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Nearly 100.000 with a migrant background: More Bonn residents than ever before have foreign roots

Nearly 100.000 with a migrant background : More Bonn residents than ever before have foreign roots

Never before have so many Bonn residents had foreign roots. They currently make up about a third of the population in the city. Who are they? What concerns do they have? Why are many of them not allowed to vote?

When he was 34 years old, Moustafa Sabbagh went to the polls for the first time. "Maybe I voted once in Syria, too," he says. "But it doesn't matter, there the election result is known before the election.” He had just graduated from high school when he went to Germany to study in 1995. He had planned to return to his home country afterwards but ended up staying in Bonn. Now, he works in Bonn and is married to a German woman.

Sabbagh had to wait 13 years before he was allowed to have a say in political decisions in his new home country.  Other people live in Germany for 30 or 40 years without being allowed to vote, even though they speak the language, work here and pay taxes. Because they are not citizens, they can only vote for the integration council in local elections. In the population statistics, they are listed as foreigners.

"I find the very term foreigner unfortunate and antiquated," says Ramy Azrak. "How long will I stay a foreigner? If I'm here for 40 years, this is my home." Azrak's parents came to Germany from Syria in the 1950s, first living in Berlin, later in Bonn. Azrak has a German passport. He, too, can vote in the election for the integration council. People have even asked him to run for the integration council, he says. "But I didn't put myself forward (as a candidate),” Azrak says. "The problem is that the integration council can't make decisions." Azrak heads the Dr. Moroni Foundation for Integration and Education in Tannenbusch. He reports that political disenchantment is high among people who feel marginalized. "They think, 'No matter what I do, nothing happens anyway,'" Azrak says. He advocates giving people who have lived here longer the right to vote - even if they are not citizens.

Since the 1990s, the number of immigrants in Bonn has steadily increased. Of around 330,000 Bonn residents, nearly 100,000 have a migrant background (according to the definition used by the German Federal Statistical Office, “a person has a migrant background if he or she or at least one parent did not acquire German citizenship by birth”). As a result, the number of those who can vote for the Integration Council has also increased: While there were 57,000 eligible voters in the 2014 municipal elections, by 2020 their number increased to 87,000. Currently, around 58,000 Bonn residents are not German citizens, which means they are not allowed to vote in elections, for example the city council election. This is in contrast to Britons, French and other EU citizens, who can vote in the local elections.

"Anyone who is here for a certain period of time should also be allowed to vote"

"This is exclusion and a two-class society," says Zsófia Poták. "It's a bit like the EU foreigners are the better foreigners." Poták is in charge of neighborhood outreach at the Vielinbusch Education and Family Center. Her family came to Germany from Hungary in the 1980s. She says one has to wonder about how open a society is - when it clings to the fact that people without German passports can't have a say in politics here. "Those who are here for a certain period of time should also be allowed to vote," she says.

The city's integration officer, Coletta Manemann, takes a similar view. "Anyone who has lived here for a long time and is integrated linguistically, professionally, socially and culturally, may experience it as a rejection or slight to be excluded from the right to vote in municipal elections. It is not a motivation for integration," she writes in an e-mail. And adds: "Many are deeply concerned about the future of their children, i.e. schooling-apprenticeships-university studies-careers, but also about racism and discrimination."

Saloua Oudda also identifies with these challenges. She came to Germany from Morocco in 2003 to study at university. "Language is the be-all and end-all for integration," she says. “But you can still be proud of your origins and your culture." People who have lived here for years should not be excluded from political decisions, their voice should be heard, she thinks.

That is also why Poták believes that the work of the Integration Council should be better advertised. "People need to know that they can turn to it - for problems with finding housing or discrimination," she says. She says that she was not even notified that she could vote for the integration council. Sabbagh also reports that many people did not receive election notifications. The city press office writes in an e-mail: "86,924 voters who were eligible to vote in the integration council election received a notification. It cannot be excluded that individual persons did not receive a notification of the election. However, they could have registered and would then have been included in the voter registry.”

Sabbagh cast his vote and even ran for the Integration Council. He, too, is in favor of people without German passports being able to take part in local elections. But he also believes they should first be here for a certain amount of time and perhaps even attend a democracy course. "Many of these people come from countries where there is no system of democracy, where elections are shows. They think it's the same here," he says. That's what his campaign showed him, he says. "People said to me, 'Once you're on the council, you'll get a mansion and a Mercedes,'" he reports. "I then told them - listen people, this is an honorary position."

Orig. text: Dennis Scherer

Translation: ck