Geopolitics

In Germany, Schools Can't Handle Refugee Children

Germany's state of Bavaria is overwhelmed by the number of Somali refugees, creating a crisis at schools ill-equipped to deal with not only language barriers, but serious childhood trauma.

"Teachers are not prepared for this crisis ..."
"Teachers are not prepared for this crisis ..."
Tina Baier

MUNICH — Dominik Bauer, a teacher in a high school transition class for new students who don't speak German, says more and more kids arrive with dramatic true stories to tell.

The teacher in the southern state of Bavaria recalls in vivid details a letter written by one 17-year-old who had fled Somalia with his uncle, after his father had been killed. Bauer said the student wrote about being stuck for months in a Libyan prison, and how he finally got onto an overcrowded boat to cross the Mediterranean, only to wind up drifting for days in the open sea. Eventually some of his fellow passengers started to drink salt water — and one after the other, died in front of him.

Klaus Wenzel, president of the Bavarian Teacher's Association used a recent press conference to sound the alarm about the increasing numbers of troubled refugee students arriving in the German state.

"Refugee children are coming to Bavaria, severely traumatized, suffering from depression and even suicidal," said Wenzel, adding that schools are ill-equipped for the situation. "We're lacking everything. The kids are standing at the door with fear on their faces and sad eyes."

To improve the situation, the teacher's association is asking the Bavarian state government to fund an emergency program that will cost 10 million euros. Schools that accept refugee children need a whole team of specialists in order to help them.

"Teachers are not prepared for this crisis," Wenzel said. "Most of them want to help, but are quickly overwhelmed by the unspeakable pain they encounter and the lack of support." There are also way too few social workers and school psychologists.

"If we suspect that a child is traumatized, it presently takes three to four months before that child can get an appointment with a school psychologist," says Henrik Schödel, head of a school in Hof, Germany.

In his experience, having interpreters at the disposal of schools is an enormous help. He recalls how several children recently came to see him with their parents. The only German words one of the mothers could speak were "Kind" and "Schule" (child, school). Schödel was able to communicate with her only because he knew another mother he could call on to provide translation.

Another problem is that the transition classes in Bavaria are hopelessly overcrowded. As a result, children who can't speak German are transferred to normal classes where they pass the time without learning anything because they can't understand what the teacher is saying.

The Ministry of Culture increased the number of transition classes this school year from 235 to 300, but it's apparently not enough. Henrik Schödel, for example, would gladly start a second transition class in his school. "In July, we had 19 children in the class," he says. "At the beginning of the school, there were seven more, and the day before yesterday two more showed up." Schödel has already applied for permission to launch a second class, but he doesn't know it if will be approved. The relevant school authority currently has no teachers to teach such a class.

In Klaus Wenzel's opinion, no transition class should have more than 16 children in it. The ideal situation would be for two teachers to teach it at least part of the time, as the requirements of the children in these classes vary widely. The only thing they have in common is that they can't speak German.

"We have children who've never been to school before sitting next to kids who are reading Tolstoy in Russian," Bauer says.

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Geopolitics

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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