Youth

    Violence and Honour

    Copyright: picture-alliance/dpaWhile juvenile delinquency in Berlin is falling overall, the number of crimes committed by young migrants in the German capital is steadily on the increase. The neglect of young foreigners and the problems they encounter at school, at home, and when job-hunting have been ignored for too long.

    Murat approaches with rapid steps and raises his fists: a hook, a swing, another hook, in fact a whole series of punches, each of which stops just short of the journalist’s face. Then he grins broadly and says he’s a professional boxer and will soon be the next big thing. He goes on to say that he trains every day and is fighting fit.

    Murat tells a lot of stories to avoid having to relate his own. The 16-year-old, who is of Turkish origin, has been in court on charges of extortion under threat of force, actual bodily harm, and vandalism. He threatened another young person and beat him up because he wanted his mobile. The word on the street for this kind of behaviour is stripping, and the young people who do it are often totally oblivious to the fact that stripping is in fact committing a series of serious criminal offences.

    Aggravated robbery and arson

    Thanks to Germany’s criminal law for young offenders, Murat got off lightly. The court sentenced him to a course run by the charitable organisation called Lebenswelt (Lifeworld). The purpose of the course is to get him to think about what he did and learn how to interact with other people. The other people on the course are 17-year-old Cem, Tamir, also 17, 18-year-old Mohammed, and the only one of German origin, blond-haired Tom (all names have been changed). Cem robbed a taxi-driver; Mohammed and a friend set fire to a basement. Tamir and Tom, like Murat, are there because they committed crimes of extortion.

    The group meets twice a week under the supervision of social workers Oliver Stöber and Osman Sönmecicek. Wednesdays are devoted to playing football, so the five meet in the gymnasium of the Reineke-Fuchs primary school in Berlin-Reinickendorf.

    The young men are all approachable; they laugh and chat a lot. The four group members of foreign origin were all born in Germany, so there are no communication problems. The only time they have difficulty expressing themselves is when it comes to explaining why they committed the crimes. It was boredom, explains Cem, that led him to threaten the taxi-driver with a weapon. When his parents divorced, he lived with his mother in Celle, but they didn’t get on. He is now living with his father in Berlin. Cem is on probation; this course is effectively his last chance.

    Download SymbolEric Gujer: Violence and Honour (pdf, 19KB)

    Eric Gujer is the Neue Zürcher Zeitung’s correspondent in Germany.

    Copyright © Neue Zürcher Zeitung

    This article first appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, on 20 June 2006

    Translation: Aingeal Flanagan

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