Germany Considers Easier Citizenship For Its Immigrants

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

MOMENTUM is building to give Turks and other long-residing foreigners in Germany easier access to German citizenship.

If what is now being debated actually becomes fact, it will be a major break from Germany's narrow citizenship law, which dates back to 1913 and is based on whether an applicant is of German descent.

The growing political support for easier citizenship for longtime resident aliens springs from the May 29 arson attack in the town of Solingen, in which five Turks died in a blaze allegedly set by four German youths. Turks have been targeted in almost nightly incidents this month.

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Those advocating the easing of citizenship requirements admit that skinheads and neo-Nazis do not stop to look at a person's passport before attacking them. But they reason that, if foreigners were better integrated into German society, Germans eventually would cease to think of them as Fremder, or strangers.

Turks, by far the largest minority group in Germany, have been living here since the early 1960s, when they were first invited to this country as "guest workers" in German factories and mines. Numbering 1.8 million, their second and third generation children go to German schools and speak fluent German. Although the Turks have equal access to Germany's social services, they still cannot vote.

"If we hope to stop individual discrimination [against Turks and other foreigners], we must stop institutional discrimination against them," says Georgios Tsapanos, spokesman for Bonn's Office for Foreigners' Affairs.

In a June 7 television interview, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said the country's citizenship law should be reexamined. "We must find a solution for these young people who were born in Germany, who have foreign heritage, and who want to remain here," Mr. Kohl said.

Kohl's political party, the Christian Democratic Union, and his coalition partner, the Free Democrats, both announced June 7 that they favor easier access to citizenship for longtime foreign residents. After Solingen, the opposition Social Democrats announced a campaign in support of the idea.

Faruk Sen, director of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, Germany, says the new stance on citizenship is a direct result of the Solingen murders.

"The federal government needs to make some gesture. They know the violent acts will continue. It's politically important that Turkish disappointment doesn't grow," Mr. Sen says.

Although the politicians are falling in line behind a more liberalized citizenship law, they cannot agree on what it should look like. The most talked about - and most controversial - proposal is that of dual citizenship. This option is available in some form in countries such as France, Britain, the United States, and Canada.

Since 1991, new laws allow foreigners meeting certain requirements to become German citizens. Turks say the criteria are too restrictive, although they emphasize that the greatest hindrance is the requirement that foreigners must give up their previous citizenship to become German citizens.

THE reasons behind Turkish demands for dual citizenship are "above all emotional ones," Mr. Tsapanos says. "The Turks in Germany are a special situation which can't be compared with other countries."

For instance, while many emigrants heading for the US are purposely closing the door on their homeland, Turks in Germany maintain close ties with Turkey.

Originally, both the German government and the Turkish guest workers themselves expected they would return home. But that didn't happen. Now Turks here lead double lives, owning property in both countries, running businesses here and in Turkey, and visiting their homeland annually. Still, polls show that 90 percent of Turks want to stay in Germany.

The Social Democrats, the Free Democrats, and some members of the Christian Democrats favor dual citizenship. But Erwin Huber, general secretary of the conservative Christian Social Union, another member of Kohl's coalition government, argues against it. Dual citizenship leads to "legal uncertainty" and "loyalty conflicts," he told the German magazine Focus.

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