#Germany Swamped by #Bulgaria and #Romania Immigrants

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By Özlem Gezer, Der Spiegel

Worlds are colliding as a flood of impoverished Bulgarians and Romanians stream into Germany, overwhelming authorities. But efforts to help integrate the new residents have been sluggish and many of the immigrants find themselves awash in a system they don’t understand.

In their hands they hold plastic bags filled with letters from German authorities and reminders from debt collection agencies, most of them unopened.

“Why do Germans write so many letters?” asks one Bulgarian woman, shaking her head in disbelief as she stands in a long line outside the Verikom advice center in Hamburg. “In our village we didn’t even have a mailman,” she says.

To ease her frustration, she has sorted her baffling assortment of mail. Yellow envelopes are overdue payment notices and therefore dangerous. Letters bearing a heraldic eagle are from the state. Colored logos usually mean bills from telephone companies.

Worlds have been colliding ever since increasing numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians began streaming into Germany. In many ways the authorities are just as overwhelmed by the often penniless European Union citizens as the immigrants themselves are by the realities of life in Germany.

This week, the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) will present its 2012 evaluation. The annual report, which analyzes collaboration on integration policy between national, regional and local authorities, comes to a sobering conclusion: Coordination is inadequate, while effective cooperation is largely non-existent.

Planning to Stay

The problem is most evident in the way authorities deal with the new groups of immigrants from southeastern Europe. There is no overriding strategy. Worse still, many regional and national politicians assume the Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants are merely seasonal workers who will soon return to their home country — just as the German government mistakenly expected Turkish and Greek “guest workers” to do decades ago.

Local authorities are only now beginning to realize that the immigrants from Germany’s eastern EU neighbors also intend to stay for good. Berlin is taking a pioneering role in this respect, and aims to ratify an action plan designed to fundamentally improve the conditions for immigrants by 2016.

Week after week, reports from other cities show just how necessary such measures are. In late March a raid in the southwestern city of Mannheim uncovered serious cases in which landlords were charging immigrants exorbitant rents for apartments with inhumane conditions and no lease contracts. Two Romanians in Stuttgart were recently convicted of exploiting girls from their own country as prostitutes in so-called “flat-rate brothels.” And new arrivals in Münster have set up a tent camp along a canal.

Countless southeastern Europeans make ends meet as day laborers, sometimes earning no more than €3 (.89) an hour, with no heath insurance or contributions to the social insurance system. In Frankfurt alone, investigators estimate that 10,000 to 17,000 Bulgarians are falsely claimed as self-employed, and are actually engaged in work that should be subject to health and social insurance contributions as well as an employment contract.

Because many towns and cities don’t have targeted integration programs or state-run advice centers for Bulgarians and Romanians, non-profit groups like Hamburg’s intercultural communication and education association Verikom are trying to help out.

‘The Last Link in the Chain’

Tülay Beyoglu, the 33-year-old daughter of Turkish immigrants, normally works at Verikom advising Arab or Turkish migrants on issues relating to divorce and alimony. But for some time her office has been inundated by requests for help from Bulgarians who barely speak German and are often unemployed and homeless. Beyoglu is patient, and often works overtime. “We could use another 50 pairs of hands here,” she says.

A year-and-a-half ago, a Bulgarian woman came to see Beyoglu for the first time. The woman had been tricked by a Turkish furniture store and is still paying off a dubious loan. She and her family to this day live in a rundown apartment block in the Wilhelmsburg district of Hamburg. The building is known locally as “the Bulgarian boarding house.” She does not have a lease, and if she needs proof of residency for the authorities, which is required by law in Germany, she has to pay the landlord a €400 bribe. “Bulgarians are the last link in the chain,” Beyoglu says.

Each day crowds of southeastern Europeans converge on her office. Some complain about corrupt employers, others burst into tears recounting how human traffickers robbed them of all their money. Larger families have been known to pay smugglers €5,000 to bring them to Germany. Unwitting parents have given supposed helpers €1,000 simply to file an application for child benefits.

