How One Immigrant Adapted To Germany, And Why So Many Don’t

Nuray ÇeÅŸme arrived from Turkey as an infant, and yet still struggled to integrate. She worries that today's refugees will have an even harder time making into the mainstream.

At a cycling class for immigrant women in Bremen, Germany.
At a cycling class for immigrant women in Bremen, Germany.
Sophie Lübbert

HAMBURG â€" Nuray ÇeÅŸme is leafing through her book while we meet in a café in central Hamburg. It is her intensely personal but highly political autobiography, as it tells the story of her upbringing in Germany as the daughter of Turkish immigrants.

She tells us the story of how she came to northwest Germany years ago and, for the first few years, lived in a Turkish parallel society. "I was with Turkish people at all times," she recalls. "I ate Turkish food and spoke and thought Turkish."

ÇeÅŸme then explains how she finally freed herself from life in this parallel society, and how difficult that was even though she arrived in Germany as an infant. Most people with her background never make the transition, she says.

ÇeÅŸme was born in the Turkish town of Balikesir. She was just six months old when she left her home. Together with her mother she moved to Germany where her father had been living as a guest worker for several years. They moved to Neumünster, where many Turkish guest workers lived. The Turks had an immense influence on the small city. Residents could buy Turkish goods in Turkish shops, get Turkish food, and hear Turkish being spoken everywhere.

"I had a good childhood there. I never felt alien, because I felt as if we lived in a Turkish town," says ÇeÅŸme. She learned to speak Turkish exclusively, only played with Turkish children, and held on to Turkish traditions. When she started going to primary school, at age six, she played with other Turkish children. She didn't even think about it: It was natural to her that she would stick to Turkish children.

Making friends

If it had been up to her, things would have stayed like that. "There was no reason to change anything," she says. "Everything was going well."

But thing did change â€" not because ÇeÅŸme had a sudden epiphany, but because her parents insisted. Her parents had decided to stay in West Germany and now wanted their daughter to integrate as best as she could into local society. "My father always said: "Make sure to mix with the Germans."" He was one of the few to hold that opinion. Everyone else â€" his neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances â€" thought his opinion ridiculous. Even those who wanted to stay in West Germany. Why should his daughter be with Germans? Why should she not grow up normally? ÇeÅŸme's father was determined, though, and sent his daughter to a different secondary school, a school with a lot of German children.

At the new school, there were barely any Turkish children. ÇeÅŸme sat down next to a German girl and could not believe it when they became friends. "And through this wonderful new friendship I learned to speak German fluently â€" not just knowing a few bits and pieces," she recalls. "I learned to understand German customs and traditions and got to know other Germans because I wanted to."

ÇeÅŸme found more German friends and did an apprenticeship in one of the most German jobs possible when she graduated from secondary school: She became a tax accountant. And she loved being precise, calculable, orderly. "I feel at home in Germany, job-wise and otherwise," she says.

Which is why she now wants to warn people. Integration may have worked in her case, she says. But only because her parents more or less forced her hand, and because later, she realized she wanted to integrate and made an effort. "But very few people have parents like mine and make an effort," she says.

Turkish streetscapes

There are no official statistics regarding integration. ÇeÅŸme estimates, nevertheless, that only about 40% of people with migratory backgrounds have integrated themselves into German society the way she did. She also thinks the percentage is dropping, that as time goes on, newcomers are even less likely to integrate.

"It’s only natural. Even back then we had Turkish shops and goods and could feel at home," she says. This has only intensified. By now you have entire Turkish streetscapes with "mosques, travel agents, banks, cinemas, bakeries, restaurants," ÇeÅŸme explains.

"This causes people to feel comfortable and at home," she adds. But it also prevents them from adapting. And this trend is on the rise as there are more and more people with migratory backgrounds living in Germany, plus the refugees. "They have lived through horrendous experiences and will seek refuge in familiar things. That's exactly what I'd do," she says.

ÇeÅŸme admits that she doesn't have a general plan of action to tackle the integration issue. The status quo has take shape over the course of years and is unlikely to be changed quickly. Taking in refugees is, in her opinion, a humanitarian duty. These people did, after all, flee from bombs and war, needed protection and should be able to go to a part of town where they feel comfortable.

"But I am worried about their integration," she adds. "The more they're together in one place, the easier it will be for them in the short term because they have each other. But it will become harder in the long term."

ÇeÅŸme believes the first step is to acknowledge the issue, to talk about it publicly and stop pretending it doesn't exist. "We have to do so. We have to talk openly and honestly about the refugees and the already existing problems, which will only become more pronounced. It's something they failed to do with us.”

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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