The German politician Giorgina Kazungu-Haß is the first black member of parliament in her state, Rhineland-Palatinate. She spoke to InfoMigrants about inclusion and racism, and what she says is Germany's obligation to take in those fleeing violence in Afghanistan.
The daughter of a Kenyan father and German mother, Giorgina Kazungu-Haß is a rarity in politics, especially as an elected member of a German state parliament. For a long time, Germany has had a woman at the helm, but Kazungu-Haß says it is still unimaginable that a black woman could be elected to fill the post.
For a refugee, entering politics is even harder: it proved impossible for Syrian-born Tareq Alaows, who withdrew his candidacy for the national parliament, the Bundestag, because of racist attacks.
With the Social Democratic Party polling well a few weeks out from the election, Kazungu-Haß spoke with InfoMigrants about why Germany is still grappling with attitudes towards migrants.
Marion MacGregor: What do you think an SPD-led government, should it get elected, ought to do for Afghans who want to live in safety? Should Germany take in more Afghan refugees?
Giorgina Kazungu-Haß: Here in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate we are of course willing to continue to take in Afghan refugees, and yet we would like to see a coordinated approach, at least in Germany. I am a bit cautious about using the term European solution. I would like there to be a European solution, but we have seen in the past that it often leads to solutions being postponed or not achieved at all. So I think we have to focus on the question: 'Where do we really have influence?,' and that's Germany as a country, and that is where the players really have to get together.
If I may, I would also add that obviously, in the case of Afghanistan we have a much, much stronger obligation than in other situations. Because the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was so fast, has also led to additional problems, and not just for the local forces. My greatest concern, the greatest concern of all, is of course for the women, and above all the girls in Afghanistan, who are now at the mercy of the Taliban.
If Germany were to take in a large amount of Afghan refugees, is there a risk of a racist backlash from the right in Germany?
Kazungu-Haß: Yes, there always is. We have a percentage of the population that is ready for violence when it comes to exclusion, racism and discrimination. Taking in refugees of course provides them with a 'justification', in quotation marks. You have to reckon with that, but you don't have to direct policy according to whether it stirs up these people, who are commiting wrongs, who are acting unlawfully. That is a mistake that has often been made in the party landscape in general. It is refered to as 'public concerns': in truth what it is is that people want to act inhumanely and unlawfully. So of course, we have to be prepared and be aware that it can happen. But that can never be a reason to somehow make a decision differently, because the middle, the mainstream, see quite clearly that it is right that we, as one of the richest countries in the world, behave accordingly in a situation like this, and that is of course to help and also to take in people seeking protection.
Do you think that Germany is an inclusive country?
Kazungu-Haß: It's a difficult question. Of course 'inclusion' encompasses many things. Looking at the inclusion of people who immigrate to Germany, I would say that there are good approaches, but I would not call Germany an inclusive country. First of all, Germany’s self image is quite heterogeneous, but it is constantly a point of discussion and thick books have been written about what is actually 'German'.
Everyone has different ideas about the inclusion of migrants and often their ideas are very much guided by their own interests. This can also be seen in the fact that so far in Germany it has been impossible to agree on an immigration law that gives people a fair chance, a really fair chance, to come here not just because you earn a lot and so you are offered a job by, I don't know, BASF or Boehringer Ingelheim, but because you might want to learn and develop here.
We still don’t see ourselves as a country of immigration, and that answers the question about inclusion - No, obviously it’s still not a national goal to accept people who really want to be part of this society.
How have attitudes towards newcomers in Germany changed in recent years?
Kazungu-Haß: I don't think it has improved much. Unfortunately I can say that from my own experience. I feel that after 2015 things normalized somewhat. Hate crimes still happen, but of course in 2015 it was worse, there were (anti-migrant) demonstrations, which are intimidating because they create a certain atmosphere.
After it was clear in Afghanistan that the Taliban were taking over and Kabul was going to fall, the same people were immediately back on social networks saying, 'So, now we finally have the opportunity to spread hatred about foreigners.' And then it’s not just people who have just arrived in Germany who are affected – not that they are any less important – but it affects everyone. I am already second-generation here – I was born in Koblenz, which is actually rather boring, to be honest – and yet I feel it too.
When people say that taking in more migrants is a strain on the economy, or that it costs a lot of money, that is racism. It is good that we've been able to talk about it since 2015 and everything that has happened since. Germany has always been a bit backward in that respect, which is understandable because here racism has a different dimension, a different meaning, because of course it is immediately associated with National Socialism. But racism is a worldwide phenomenon, and it is good that we are managing to talk about it at all.
For refugees, or for that matter people who are affected by racism in Germany, what are the biggest barriers to participation in politics?
Kazungu-Haß: Yes, unfortunately it is very rare that people who immigrated here participate in politics. There are some, and hats off to them. My colleague Karamba Diaby (Senegalese-born member of the German Bundestag since 2013), for example, did his doctorate here and then stayed here and is now a member of the Bundestag. That is very rare.
In Germany, there is a great willingness to help, but there is not the perception that people who come here as immigrants, whatever their status, are an asset and that we need them. People who come here are always forced to thank us all the time, that's the feeling we give them: 'You are among the chosen few who are allowed to stay here at all. Say thank you again!' Actually, we should be thanking them, because without them the country wouldn’t function, the lights would go out.
Do you believe that a person like you could be elected as chancellor?
Kazungu-Haß: No, I can't imagine that at all. Look at this election: even though we had a female chancellor for so long, if you look at how someone like Annalena Baerbock (Green Party candidate for the chancellery) is treated, I don't even want to think about what would happen to a candidate who faced discrimination on multiple fronts, so for example if they were a black woman.
The fact is, of course we have to have a society that accepts that you look different. You know there are other countries that manage it better, for example in Ireland the deputy prime minister (Leo Varadkar) has a migrant background. He was previously the prime minister there. There is the mayor of London (Sadiq Khan), and in the Swedish cabinet there has been a black female minister (Nyamko Ana Sabuni). But not in Germany.
And it doesn't have to be a black person, we haven’t had anyone of Turkish origin either, or Italian origin, which is much more common here. Where are they actually? I ask myself that every day: why are there so few of them? So yes, Germany is really behind in that respect.