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View the documentCredibility of development aid policy at risk
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Credibility of development aid policy at risk

How xenophobia in Germany affects interpersonal cooperation

Hostility towards foreigners in Germany is putting the credibility of the country's development aid policy at risk. This fear was expressed by staff members of the Protestant development aid organization Service Overseas in late 1991. Meanwhile, project partners of German development aid organizations and training institutions are also becoming increasingly concerned about escalating violence against foreigners. This was revealed by a survey that GATE carried out among 22 organizations in the late summer of this year. It was found that the impact of xenophobia on the work of the 14 organizations that replied varies considerably.

Training institutions such as the Carl Duisberg Society, the German Foundation for International Developement and the World University Service notice most clearly how attacks on foreigners have been making their work more difficult for two or three years now. Scholarship students from African, Asian and Latin American countries can no longer travel freely in Germany. The Carl Duisberg Society's reply points out that "fortunately," however, foreign students are "only affected by xenophobic or racist actions in isolated cases". But fear is casting long shadows: in the newly formed German states, "many of the students on scholarships awarded under programmes of the former GDR were fearful", and so "no longer went out after dark".

The students for whom World University Service and the German Foundation for International Development are responsible no longer feel safe in Germany either. As long ago as 1991, Barbara Kloss-Quiroga reported in the German-language DSE journal "Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit" that "a South African student cut short his studies in Germany and returned home in January 1991, after being brutally beaten up three times within a short period in Weimar".

Fighting right-wing extremism as a domestic project

"In our work in Germany with students from Africa, Asia and Latin America, we unfortunately find that it has become almost impossible to find seminar dates which are Free of remembrance days' of right-wing groups; because on these days foreign students take care not to be seen in public or to travel long distances by public transport to the places where the seminars are being held. So it is meanwhile normal for African and Asian students attending weekend seminars to hire cars and travel to the seminar together. Relatives and friends of many foreign students are becoming increasingly worried when they see reports about the excesses of extreme right-wing groups in Germany. We would be very pleased if the NGOs in Germany joined a campaign against rightwing extremism, as a kind of domestic project." Kambiz Ghawami, World University Service

Verbal abuse and threats

Guests of development aid organizations have also suffered unpleasant experiences during their stay in Germany. Rainer Kruse of Bread for the World reported that "overseas visitors have occasionally been the object of verbal abuse and threats outdoors in public or in restaurants". He said that Bread for the World staff now had to accompany their guests, especially if they went out in the evening, and advised them not to go out alone late at night. Several counterparts had reported "impoliteness or even rudeness on the part of German border officials" when they entered the country, "especially at Frankfurt Airport". Although the travellers had valid visas, they had been questioned distrustfully and in an arrogant manner.

Yousif S. Toma of AT-Association explained: 'We know it has become more difficult to find traineeships for colleagues from abroad. and in particular from Africa and the Far East." According to Toma, "it isn't because firms are unwilling, but because they are afraid they may not be able to guarantee the trainees' safety".

Most of the organizations involved in development cooperation stated that so far none of their project partners had decided against visiting Germany because they were afraid of being attacked; or at least, it had not been cited as a reason for cancellation or postponement of a trip to Germany. GTZ and the private relief organization medico international had a different story to tell. Replying on behalf of GTZ, Andreas Schumann replied that partners in cooperation "must have considered whether they wanted to do a course of training in Germany, or whether it might not be better to postpone a planned trip." Reactions of this kind were noted in particular after the brutal attacks in Molln and Solingen, which were internationally reported by the media. Hans Branscheidt of medico reported that since about May of this year project partners, especially those from the Middle East, felt "unsure" about travelling to the FRG.

The Carl Duisberg Society reports that "there has not so far been any fall-off in applications" for its further training courses. In isolated cases, however, prospective students had had "a more critical and more cautious attitude towards residence in Germany." This applied in particular for to the USA, but also for Asian countries, in particular the People's Republic of China.

Mistrust in the "project environment"

While xenophobic tendencies are making the work of development agencies in Germany more difficult, they seem so far to have had a minimal negative impact on development aid projects outside the country. The executing agencies are highly respected by their counterpart organizations. However, some organizations (ARTES, medico) see their work overseas becoming more difficult in the long term. GTZ has received feedback from its projects to the effect that its counterpart organizations "are viewing xenophobia tendencies in Germany with concern." People working for other organizations are also repeatedly asked about developments in Germany. "We would like to put press reports into perspective," says Heimo Posamentier of AT-Association. Frequent and detailed reports in the foreign media are allegedly leading to "inquisitive" (Kubel Foundation) and even "concerned" (GSE) questions on the situation in Germany. Staff members of German Agro Action faced critical questioning, "in particular in countries like Vietnam," which are "directly affected." According to medico there is already some mistrust "in the project environment," notably in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

According to GTZ, xenophobia in Germany has "become an issue that not only our project staff have to face, but also personnel from head office or short-term experts on official trips to partner countries." For this reason, says GTZ, the company's management drafted a statement entitled "GTZ takes a stand against hostility to foreigners", which was sent to all project personnel. The project personnel had then handed over the statement personally to the counterpart organizations. The Carl Duisberg Society is also doing what it can to counter the "nasty German" image abroad. Germans who travel abroad for training are now briefed on questions concerning xenophobia in Germany.