The people who come to see Beyoglu often offer her money for her help. “They’re used to having to pay for everything in their home countries,” she explains. Many of the more recent immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania are Roma. “They don’t understand the German welfare system yet,” Beyoglu says.

Repeating Past Mistakes

Such realizations don’t seem to have reached the national level yet. Only last December the Interior Ministry sent the European Commission a report on the situation of Roma living in Germany. The report concluded that a national strategy was “not required” because the Roma had access to existing integration programs.

The rule that applies to the Roma applies equally to all other Romanians and Bulgarians. Because there are EU citizens, they can’t be forced to attend language and integration courses that are offered free of charge to immigrants who hold non-European passports — and if they voluntarily choose to do so, they are charged for the privilege.

“The government’s report flies in the face of reality,” says SVR chairman Klaus J. Bade. “It shows that the political machine won’t start moving until after an accident has already occurred.”

Bade has taken an in-depth look at the new arrivals from southeastern Europe, and warns of the danger of repeating integration policy mistakes from the past. After all, programs set up for Arabs or Turks who have been living in Germany for many years are ill-suited for the needs of Roma from Bulgaria and Romania. They must first “understand the everyday rules of the Western world — things that can’t be learned in a remote southeastern European village,” he says.

‘Precarious Circumstances’

Berlin’s traditionally multicultural Neukölln district provides a good example of the deep divide between newly arrived immigrants and well-established foreigners. For some time now, Romanians and Bulgarians have been trying to find their place alongside Neukölln’s Turks and Arabs.

In April, the district published its second “Roma status report,” which found that many Roma live under “precarious circumstances.” Furthermore, many children are “underdeveloped for their age and illiterate” and have “little or no prior school experience.”

Other problems detailed in the report include “noise pollution, higher volumes of trash, property damage and a generally different concept of neighborly coexistence.” Neighbors often react to the new arrivals with “a lack of understanding, resignation, cries for help, fury, outrage and even hate.” Despite being EU citizens, the Romanians and Bulgarians were last in the “ranking order” of the nationalities represented in Neukölln, the report concluded.

Neukölln school council member Franziska Giffey experiences the report’s findings almost on a daily basis. Two years ago she was one of the first people to notice the flood of children from new migrant groups in her schools. Giffey tried to find teachers and tutors with suitable language skills, and alerted her colleagues in both her local authority and the Berlin city government. Even so, she often feels powerless to help. “What we’re seeing here is the impact of the migration of Europe’s poor,” she says. “We can’t control the situation, we can only react to it.”

In late April, a working group of various Berlin departments in the Berlin city government discussed the plight of the city-state’s new immigrants. After much delay, the issue will now finally be addressed by local government.

via Sofia News Agency.

News and Comments 6 Feb 2012

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Activists protest outside #Syria’s embassy in #Mauritania

A young female activists addresses the crowd, voicing their demands for an end to the killing in Syria and that Assad and his brutal regime should step down.

A cultural festival in Mauritania was marred by sandstorms

Aziz lack of fashion flair spoiled it for me. What a mess he looks in his robe

Emil Boc resigns after austerity protests, had no idea why Romania signed ACTA

Emil Boc said his government had not taken part in a popularity contest

Romania’s Prime Minister Emil Boc has stepped down to “defuse political and social tension” after a series of protests against austerity measures. Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he said he had given up the government’s mandate as “it is the moment for important political decisions”.
Although Romania’s economy grew last year, the government has been hit by three weeks of demonstrations.
Mr Boc has imposed a 25% cut in public sector wages and a freeze on pensions. Sales tax was also increased to 24%, in a country seen as Europe’s second poorest. Romania said it needed to implement the measures to qualify for the next instalment of a 20bn-euro ($25bn; £17bn) bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Poland put ACTA ratification on hold, and Slovenia apparently regrets its signature, and Emil Boc admitted that he doesn’t understand why the country signed ACTA. It appears that opposing politicians are criticizing the government and promising that they will suspend enforcement under ACTA until there are actual public hearings held on the matter. It really is quite amazing that the folks in the entertainment industry, who thought they could ram this through are now discovering how much they’ve awakened internet users across the globe ever since they shot for the moon with SOPA. ACTA has been on the table for years, and only a few of us “copyright geeks” were paying attention to it. But SOPA really made it clear to huge populations of people just how the entertainment industry seeks to restrict the internet through copyright law… and they’re simply not going to take that any more.

