Category Archives: Germany

Covering immigration: How U.S. and German media approach the story

When most news consumers think of immigration or refugees, they think of specific geographies — the U.S.-Mexico border or Western Europe receiving people from Africa or the Middle East. But the movement of people is global, and the issues across geographical regions are more similar than different.

Opinion pieces about security and immigration published in a newspaper in Nairobi could be reproduced almost word for word in Washington; Sicilian advocates’ concerns over Frontex are almost identical to what Texas activists say about the Border Patrol; and when businessmen in Greece talk about Islamization and Sharia law, they echo concerns of Southern Arizona ranchers.

Migration has once again jumped to the top of the news agenda on both sides of the Atlantic — fueled by the Trump administration in the United States and by the arrival of more than a million people seeking refuge in Europe — but is the media giving this issue the right coverage?

I have focused on the topic of diversity and migration for the last 10 years and every election cycle, as politicians trot out immigration to motivate voters, we hear about the importance of reporting on this issue. That enthusiasm is almost always short-lived, though, and we find ourselves back where we began. Ideally, immigration should be treated to constant coverage that captures the nuance in the issues, much like education or health care. Instead, the media in general seems to cover it like a natural disaster.

One could argue that coverage in the last decade or so has been hampered across the board, as newsrooms in North America and Europe face shrinking resources while expectations to be faster and do more with less continue to rise. But the use of stereotypes, and the focus on crime and terrorism in immigration coverage by some media outlets, is hardly novel.

While in Germany the media is largely credited with the overwhelmingly positive reaction seen in  the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis, earlier (and subsequent) coverage has been problematic. In the United States, coverage on immigration,  according to researchers, has contributed to polarization on the issue.  

If anything is different in this new wave of coverage, it is the climate in which news is being received. Now, on top of immigration being a hot-button and highly-politicized issue, we are living in an era when everything some people don’t like gets called “fake news” and where the term “lügenpresse,” the lying press, has come back in use. The distrust of the mainstream media is high and growing — especially in the United States. Among President Donald Trump’s supporters, nearly nine in 10 respondents to a new University of Virginia Center for Politics poll said that media criticism of the president reinforces that he is on the right track. The same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is “the enemy of the American people.” In Germany, a poll conducted by the Allensbach Institute found 40 percent of respondents described the reporting on refugees as “one-sided.”

Immigration touches on issues of identity, human rights, justice and fairness — all against a backdrop of real and perceived economic impact. And based on the current picture researchers paint of how we in the media are doing, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The stories we cover or don’t cover, the language we use, the voices we choose to represent, play a major role in shaping the public policy debate on immigration.

Continue reading.

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Wie der Ausnahmezustand auf Lesbos zum Alltag wurde

After marching themselves, a brother and sister watch the Greek Independence Day parade in downtown Mytilene. Photo by Talitha Brauer.
Nach der Flüchtlingskrise erholt sich die griechische Insel Lesbos langsam. Doch der Bürgermeister fürchtet, dass die echten Herausforderungen noch bevorstehen
Mayor Spyros Galinos at work in his office at the new town hall in Mytilene, Lesvos. Photo by Talitha Brauer.

Keine Zelte mehr, keine Müllhaufen – auch die vielen Freiwilligen sind verschwunden. Die Not der Flüchtlinge auf der griechischen Insel Lesbos hat die kleine Hafenstadt Mytilini einst auf die Titelseiten von Zeitungen in der ganzen Welt gebracht. Jetzt erinnert in der historischen Altstadt kaum noch etwas an die humanitäre Krise, die das Leben hier so lange geprägt hat. Und dennoch: Wer heute an Lesbos denkt, denkt an die Flüchtlinge, sagen sie auf der Insel.

Dabei kommen längst nicht mehr so viele Flüchtlinge wie noch vor zwei Jahren. Die Balkanroute ist geschlossen, das Rücknahme-Abkommen von EU und Türkei nach wie vor in Kraft. Doch bei den Migranten, die dort sind, wächst die Verzweiflung.

„Die Lage scheint sich derzeit zu entspannen, aber wenn man genauer hinschaut, ist es nicht so einfach“, sagt Achilleas Tzemos. Er ist Projektkoordinator von Ärzte ohne Grenzen auf Lesbos. Viele seien in überfüllten Lagern untergebracht – mit ungewisser Zukunft, was zu schweren psychischen Problemen führe. Vor wenigen Wochen zündete sich ein Syrer auf der benachbarten Insel Chios an – er überlebte nur knapp. Drei Tage davor hatte sich ein anderer in der Nähe von Athen erhängt.

Seit 2015 sind mehr als eine Million Flüchtlinge über Griechenland nach Europa gekommen. In der Hochphase landeten an einem Wochenende bis zu 10000 Menschen an Lesbos’ Küsten, hungrig und erschöpft von der Überfahrt. In der Regel warteten sie ein paar Tage, bevor sie eine Fähre Richtung Festland bestiegen, von wo aus sie nach Schweden oder Deutschland weiterreisten. Nun müssen sie bleiben, bis ihre Asylgesuche entschieden sind.

Continue reading at Der Tagesspiegel.

Schicksalsroute Libyen – Sizilien

Sicherer Hafen. Seit Anfang des Jahres sind mehr als 13.400 Flüchtlinge nach Italien gekommen. Foto: Anke Trojan.
Vergewaltigungen, Prügel, willkürliche Haft: Wer es als Flüchtling über Libyen nach Sizilien schafft, berichtet von furchtbaren Erlebnissen. Ein Bericht aus Catania.

