Migration politics

“It is vital that we see what the reality is” – Aygül Özkan on Immigration and Integration

Ministerin Aygül Özkan; © Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Soziales, Frauen, Familie, Gesundheit und IntegrationMinisterin Aygül Özkan; © Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Soziales, Frauen, Familie, Gesundheit und IntegrationSince 2010 Aygül Özkan has been Minister of Social Affairs, Women, Family Health and Integration in the state of Lower Saxony. Goethe.de spoke to Germany’s first Turkish-born, female minister on the aims of integration politics and how necessary immigration is for Germany’s ageing society.

Minister Özkan, how do you see the de facto state of immigration in Germany, especially in light of the Sarrazin debate that has met with such an amazing response, not just in Germany, but elsewhere, too.

We have to find the right atmosphere – a calm and objective atmosphere - to talk about what helps us move closer together and what keeps us apart, about the positive and the negative. For me it is not just a case of simply “sweeping fears and worries under the carpet”. Nevertheless in the face of all the constructive and necessary criticism we should also not forget that Germany’s integration politics have in fact been quite successful in some respects.

In particular the first generation of people who came with the first wave of immigration have in the meantime done a lot for this country. Now we are working on helping the fourth, fifth and sixth generations to make good use of what has been achieved. The developments over the last ten years have shown that integration is making good progress, language skills have improved, immigrants, both male and female, are taking more and more responsibility in business, politics and society.

Diversity is always better than uniformity

Diversity is better than uniformity; © L. ViereckeWhere do you stand in the debate on multiculturalism and the dominant culture?

I do not think in those terms. It is vital that we see what the reality is – we have immigrants in our country and in view of the demographic shift we are going to need even more immigrants. These people represent an opportunity for our country.

Has immigration led to a diversity that has been good for Germany?

In Germany people who were born in the country and people who immigrated to the country are not rivals, but partners for the Germany of the future. We are all going to benefit from this diversity. Conciliative diversity is always better than uniformity.

Or have dangerous parallel societies come into being?

In this case we are dealing with a general problem – a problem that involves whole sections of society that contain not only Turks and Arabs, but also Germans. Something has to be done for this level of society. We cannot allow the children of this level to drift into “Hartz IV Karrieren” (to live off Germany’s social security system).

Nobody has to deny his or her roots

Nobody has to deny his or her roots; © L. ViereckeWhat direction should integration politics take if it is to be successful?

We are faced with two tasks: Firstly, we have to integrate young people with an immigrant background into the labour market and education system in order to improve their perspective on life. Secondly – in view of our ever-ageing society – we have to work towards a more targeted form of immigration that would provide manpower for certain sectors and specialised areas. Integration can be supported by government aid, but it is in fact a process that takes place on a much smaller scale on an everyday basis: kindergartens, schools, places of work and clubs – these are the places where our society grows together.

But might this meanwhile lead to the threat of assimilation?

The main thing here is for everybody living in Germany to identify with our country, but in doing so, he or she does not have to deny his roots.

Aygül Özgan was born in Hamburg in 1972 as the daughter of a Turkish couple that had immigrated to Germany from Turkey in the 1960s. In 2010 the then Minister-President of Lower Saxony and later Federal President, Christian Wulff, surprisingly appointed her minister of the newly established Ministry of Social Affairs, Women, Family Health and Integration – a tailor-made post in the government of the state of Lower Saxony. She was the first Turkish-born Muslim to receive a post in the government of a German federal state. She is a lawyer by profession who since 2004 had been a member of parliament for Germany’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) with a seat in the “Hamburger Bürgerschaft”, the parliament of the Free Hanseatic City Of Hamburg.

Following Lower Saxony’s example, Winfried Kretschmann (of the BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN party), the new Minister-President of the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg, gave Bilkay Öney (SPD), a politician “from an immigrant background”, a post in his cabinet – this time however as the head of a ministry that was specially set up to focus on integration politics.

Hans-Martin Schönherr-Mann
conducted the interview. He is an Essayist and Professor for Political Philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich and Professor for the philosophy of Science at the Leopold Franzens University of Innsbruck.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
May 2011

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