Immigrant Dreams In Germany Fuel Europe's Top Economy

One in three companies in Germany was founded by a non-German. Discriminated against in the job market, immigrants often find that creating their own company is the only way to make it.

Making it big: the Yerli brothers (Crytek)
Making it big: the Yerli brothers (Crytek)
Freia Peters

FRANKFURT - The man with the Turkish name, sporting an accent from the Gerv multi-millionaire. "My brothers and I always played a lot of computer games," says Avni Yerli. "And then one day we started to think about designing our own games."

When they finished their first prototype in 2000, the three brothers flew to the Electronic Entertainment Expo – the world's largest games fair -- in Los Angeles to find somebody willing to publish it. But at first, they found no takers. "It was only when we became desperate, and started telling people that we'd put everything we had into it, and had come to the States just for this, that we started getting people's attention. After that we were known as ‘Oh yeah, the three brothers from Germany.""

Today, the company that the Yerlis created, Crytek, employs 600 people worldwide and has studios in Frankfurt, Kiev, Budapest, Seoul and Nottingham. The difficulties they had starting their company, Avni Yerli believes, had less to do with the fact that they are Turkish than the fact that they had no business experience. Avni, 42, and Faruk, 40, were born in Inisdibi, Turkey, while Cevat, 34, was born in Coburg, in the German state of Bavaria. Their father left their small Black Sea village to go to Germany to work as a carpenter in a furniture factory.

Avni Yerli thinks that growing up in two cultures was an advantage. "From the Germans, we got discipline, efficiency, and a sense of quality. But Turkish culture is less risk-averse, more communicative. Things aren't taken quite so seriously, but respect and honesty are important. If you give your word then you stay true to it."

Turks use their intuition more, he says, but the German penchant for thoroughness is a huge plus -- creativity and planning, a great combination. "Basically, the German and the Turkish mentalities complement each other perfectly," Yerli says.

That 50 years of Turkish migration to Germany represents a big opportunity is something that many German companies don't seem to have grasped yet. People with an immigration background aren't considered as equals to Germans in the job market. That's according to a report on integration commissioned by the German government that will be published Wednesday.

There has however been "measurable improvement" since 2005 says the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, Maria Böhmer, in her foreword to the 700-page document. For example, a growing numbers of young children from immigrant families are going to daycare centers.

The number of young people leaving school early is going down, while the number of young people from immigration backgrounds getting higher degrees is on the rise. Statistics show that the difference in educational levels level between immigrants and Germans is still significant, but immigrants are catching up fast.

The "Turkish bazaar" factor

The report applauds the fact that immigrant families are increasingly seeing early education as a stepping-stone for doing well at school later. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of children from immigrant families in daycare increased by 53% which was significantly more than the increase of German children (39%).

But jobless figures show that the position of immigrants has gotten worse despite such successes: in 2011, there was 2.35 times more unemployment among immigrants than among Germans.

That figure has been on the rise continuously for the past six years. Taken together, these parallel trends means there's only one path to success for immigrants: becoming self-employed. "For people with an immigration background, founding their own company often paves the way to integration," the report says. The percentage of immigrants who do just that has been on a constant rise since 2005, and now stands at 12.3%.

Nearly one-third of companies in Germany were founded by people without a German passport. In 2010, there were three times as many companies created by Turks as there were 20 years ago. And today, some 80,000 Turkish companies employ 400,000 people with a total turnover of 36 billion euros.

Depending on the sector, employees in these businesses may be up to 40% German. "The size and number of Turkish businesses in Germany is going to go up sharply in the next few years," says Rainhardt von Leoprechting, chair of the Cologne-based Turkish-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. "They create a lot of jobs."

Successful integration of immigrants is crucial to the future success of Germany, where one out of three children under five has an immigration background. Especially in view of the growing lack of candidates to fill German jobs, integrating such children more successfully into the job market is essential if Germany is to stay a first-tier economy.

The Yerli company has 130 German and 20 Turkish employees; the rest come from 38 different countries. The office language is English.

Avni Yeri thinks that Germany could make more of an effort to help such businesses. "Especially at the beginning, when Turkish entrepreneurs encounter problems such as getting credit. There are some fundamental gaps, one of them being that the banks don't really bother to try and understand what the entrepreneur's ideas are. More trust is needed."

He adds that the specific qualities Turks can bring to the table are often overlooked. "Turks are strong on marketing. They're good talkers, you can see that when they're in a selling situation. Think of a Turkish bazaar – you always end up buying something."

Read the article in German in Die Welt.

Photo - Crytek

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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