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GERMAN OF THE WEEK

IMMIGRATION

‘I am Senegalese, but firstly I am German’

Karamba Diaby hopes to become the first black member of the Bundestag this September, making him The Local's German of Week.

'I am Senegalese, but firstly I am German'
Photo: DPA

Diaby is campaigning under the slogan “Diversity Creates Values” for a seat in the German parliament which, if successful, would make him the country’s first lawmaker of African origin.

Many miles away from his birthplace in Senegal, the 51-year-old with a PhD in geo-ecology has made his home in Halle, a city in formerly communist East Germany, and now wants to represent it at the federal level.

“I am Senegalese, it’s true, but firstly I am German,” Diaby told news agency AFP in an interview.

Third on the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) list of candidates for the region of Saxony-Anhalt, his chances of winning the hotly-contested seat for Halle in Germany’s Bundestag lower house of parliament are seen by his party as good.

German voters go to the polls on September 22 when the centre-left Social Democrats will seek to unseat conservative Angela Merkel at the Chancellery after two terms at the helm of Europe’s top economy.

Halle, with its 230,000-strong population, is grappling with an unemployment rate that, at 13 percent, is twice the national average. It is also viewed as a hotbed of far-right extremism.

The married father-of-two took German nationality 12 years ago after finding himself “by chance” in East Germany in 1985 as a student, having won a coveted scholarship to learn German and study chemistry in Leipzig.

One of his first political victories came when the detested Berlin Wall fell in November 1989.

Then, as the spokesman for foreign students at his university, he pushed for the situation of exchange students facing deportation with the disappearance of East Germany to be shored up.

Well before joining the Social Democrats in 2008, Diaby, who previously was also a spokesman for striking students in Dakar, says he had always “made justice the fight of his life”.

“I would like to be judged on my competence and my experience rather than on the colour of my skin,” he said, describing his political journey as a “progression”.

Though he was physically attacked in 1991 because of his origins, Diaby, who is also a former president of the Federal Council of Immigrants, believes that today xenophobia no longer poses as big a problem in Germany as 20 years ago.

“East Germany has changed a lot,” he said.

Nevertheless the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany has lawmakers in the eastern state assemblies of Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and has secured a seat on Halle’s city council.

Rüdiger Fikentscher, former head of the SPD’s regional federation, said he recalled being won over by Diaby’s experience which, he said, had always surmounted challenges “with flying colours”.

“He has all the requisite qualities. He is kind, very intelligent, grasps things very quickly and above all, he’s not looking to stand out,” he said.

Diaby always walks around his home turf and is a well-known face locally.

“People stop me on every street corner and tell me their stories,” he said. “That’s part of my work.”

His personable manner lends itself to campaigning as the Social Democrats gear up to try to win back the seat from the socialist The Left party which triumphantly took it in elections four years ago.

“Karamba’s great strength is his easy contact with people,” Thomas Stimpel, one of his campaign officials, said. “You put him in a room with people and 10 minutes later he knows everyone.”

AFP/mry

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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

‘The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,’ Migration minister says

Sweden's Migration Minister has responded to criticism of the government's proposal to abolish permanent residency, telling an interviewer that the hope is that holders will gain full citizenship rather than get downgraded to temporary status.

'The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,' Migration minister says

“The main idea behind the [Tidö] agreement is that we should convert permanent residency to citizenship,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, from the right-wing Moderate Party, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.”You should not be here forever on a permanent residence permit. A clear path to citizenship is needed.”

I envision that you will receive individual plans for how to achieve this,” she continued. “Learn the language, earn a living, and have knowledge of Swedish society, so that you can fully become a Swedish citizen.” 

Malmer Stenergard said it was still unclear whether a planned government inquiry into the possibility of “converting…existing permanent residence permits” would also open the way for those who have been given a permanent right to live in the country to be downgraded to a temporary residency permit. 

“We’ll have to look at that,” she said. “There is a problem with positive administrative decisions and changing them, which the Migration Agency’s director general Mikael Ribbenvik has been aware of. We also state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law shall continue to apply.” 

READ ALSO: What do we know about Sweden’s plans to withdraw permanent residency?

In the Tidö Agreement, the deal between the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties, it says that “asylum-related residence permits should be temporary and the institution of permanent residence permits should be phased out to be replaced by a new system based on the immigrant’s protection status”.

It further states that “an inquiry will look into the circumstances under which existing permanent residence permits can be converted, for example through giving affected permit holders realistic possibilities to gain citizenship before a specified deadline. These changes should occur within the framework of basic legal principles.”

Malmer Stenergard stressed that the government would only retroactively reverse an administrative decision (over residency) if a way can be found to make such a move compatible with such principles. 

“This is why we state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law must apply,” she said. 

She said the government had not yet come to a conclusion on what should happen to those with permanent residency who either cannot or are unwilling to become Swedish citizens. 

“We’re not there yet, but of course we’re not going to be satisfied with people just having an existing permanent residency, which in many cases has been granted without any particularly clear demands, if they don’t then take the further steps required for citizenship.” 

This did not mean, however, that those with permanent residency permits should be worried, she stressed. 

“If your ambition is to take yourself into Swedish society, learn the language, become self-supporting, and live according to our norms and values, I think that there’s a very good chance that you will be awarded citizenship.” 

She said that even if people couldn’t meet the requirements for citizenship, everyone with permanent residency should at least have “an individual plan for how they are going to become citizens”, if they want to stay in Sweden. 

When it comes to other asylum seekers, however, she said that the government’s aim was for residencies to be recalled more often. 

“We want to find a way to let the Migration Agency regularly reassess whether the grounds for residency remain. The aim is that more residencies should be recalled, for example, if a person who is invoking a need of asylum or other protection then goes back to their home country for a holiday.” 

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