In a multiethnic and multicultural city like Berlin where every eighth person has no German citizenship and every fifth person has a so called immigration background, the proactive shaping of immigration and integration is one of the fundamental policy issues for the cities present and future. Berlin has the flair of a heterogeneous and colourful metropolis that lives from the impulse that different cultures bring to it. It is a city with a huge potential for integrating people from different backgrounds. Right now, the city is experiencing, similar to other European capitals, novel initiatives of the second and third generation of immigrants. These young persons whose parents or grandparents have immigrated to Germany introduce cultural and economic innovations that have an impact not only on the local community but also on the communities in the respective home countries. As the “Berlin Study” published by the OECD in 2000 stated, immigration is one of Berlin’s main future resources.
Despite the fact that the above said is part of a wide political consensus amongst state institutions, NGO’s and the large Social Welfare Agencies, Berlin faces serious challenges concerning the integration and lasting social cohesion of its local communities. Due to the economic effects of the German unification, the city has seen a tremendous decline of the industrial sector in the 1990s. This resulted in a crowding-out, especially of workers with low professional qualifications. The so-called guest workers from Turkey and the Mediterranean, who had come to Berlin in the 1960s and 1970s, were hit especially hard by this process. In the meantime the unemployment rate amongst immigrants has risen up to around 40%, which is more than double that of Berlin’s German citizens. Immigrant children have a harder time finishing school with a high qualification than their German fellow pupils. Moreover the rate of school drop-out amongst immigrant children is much higher and the relative number of immigrants in apprenticeship is significantly lower than amongst Germans.
A lasting integration policy for Berlin therefore has to be conceived as a complex of interlocking activities and strategies aiming at the improvement of the economic and social participation and the improvement of life perspectives of immigrants. Within these policies special emphasis is placed on a reduction of the unemployment rate amongst immigrants and on easier access to economic activity for asylum seekers and refugees. Berlin puts further emphasis on an improvement of the educational situation for all children especially those with an immigrant background. Moreover the Senate wants to foster the accessibility of the regular social services for immigrants by increasing the number of civil servants with immigrant roots. The Senate also aims to strengthen intercultural competence within its regular services. All of these measures are aimed at calling for responsible action from both the majority society and the immigrant communities.
According to the federalist principle of the German constitution the authority of the German state is divided between the Federation (Bund) and the States (Länder). The States have their own state authorities and their own legislation. Berlin has, like Hamburg and Bremen, a special position as a state and a city at the same time. The city therefore implements integration policies on a local city level while at the same time taking advantage of its influence as a state on the federal level via the second chamber of the German Parliament (Bundesrat).
The government of the State of Berlin, the Berlin Senate, is composed of different Senate administrations (ministries). In the field of migrant integration, four Senate administrations play key roles: firstly, the administration of the Senator of the Interior with its subordinate authorities, in particular the Authority for Residence Matters (Landesamt für Bürger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten). The Senator and his administration are responsible for implementing regulations of national law at state level. The Senator therefore has considerable power in controlling and steering the impact of the national immigration and residence law for Berlin. The second relevant Senate administrative post is the Senator of Health, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection who is responsible for most matters concerning support for asylum seekers and refugees (housing, financial benefits, health). Similar to the Senator for the Interior, the Senator for Social Affairs has the power to introduce regulations implementing national law. A current example is the recently introduced implementing regulations allowing for the provision of financial benefits to asylum seekers in cash and the regulation allowing asylum seekers and refugees to rent out private flats. The Senate Administration for Education, Youth and Sports is responsible for all matters concerning the compulsory school attendance of all Berlin residents including asylum seekers and refugees up to the age of 16. In 2004 the Senator for Education has also introduced a new school law, which gives a good basis for the improvement of the intercultural training of teachers and pre-school language training for migrant and refugee children. Lastly the Senate Administration for Economics, Labour and Women is responsible for implementing qualification and education programmes for immigrant youths and adults in order to strengthen their possibilities to access the labour market and vocational training.
Moreover, Berlin has a large number of state and local government officials who have ample experience in collaborating and sharing responsibilities in dealing with refugee and integration matters. This sound institutional balance is supplemented by the five Cooperative Social Welfare Agencies and a wide network of larger and smaller NGOs. Institutions and NGOs complement each other’s activities, for example by providing advice about the asylum procedure and welfare issues as well as providing support in central reception centres and asylum seeker hostels.
The Commissioner for Integration and Migration is formally part of the Senate Administration for Health, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection. However, he has a relatively autonomous position within the institutional configuration of the Senate as a whole. He has the responsibility for coordinating and initiating integration policies. Moreover the Office of the Commissioner gives financial support to initiatives run by immigrant organisations and is a primary source of information for NGOs seeking advice. The Commissioner administrates relevant projects in the fields of migration, integration and anti-discrimination. His office gives legal advice to asylum seekers and refugees and steers the State Advisory Board on Integration and Migration, where the State Secretaries of five Senate Administrations, NGOs and migrant organisations recommend policy strategies for improved integration for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
In August 2005 the Senate for the first time launched an integration strategy for the city as a whole, indicating relevant fields of action, relevant aims to be fulfilled within the coming years and relevant initiatives already undertaken. Currently the Senate, with the Commissioner for Integration and Migration as a lead agency, is working on the development and implementation of a monitoring system in order to follow up integration processes and measure integration success on the one hand and failures on the other.
The position of a Commissioner for Integration and Migration (Ausländerbeuaftragter) is present in all of the 16 German Länder, just like on the federal level. The institutional responsibility, size and institutional power of the Commissioners however, varies considerably across the different states. While the Federal Commissioner for Integration, Prof. Maria Böhmer, has only recently seen an upgrading of her position as being institutionally linked with the Chancellory, Commissioners in other German states have experienced severe downsizing in recent years. The Office of Berlins Commissioner for Integration is the largest of all and has gained increasing institutional power in recent years. The development of the above named integration strategy has contributed to this positive development.