Am Freitagabend verbreitet sich das Gerücht, dass am nächsten Morgen bis zu 600 Menschen in Catania, der zweitgrößten Stadt Siziliens, ankommen werden – darunter mehr als 100 minderjährige Flüchtlinge. Alle werden über Libyen nach Europa gereist sein, und viele von ihnen werden auffallend ähnliche Geschichten erzählen, über Schläge, Vergewaltigung, Erpressung in einem faktisch gescheiterten Staat.

Mitte Januar. Es ist ungewöhnlich kalt und regnerisch. Doch das ist unwichtig: Allein an diesem Wochenende werden fast 2000 Flüchtlinge aus dem Meer geborgen und nach Sizilien gebracht werden. Ein halbes Dutzend von ihnen in weißen Plastiksäcken oder Särgen. Ein Imam und ein katholischer Priester werden in Messina für sie beten, während ihre Verwandten – trotz Wärmedecken vor Kälte zitternd – ihren Verlust beklagen.

Seit Jahresbeginn kamen mindestens 440 Menschen auf dieser Flüchtlingsroute ums Leben, 2016 waren es im gleichen Zeitraum „nur“ 97. Mit dem EU-Türkei-Abkommen ist die zentrale Mittelmeerroute wieder zur meist genutzten Flüchtlingsroute geworden. Seit Januar sind bereits mehr als 13 400 Flüchtlinge in Italien angekommen, 9000 waren es im gleichen Zeitraum 2016 – einem Rekordjahr. Die meisten fliehen vor Krieg, Verfolgung und extremer Armut. Andere haben auf der Suche nach Arbeit zunächst jahrelang in Libyen gelebt, bis die Zustände dort unerträglich wurden.

Libyen steht im Zentrum einer Diskussion darüber, wie man die zentrale Mittelmeerroute abriegeln kann. Beim Gipfel in Malta einigten sich die EU-Staats- und Regierungschefs darauf, ihre Zusammenarbeit mit Libyen zu intensivieren, etwa über Ausbildungsmissionen für die Küstenwache des Landes oder Auffanglager.

Continue reading at Der Tagesspiegel.

Pregnant asylum seekers navigate birth and bureaucracy in Germany

Sadaf and Rohullah Aziz’s son Zedna was born in Berlin 20 days after they arrived in Europe in 2014. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.
Sadaf and Rohullah Aziz’s son Zedna was born in Berlin 20 days after they arrived in Europe in 2014. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.

When Sadaf Aziz got married she had a firm idea about how her life would unspool. She knew children would follow marriage, and she imagined giving birth with her mother by her side, guiding her and helping take care of the baby while she recovered. Instead, Sadaf finds herself more than 3,500 miles away from her native Afghanistan unsure of whether her young family will be able to stay in Berlin.

Sadaf was seven months pregnant when in 2014 she and her husband Rohullah left everything they had behind: the new crib for their baby, the three-story home they built, their extended families. His job as an interpreter with American contractors and the U.S. military had put their lives in jeopardy, so they fled with two suitcases, a laptop and his work commendation certificates.

In two months, they were in Europe seeking asylum and 20 days later she was giving birth to their son Elham, with her husband interpreting for her.

It is not known how many asylum seekers like Sadaf have given birth in Europe since more than a million people from countries in the Middle East and Africa came to seek refuge. But in 2015, about 28 percent of those seeking asylum in the European Union were women, according to Eurostat data. In Germany, the share was slightly higher at 32 percent.

Berlin’s state office of refugee affairs doesn’t track the number of pregnant asylum seekers or those who give birth due to the number of other agencies involved throughout the process, said its spokesman Sascha Langenbach. Instead, the organization relies on estimates from shelters and makes educated guesses based on the demographics they do have available. In 2016, the “under 4” group of asylum seekers nationwide was about 80,000—nearly 11 percent of those seeking asylum that year.

About 79,000 came to Berlin in 2015 and 55,000 have asylum claims being processed, Langenbach said, with another 17,000 arriving last year. Out of those, about 25 percent are women, “we then have to deal with the fact that some of these women are going to be pregnant or could get pregnant and the existing medical infrastructure must also be altered to deal with this.”

Continue reading at Coda Story.

German Volunteers Surmount Refugee Backlash

Malte Bedürftig, the founder of GoVolunteer, volunteers at a refugee shelter at the Berliner Stadtmission in Moabit in February. Photo Courtesy of GoVolunteer.

Last year, hundreds of Germans lined up to welcome and distribute food and water to the thousands of refugees who arrived by train and foot from the Middle East and Africa. They immediately self-organized via Facebook and created shifts around the clock. Doctors, organizers, and first-timers responded to radio calls for volunteers. So many donations were received, local and national media reported, that the police had to tell people to stop.

A rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the country since the arrival of about a million migrants and asylum-seekers has not deterred many from continuing to help in some form. About nine percent of Germans are still volunteering in some way, researchers have found; that’s roughly seven million people.

“My general impression is that the overall number did not change that much,” said Malte Bedürftig, co-founder of GoVolunteer, which connects projects and initiatives working in refugee relief and integration with people who want to help.

Although there are those who grew frustrated with the system or the refugees themselves, Bedürftig said, and there is an expected backlash generated by the recent Berlin Christmas market truck terrorism. In general, those who were ready to help in 2015 are still ready today, even if not in the same way.

Read more at Coda Story.