing social problems, immigration and violence into an explosive cocktail. It is no coincidence that levels of right-wing-extremist and neonazi crimes have skyrocketed in the past years (+26% in 2006).
Youth are facing violence, meaning that they are confronted with it every day, as victims, perpetrators, or bystanders, rather than being the ones solely to blame for the problems of society at large, for which they bear little responsibility.
Cities across Europe have united in a call to tackle this complicated situation with the available tools of early prevention, inclusion and respect in the Saragossa Manifesto’s RECOMMENDATIONS ON YOUTH.
The European Forum for Urban Security has recently published a TRAINING MANUAL for improved relations between local administration and immigrants with a view to crime prevention, based on experiences in the city of Frankfurt am Main.
The Forum has also participated in the VISIONARIES project on violence in schools.
The Berlin Senate Commission Against Violence has published a series of interesting publications on immigrant youth and violence, as well as on their programmes on violence prevention in schools.
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