Villagers fight Berlin to keep their beloved immigrants

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A village in Germany's bleak north is in uproar over the treatment of a family of Bosnian immigrants. Petitions are circulating, and the adults in the area, nearly all of whom have made a protest march to the region's capital, are threatening to barricade a highway with their tractors this week.

A village in Germany's bleak north is in uproar over the treatment of a family of Bosnian immigrants. Petitions are circulating, and the adults in the area, nearly all of whom have made a protest march to the region's capital, are threatening to barricade a highway with their tractors this week.

Militancy of this kind does not come naturally to the reserved folk in the undulating hills and wetlands of Schleswig-Holstein. But the people of Geschendorf, a community of fewer than 500, have been enraged by the ordeals of theimmigrants they have come to regard as their own.

As the authorities try to deport Danijela and Armin Begic and their two German-born children this week, the local people are in an ugly mood. Unlike many other German communities, which cannot wait to be rid of their uninvited guests, this village is fighting to keep them.

Heino Lübker, the parish councillor leading the "Save the Begics" campaign, says: "They are really good people, diligent people, popular members of our community. They are fully integrated. When the Bosnians arrived eight years ago, we could have done the same as the neighbouring villages, which put up asylum-seekers in mobile homes out in the fields. But we didn't do that, because we wanted them to live among us. I think this policy has been vindicated."

The Begics have learnt to speak German and found jobs. Mr Begic, 43, a Muslim from Sarajevo, drives a taxi. His wife, a Croat, works at the local inn. The couple had a chance to emigrate to the US two years ago but they turned it down. They were happy in Germany and German was their children's first language. "On the day we salvaged our suitcases from our home eight years ago, we decided never to return," Mr Begic says. "And we're sticking to it."

But the suitcases are packed again. Tomorrow, the police are due to escort the Begics to the airport. Of the 350,000 refugees who arrived in Germany during the war, 300,000 have returned, most of them voluntarily. The German authorities are now pushing to deport the last 50,000.

Mr Lübker says: "This is their home now. Should they be driven from their homes for the second time? And for the children, who are, in effect, German, this would be their first exodus." Bosnian football players, he adds, have no trouble securing residence permits "because they make money for the big clubs".

The parish council has written to the local MP, to the district council, and to the regional and federal governments pleading for a reprieve. It argues that the Begics should be treated as a special case because, as a mixed couple, they do not fit into any of the ethnically cleansed fragments of Bosnian society.

But the authorities fear making an exception would set a precedent. Almost no Bosnians were granted political asylum, because Germany did not want them to stay.

Mr Begic has the shocked look of a man who has just lost everything in some kind of natural disaster. "I don't understand any of this," he says. "I have friends and relations all over the world, and they have all found a way to stay where they are. I can't understand why we can't just stay here, where we've been for so long."

The family's plight has become a race against time. Since the decision was made to deport them six months ago, the Begics have lodged applications to Australia and Canada. They filled out the wrong forms for Australia, and must start again. But Canada is looking more promising. They have been issued with a number, which means provided they get all the necessary documents together they should be able to make it. But not by tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the local MP has managed to push an emergency motion through the Bundestag calling on immigration authorities to treat individual hardship cases with discretion. The interior ministers of all 16 länder must now decide how to act, but they are not due to meet before the autumn.

Stumbling through the snakes and ladders of German bureaucracy, the Bosnians of Geschendorf at least know they are not alone. "They will not be kicked out," Mr Lübker says emphatically. "If the police come, they must reckon with us. We'll defend them."

Comments