Germany's diversity is evident as immigrants run for parliament

Ana-Maria Trasnea, 13, fled Romania when her single mother, Ana Maria Trasnea worked. She believed that Germany would be a better place for her than Romania. She is now 27 and running for a seat at parliament.

Germany's diversity is evident as immigrants run for parliament

Trasnea stated that it was difficult in Germany at the beginning. "But I was ambitious, and realized that this was a chance for me. So I decided to do everything I could to get respect and integrate."

Trasnea is one of many candidates from immigrant backgrounds seeking a seat at Germany's lower house, the Bundestag. While their total population is not represented in the office, it is becoming more visible in politics that the country's increasing ethnic diversity.

"A lot has happened in Germany over the past few decades. Julius Lagodny from Cornell University, a Cornell University political scientist, says that the population has become more diverse. He has studied migration and political representation in Germany. "Young immigrants aren't just seeking political office across nearly all parties in Germany; they are also demanding them. A whole new level of assertiveness is now evident."

Around 21.3 million Germans are migrants, which is 26% of Germany's total population.

8.2% of the current parliament's 709 members are immigrants. According to Mediendienst Integration (an organization that tracks migrant issues in Germany), the 2013-17 parliament only had 5.9% or 37 of 631 legislators.

Five-thirds of the 6,227 potential candidates for parliament are immigrants, according to Julia Schulte–Cloos, a Munich political scientist who specializes in politics and discrimination against minorities in Germany.

Schulte-Cloos stated that the number of Bundestag candidates who have immigrant roots has increased steadily since 2005.

Although the number of elected parliamentarians is expected to increase this time, it will still be below 26% of Germany’s population who have what is officially called a "migrant background". This is defined as someone either born abroad or who has at least one parent who was.

Berlin is home to around 35% of immigrants. There are many immigrant candidates for Bundestag.

Joe Chialo (51), whose parents are from Tanzania is running for a seat in center-right Christian Democrats in Berlin’s Spandau district. Hakan Demir (31), whose grandfather immigrated from Turkey 50-years ago, wants to be the Social Democrats' new lawmaker for the Neukoelln district, one of Germany's most diverse.

Ezgi Guyildar (35-year-old daughter to Kurdish refugees from Turkey) is running outside the capital with the Left Party in Essen.

They are motivated by concerns about global warming and seek more rights for women, families, and immigrants.

The four candidates are running for a seat in parliament. They all admitted to AP that they have experienced racism and discrimination as children. They expressed gratitude for their time in Germany, and said that they were grateful for the opportunities that Germany provided.

Chialo is a Tanzanian diplomat's son. After his parents left for other diplomatic assignments, he was raised in Bonn.

Chialo stated that in the beginning, Chialo and his brother were the only Black students at a school with 1000 students. "Oh, look, there's Negro," Chialo said. It shows how rare we were, as well as many other Black people my age in Germany at that time.

Trasnea is a Berlin education official and runs in Koepenick Treptow. She can't remember how other high school students hurled stones at her and accused of coming to Germany to get welfare.

Guyildar recalls how children snitched at her and other children because they spoke Turkish in schoolyards, which was prohibited. Demir still feels embarrassed when he tells his classmates from academic families that he was a chemical technician. He is ashamed of the fact that a non-skilled worker at chemical companies was his true job.

Demir, an adult who lives in Neukoelln in Berlin's ethnically diverse Neukoelln neighborhood, sees political benefits in his past.

Demir said that people from over 150 countries live in the district. "It's a great mix of cultures and very diverse." Demir previously worked as an immigrant lawyer, Karamba Diaby. "Officially, when someone wants to learn Turkish, I do so. This creates an intimacy that is crucial during the election campaign. It makes people feel involved."

West Germany employed "guest workers" from Turkey and Italy more than 60 years ago to support its economic growth. They worked in the steel industry, coal mining and auto manufacturing. Many of those who arrived initially as temporary workers eventually decided to stay and bring their family, making Berlin and other cities in western Germany large immigrant communities.

In the following decades, others followed suit: Russians and Kazakhstanis who could claim German ancestry, refugees from Lebanon's civil conflict; Jews from the ex-Soviet Union; Eastern Europeans who took advantage the European Union's free movement. Between 2005 and 2016, a second wave of over 1 million people fled war in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, 7.4 million migrant adult citizens have German passports. They are eligible to vote on Sunday. However, many don't vote and are therefore underrepresented in parliament. A further 8.7 million people who live permanently in Germany cannot vote, as they don't hold German citizenship.

Except for Swiss nationals and citizens of other EU countries, Germany does not allow dual citizenship. This is a problem for many immigrants of the first generation who have strong ties to their homeland and don't want their old passport to be lost. They may fear losing their inheritance rights or property.

Guyildar, if elected, will fight for dual citizenship.

She said, "I can feel close with Turkey, have my grandmother there, but still consider Germany my home." Dual citizenship is fine.

However, sometimes, not having a German passport doesn't mean you can't run for office or vote. Particularly first-generation immigrants are often more concerned with politics in their home countries.

"There is sometimes a barrier caused by discrimination, as well as closed migrant society here, in which parents or grandparents are more concerned in what's going on in the home country than in the current politics," states Canan Bayram (55), a German-Kurdish attorney who was elected to 2017's Bundestag for the Green party.

Bayram believes that this will change, however, as more immigrants run to be elected to office.

She stated that she believes it was a small step and that in 10 years, we won't be able to talk about these subjects as much because the new generation is forward-looking and has found their place in Germany.

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