BBC News & TechDirt

Iran arrests several on alleged links to BBC Farsi-language service

Iranian authorities have arrested several people over alleged links to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Farsi-language service, Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency reported. The report said they produced content and reported to the BBC. It said they facilitated training and hiring of some Iranian journalists and arranged trips abroad for them. It quoted an unnamed official as saying they were active since 2009. It did not name them or say how many were arrested.

In London, the BBC said in a statement that the report “should be of deep concern to all those who believe in a free and independent media.” The British broadcaster said it has “no BBC Persian staff members or stringers working inside Iran.”

In October, Iran released two filmmakers who were in jail on similar charges. Tehran has accused the BBC of operating as a cover for British intelligence and of hosting Iranian dissidents. Last week the BBC accused Iran of intimidating staff members of its Persian service by slandering them and arresting relatives.

via AP in The Washington Post

Crime rate soars in Brazilian state of Bahia on fifth day of police strike

The Federal government has sent troops and special forces to cope with the wave of criminal actions

The murder rate in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia has soared during a state police strike that on Saturday entered its fourth day. The state’s Public Safety Department says on its website that 51 people have been murdered in and near the capital city of Salvador since the strike began on Wednesday.

The government news service Agencia Brasil says that the murder rate has ballooned 117% increase over the same period last year.

Some 2,000 Brazilian army soldiers and a contingent of 650 elite federal police troops are patrolling the nation’s third-largest city while officials and strike leaders negotiate an end to the strike.

State officials have said that about 10,000 of the state’s 30,000 police are on strike. They are demanding better pay and bonuses.

The city of Salvador registered a total of 29 homicides over a 30-hour span, amid a crime wave caused by a police strike and despite the reinforcements provided by the federal government.

The city has been plunged in a wave of violent crime since late Tuesday, when the 30.000 members of the Bahia state police force went on strike demanding a 50% pay raise.

Though on Thursday a court declared the walkout “illegal” and ordered police to resume their work immediately, the strike continued until Saturday with spokespersons for the police union announcing that it would not be called off until their demands were met.

The Brazilian government after ordering 2.600 soldiers from Army barracks in Salvador sent to other cities of Bahia, announced it was preparing another 4,000 if the situation gets worse.

The troops went on patrol this Friday in the chief tourism centres of Salvador, a city set to welcome thousands of tourists to celebrate Carnival, one of the most spectacular, massively attended in all Brazil.

Brasilia said that Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo will travel to Salvador this weekend to personally appraise the situation and decide whether a greater military presence is needed.

Speaking Friday night on regional television, Bahia Gov. Jacques Wagner attributed the crime wave to groups with ties to the police on strike.

via Crime rate soars in Brazilian state of Bahia on fifth day of police strike — MercoPress.

Police clash with protesters in #Romania

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Protesters clash with riot police on University Square in Bucharest on January 14, 2012 during a protest against the government’s austerity program and Romanian President Traian Basescu

Romanian police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters during an anti-government rally, the third consecutive day of demonstrations against austerity cuts and falling living standards.

The protests were the most serious since President Traian Basescu came to power in 2004 and were the result of pent-up frustration against public wage cuts, slashed benefits, higher taxes and widespread corruption.

In 2009, Romania took a two-year 20 billion euro loan from the International Monetary Fund, the EU and the World Bank, as its economy shrank by 7.1%.

Romania imposed harsh austerity measures under the agreement, reducing public wages by 25% and increasing taxes.

The unlikely catalyst for the protests, however, was the resignation of popular health official Raed Arafat, a Palestinian with Romanian citizenship who opposed health reforms proposed by the government.

On Friday, Mr Basescu told the government to scrap the reforms, but public anger had already risen against Mr Basescu and the government.

Widespread support for Mr Arafat has led commentators drawing parallels with ethnic Hungarian Laszlo Toekes, whose opposition to late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 was the spark for the anti-communist revolt.