"We felt ashamed!"

"I remember what happened when Peter Kordjo from Ghana, my colleague Winfried Laaser and I arrived in Echterdingen. We had flown in from Amsterdam. The border guard asked Peter why he had come to Germany, although it was perfectly clear from his passport that he had permission to work here as a pastor for five years. Peter's reply that it was surely stated clearly enough in his passport was met with the words, "But I want to hear you tell me!' The intention was apparently to hold a brief but humiliating interrogation in full public view. At this, Laaser and I lost our tempers: I refused to stand for the defamatory tone, pointing out that I was also a citizen of this country and had no desire to be turned into a "nasty German' by ignorant border officials.... Laaser threatened to lodge a complaint with the official in charge and asked whether the procedure for appointing border officials included checking that they had mastered the civilized arts of reading and writing. That did it. Another border guard came up, and it wasn't until they both realized we weren't going to stand for any nonsense that they waved us through. At customs they were going to bother Peter again. They stopped when we told them he was with us. We were ashamed!"
Joachim Lindau, Bread for the World

Better prepared fur role as ambassadors

"When we send Germans abroad for training we now pay more attention to preparing them better for their role as "ambassadors". At the preparatory seminars we brief theim on the political situation in Germany with regard to foreigners. This applies first and foremost to our programmes in the USA, where Germans on further training courses are asked about the reasons for the xenophobia. We believe that this is probably also connected with the opening of Holocaust memorials in the USA and the dissemination of information there about the Holocaust."
Hans Pakleppa, Carl Duisberg Society

Credibility at risk

Ten of the 14 organizations which answered the questionnaire stated that they were fighting xenophobia in Germany above all through development and educational policy.

The Catholic relief organization Misereor takes up the issue of xenophobia in Germany in its publications and press releases. For its Projects Department, Misereor has issued a manual which is intended to provide information on the "manifold causes of human flight and mass migration" and at the same time serve as a guide for refugee aid and emergency relief work. Misereor's 1994 fast is dedicated to fighting "the increasing trend of violence towards foreigners." In the present situation Misereor believes it must take a stand, "because this development is jeopardizing the very foundations of the organization and its work both in Germany and abroad, which is based on openness towards all foreigners." In November 1991, the Members' Conference of Service Overseas approved a declaration which includes the statement: "Disapproval of and violence towards foreigners put the credibility of both government and church development aid policy at risk - not only in the eyes of our counterpart organizations."

At the end of 1992, GTZ for the first time ran an advertisement entitled "German Foreigners Speak Out", pointing out that GTZ employees are foreigners in more than 100 countries, where they collaborate with people from all cultural backgrounds. The text ends with an appeal to "support us in the fight against xenophobia and racism, and for a coexistence befitting human beings." At its 1993 annual general meeting, the Carl Duisberg Society approved a "tolerance project" aimed at promoting peaceful coexistence between Germans and foreigners.

With its "Information, not Capitulation" appeal, the WUS is pursuing a similar aim, formulated together with other organizations in the education sector. For its part, German Agro Action aims to bring about a more tolerant climate in Germany with relevant working aids and its "Window on Books" campaign, a series of readings and concerts given by overseas authors and artists in cooperation with the book trade.

Medico has reacted to xenophobia not only via internal appeals, but also "intensively" with "advertisements, press releases and pamphlets". ARTES, the Institute for Appropriate Rural Technology and Extension Skills, also reports on indepth cooperation with foreign experts in press releases, and organizes workshops. The Society for Solidary Development Cooperation (DOE) participates once a month in a joint demonstration by several NGOs in Berlin. Member companies of AT-Association are also active at local level (foreigners' advisory board etc.). At the Protestant Association for Cooperation and Development (EZE) and GTZ. staff have started in-house action groups. The private group of GTZ employees, which was founded in 1992, organizes many events aimed at combatting hostility towards foreigners in the Rhine-Main region.

Barbel Roben

Tolerance project of the Carl Duisberg Society: Creating a cosmopolitan climate
"The priorities of the project are:

- Preparing German course participants by briefing them on the current political situation as regards foreigners in Germany, to enable them to give information in their host country.

- Providing foreign course participants with information on German politics in general and political developments concerning foreigners, at the reception centre, during their German courses and through backup measures during training.

- Press releases and PR work: more reporting on therelevance of political developments concerning foreigners for our participants.

- Functions organized by the regional CDG centres, with presentations of the society's work in the region, above all to promote contact between Germans and guests from abroad attending further training courses.

- Intensifying PR work relating to development and educational policy in the educational sector, in particular for vocational schools and companies which train personnel themselves."