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Immigrants Thrive in German Football Team


The German national soccer team's third-place finish in the World Cup has drawn much attention to the diverse nature of its members. Eleven of the 23 German players have immigrant roots - a record number that German leaders say shows success for integration. But critics say social gaps and tensions exist between immigrants and the country's ethnic German majority.

Germany claimed third-place at the 2010 World Cup with a winning goal by Sami Khedira, one of the many multi-cultural faces on the German national team.

Khedira, whose father is Tunisian, scored with an 82nd-minute header that completed Germany's 3-2 victory over Uruguay.

Ten other members of the German team are of foreign descent, with roots in Bosnia, Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, Poland and Turkey. The team's diversity has won praise from German leaders as a model for the integration of the country's immigrant population.

Germany's 15 million immigrants and their descendants comprise almost one-fifth of the country's 82 million people.

The immigrant community has grown significantly since the 1960's, when Germany began inviting guest workers from Turkey and other nations to ease a labor shortage.

Germany reformed its laws in 1999 to make it easier for immigrants to become citizens, and in recent years Berlin has allowed dual German and foreign citizenship.

Turkish-born politician Ozcan Mutlu represents the Green Party in Berlin's House of Representatives. He became a German citizen 20 years ago, but says many of his colleagues see him differently.

"I can feel German; I can dream German; I can behave German; and even I can curse in German. But I am still the Turkish guy next door, and this shows how problematic the situation is," he said.

Mutlu says many Germans still believe in a homogenous society and do not welcome diversity. He highlights the case of central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin, who said in June that immigrants make Germany "dumber" because they have a limited education and high birth rate.

"Unfortunately, people do not say 'this [is] racism and xenophobia.' People say, 'He is very courageous, he said something no one had the guts to say, no one is willing to say,'" he said. "Or some say, 'He is in general right, but he used the wrong words.' This is, again, stupid. This is racism," Mutlu added.

Immigrants and their descendants have similar complaints against Germany's far-right National Democratic Party, which has seats in three state parliaments.

The NPD objected to the German soccer team's inclusion of a black player for the 2006 World Cup. It published leaflets saying a "real" national team would have white players. A court found the NPD guilty of inciting racial hatred.

Another source of resentment for Germany's immigrant community is education. A German government report issued this month says children with migrant backgrounds have a lower chance of entering elite schools to prepare for university than ethnic-German children.

The report also says immigrants and their offspring face serious difficulties in finding jobs. An official for Berlin's Senate Commission for Integration, Robert Schneider, blames the lack of immigrant jobs on economic turmoil that followed Berlin's 1990 reunification.

"It was a disaster for the Berlin migrants because they lost their jobs," he said. "Many of them lost their jobs because all the industrial sectors broke down and the new jobs that were created are higher-level jobs where the majority of the migrants do not have a chance," said Schneider.

But some Germans accuse immigrants of cutting themselves off from mainstream German society by living in segregated neighborhoods in which little German is spoken.

Conservative German parliament member Joachim Pfeiffer, of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party, says the government must do more to ensure that people speak a common language.

"In Germany we speak German. So it does not help that Turkish people - we have 2.5 million people from Turkish origin, more or less, in Germany - when they are not able to participate in the society as well as in the labor market, or in the normal things you have to do," said Pfeiffer.

The German government says it also faces a growing threat of terrorist activity from radical Islamists within the immigrant population. Germany's Federal Crime Office said, earlier this year, it was monitoring 1,100 Islamists in Germany whom it feared could engage in terrorism.

Officials say the government is trying to curb radicalism by encouraging imams to preach moderate Islam to Muslim youths.

Robert Schneider says Berlin authorities also have a regular dialogue with the Muslim community.

"We speak about where we need ways [to promote] religious education in school; where do we find ways for imams to improve their German; where do we find easier ways for Islamic burials in Berlin; and, questions like these," he said.

Another organization trying to bridge the ethnic divide is Radyo Metropol, a Berlin-based radio station that targets listeners of Turkish origin in eight German cities. It is Germany's only station broadcasting Turkish music and a mix of Turkish and German dialogue.

Executive Director Tamer Ergun says Radyo Metropol tries to inform Turkish Germans about how government policies affect their lives. He says many listeners tune in because they can not understand mainstream German-language programs.

But the frustrations of immigrant communities did not stop them from joining national celebrations of Germany's World Cup victories.

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