First and second-generation migrants are running for the Bundestag in the German elections on September 26, trying to appeal to the country’s increasingly diverse voter demographics and reverse under-representation.
As Germans go to the polls later this week to elect their representatives for the Bundestag, migrant communities are increasingly making their voices heard with parties fielding dozens of candidates to capture the diverse voter demographics.
The elections on September 26 will determine who will succeed Angela Markel as chancellor, while the prospect of a multi-party coalition coming into power is growing stronger as the traditional dominance of the centre-right CDU/CSU and centre-left SPD is being replaced by a more fragmented political landscape.
A 2020 study by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration found that 65 percent of Germans with a so-called ‘migration background’ – first or second-generation migrants - voted in the last federal elections in 2017, against 86 percent of those with German roots.
The research group also points out that voting in a general election is conditional upon German citizenship, which further exacerbates the divide - in 2019, only 2.5 percent of those eligible were naturalized. Federal statistics show that the number of Syrians who acquired German citizenship rose by 74 percent in 2020 to 6,700, but that is still a fraction of the 700,000 Syrians who are estimated to live in Germany.
Those who are not cut out of Germany’s electoral life may feel alienated by an overall lack of minority representation in the Bundestag.
Research found that while 22.5 percent of the German population has a migration background, they remain underrepresented in parliament as only 8 percent of German MPs are migrants or have at least one parent with roots abroad. Here are some of the stories of the candidates seeking to reverse that trend.
Shoan Vaisi, German-Iranian
A Kurd from Iran, Vaisi arrived in Germany as a refugee a decade ago.
"I know this from my own history. How it is to have to flee from death. When you are so desperate that you try to escape at any cost," the 31-year-old former wrestler said in an interview with Germany’s public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
Vaisi is running as a candidate for the left-wing Die Linke party in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, far from the party’s traditional eastern base.
While he sees his work with Die Linke as simply a continuation of his political activism back home, he resolved to run for a Bundestag seat when he saw a Syrian-born candidate for the Greens, Tareq Alaows, withdraw from the race after receiving death threats.
Earlier this year, he wrote on Twitter: "The threats against Alaows have shown how alarming the idea of a refugee sitting in the Bundestag is for the racists in Germany. I would like to make their nightmare a reality." He says social inequality and a more humane migration policy are on top of his agenda.
Joe Chialo, German-Tanzanian
51-year-old Joe Chialo, a former music industry manager born in Bonn to a family of Tanzanian diplomats, is running with the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Berlin’s upscale Spandau borough.
“In the beginning, my brother and I were the only two Black kids at a school with 1,000 students,” Chialo said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “The sentence, ‘Oh look, there’s a Negro,’ tells you how unusual we and also many other Black people of my age were at the time in Germany.”
In 2018, he founded a music label aimed at promoting creative and economic cooperation with African countries. On the campaign trail for the CDU, the party of current chancellor Angela Merkel, Chialo has stressed his intention to defend the arts and culture sector, which has been badly hit by Covid-19 restrictions.
Only one of the 709 current members of the Bundestag has Afro-German roots.
Ana-Maria Trasnea, German-Romanian
Romanian-born Ana-Maria Trasnea is a candidate for the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP) in another Berlin constituency, the sprawling Treptow-Köpenick in the city’s south-east. At just 27, she has been involved in local politics for nearly a decade.
Trasnea moved to Germany aged 13, joining her single mother who had migrated to Germany five years earlier, looking to provide a better future for her two daughters. She grew up in Piatra Neamț, a town in one of the European Union's most deprived regions in northeast Romania.
At school, she became an anti-racism activist in a district where some areas were known at the time as neo-Nazi strongholds. Equality and youth policy are among the issues she campaigns on.
“It was hard in Germany in the beginning,” Trasnea said in an interview with the Associated Press. “But I was ambitious and realized that this was an opportunity for me, so I decided to do whatever I can to get respect and integrate.”
Cansel Kiziltepe, German-Turkish
A member of the Bundestag since 2013, Kiziltepe is campaigning for re-election in Berlin’s ethnically diverse Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain constituency. Fourteen Turkish-German MPs were elected to the Bundestag in 2017.
“My parents were the first generation of 'Guest workers' from Turkey, they lived here 60 years, but never voted, they didn't feel very German, never felt like actively participating in this society. But this is a sentiment found widely across Turkish Germans,” Kiziltepe told TRT World in a recent interview.
Years of grassroots activism led Kiziltepe, an economist, to develop a deep understanding of social inequality in German society, and the determination to fight against it.
“I want to bring in education reforms, more funding for education, which would see children attending extended school hours, deeper focus on better learning the German language, better cultural orientation, better integration in society. Through all this they will eventually receive better educational qualifications and be able to go up the socio-economic ladder,” said Kiziltepe, who remembers how when she was growing up, every summer there would be a discussion about the family returning home to Turkey. Until one day, she said, she decided Germany is where she belonged.