How migrants and refugees participate in German politics – even if they can’t vote


Many refugees and migrants cannot vote in Germany, at least not unless they become German citizens and have completed a naturalization process. But this is not necessarily an obstacle to political participation. found a study published earlier this year.

The right to vote in most countries comes with citizenship. Germany is no different. If you were not born in Germany to German parents, acquiring citizenship takes several years. The naturalization process takes three years for those who are married to a German spouse and already an EU citizen, and up to eight years for non-EU citizens, including refugees and migrants. Most citizens of non-EU countries would have to renounce their old nationality in order to acquire a German passport. They must also demonstrate a clean criminal record and the financial capacity to support themselves, as well as be able to speak German at least at B1 level.

Unless you are an EU citizen, you are not even allowed to vote in local and municipal elections in Germany.

However, as a non-German citizen, you are authorized to be a member of a German political party. In February 2018, Syrian refugee Abdulrahman Abbasi was one of some 7,000 non-German members of the SPD. vote on the current coalition agreement with Germany. At the time, questioned by DW, he explained how important it was for him to have a say in the political future of Germany: “I enjoy the rights and honor the duties of living in this country. and actively participates in its social and political life. on the next government means a lot to me because it will pass laws that will affect the society in which I live. ”

Encouraging integration

Abbasi said the right to vote marks “a big step in the integration process”.

A recent study by the Robert Bosch Foundation and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) comes to a similar conclusion. The study was carried out in several countries around the world with large migrant populations. One of the points of attention was the Afghan and Syrian refugees in Germany.

Nora Jasmin Ragab carried out the case study in Germany. After talking to 14 male refugees and four female refugees, she found that most of them “faced barriers to participating in their home communities due to broken systems and felt somewhat excluded from political spaces. in Germany due to the perception of being labeled as refugees or ‘the other Muslim’. Nonetheless, she found that “the political agency is very strong; even the undocumented refugees began to organize from day one to influence their own conditions ”. Syrians and Afghans were motivated to engage in politics “at the local level” and had “rich knowledge and experiences of involvement in political parties and processes,” Ragab said.

Politics without votes

Political participation takes place even without the right to vote, neither in Germany nor in their country of birth. Some refugees join civil society organizations to continue fighting for democracy in their country of origin; others are fighting for more rights for migrants in Germany.

Participation in political life tends to be higher for men than for women in migrant populations. Sometimes, however, the study found that even when refugees or migrants were given the opportunity to vote, they had a lower turnout than native-born residents.

The problem of coming from countries with little or no idea of ​​how a European democracy works is sometimes an obstacle to political participation.

Not seeing any examples of people who are like you can also be a barrier to political participation; the proportion of parliamentarians of immigrant origin is increasing in Germany, but only eight percent of all members of the national parliament were migrants or had migrant parents, according to the Mediendienst integration project.

Join a political party

One of the Afghan refugees interviewed in the German study was a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). He was also a member of an Afghan refugee organization in Berlin and said he joined the party to learn about German political culture and to “continue working in politics, […] Because of the problems in my country, my country needs someone to help it. “

According to the scientist Ragab, the Afghans who joined the SPD did so because they felt that the party’s platform “promoted immigration and migrants’ rights”, but that even when they tried to pressure it to do so. hearing their voices, they were “largely ignored by German politicians.” “

The study found that for Germany, “the strict citizenship regime combined with a political right to vote reserved for citizens created a large population of disenfranchised not only among the immigrant population, but also among their descendants. born and raised in Germany “. The existence of migrant participation bodies and a legal framework to ensure the representation of migrants varies from state to state in Germany.

Art as politics

Outside of politics, participation in arts and culture also offered some respondents the opportunity to express themselves politically, giving writers and artists in exile the opportunity to present their work to a wider audience through literary exhibitions or festivals. A Syrian activist in Berlin told Ragab: “Being engaged here in Germany is very important because here are the tools, the freedoms to speak out and the freedom of belief in general. I think that being socially and politically active is very important. one of the main reasons for the revolution in Syria, and why I joined it. “

The study concluded that more electoral rights in any country would increase participation and a sense of belonging to the host country, but until full voting rights are granted, encouragement for participation of civil society organizations was crucial for integration.


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