Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, will face off Sunday with her challenger Martin Schulz in a television debate being billed as her Social Democrat rival's last chance at saving his election campaign.

Over 90 minutes, Schulz -- who has accused Merkel of lulling voters to sleep by offering noncommittal responses -- will get to spar with her in their sole televised one-on-one before Germans head to the polls on September 24th.

With almost one in two voters still undecided, the straight-talking Schulz is pinning his hopes on the prime-time showdown, hoping to sway millions to his cause and halt a devastating popularity slide.

A former European Parliament chief, Schulz enjoyed a surge in support shortly after taking the helm of the SPD in January, only to see that initial excitement fade away.

A poll published Friday showed Merkel's CDU party and their Bavarian CSU allies commanding a strong 17-percentage point lead over the SPD.

Sunday evening's encounter will be above all a clash of personalities – an illustration in the Die Zeit newspaper showed Schulz, holding a saw and dressed in workman's overalls, trying to dismantle the throne of a regal "Queen Merkel".

Despite his uphill battle, Schulz has voiced confidence, saying he is "not nervous" about Sunday's clash.

Merkel, who has mostly avoided referring to Schulz or any other election candidate by name, has so far refused to be drawn into a combative debate.

"If an election campaign is defined as good only when people insult each other, then that's not my idea of what an election campaign is about," she said at her annual summer press conference.

Her attitude has led German media to dub Schulz "a shadow-boxer" for his frustrated attempts to engage her.

A highlight of Germany's electoral campaign season, the so-called "television duel" is expected to draw almost 30 million viewers -- or around half of the electorate, according to a poll by research firm Forsa, commissioned by Stern magazine.

Crucially, one in five who plan to tune in also said the debate could swing their vote, the survey found.

The two candidates will spar on topics thrown at them by four seasoned TV presenters, but beyond the content of the debate, they will be scrutinised for their body language.

Just days before the event, the chancellery was accused of rigging the format in Merkel's favour by threatening to stay away after the broadcasters proposed changes aimed at fostering more spontaneity and a deeper debate.

Defending her office, Merkel told Spiegel magazine that while she respected press freedom, "a politician should also be free to decide whether he or she accepts an invitation to appear on a programme."

"The TV dual format, like spontaneity and eloquence, is not quite Merkel's strength," Manfred Guellner, the Forsa CEO, told the business newspaper Handelsblatt, adding that "Schulz can benefit" from the show.

Having already fought three previous general elections, the famously cautious Merkel is no stranger to the TV debate format.

Yet surveys immediately after each of the last three editions showed a popularity bounce for her opponents.

Schulz may be hoping to emulate the debate success of Gerhard Schröder, who as SPD chancellor in 2005 drastically narrowed Merkel's double-digit lead to a sliver. Dishing out advice this week, Schröder said: "One must hog the limelight."

But political analyst Oskar Niedermayer warned that Schulz would have to watch his tone.

"It has been seen lately that he is becoming even more aggressive, but if he oversteps the mark, that can turn against him because Germans won't like it," he said.

Beyond the form, Schulz may also find limited room for manoeuvre content-wise as his SPD was junior partner in Merkel's grand coalition.

Underlining a tough battle ahead, a poll published late Thursday by public broadcaster ARD found that 64 percent of those surveyed believed that Merkel would prevail, while only 17 percent saw Schulz winning the debate.

But the SPD knows well that dominating in a debate does not necessarily spell victory at the polls.

Schröder, despite his strong showing at the 2005 clash with Merkel – and the fact that he was the incumbent chancellor -- lost the election.

Source: The Local

Not since the end of WWII has Germany received as many refugees as it did in the years 2015 and 2016. In both years, the country received roughly 1.2 million asylum applicants according to the Bundesamt für Migration und flüchtlinge (BAMF) (2017).

Following the massive influx of asylum seekers in the early 1990s, Germany amended Article 16 of the Basic Law which resulted in a significant decline in the number of asylum aqpplications for roughly two decades. But over the past couple of years, the legal walls have been unable to keep huge numbers of asylum seekers out as evidenced by the massive influx of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and many other foreign nationals into the Federal Republic, mostly fleeing from death and persecution.

Mixed Reactions
Reaction to the refugee influx by Germans was mixed. In 2015 alone there were an estimated 222 attacks on refugee hostels which resulted in only 4 convictions (Zeit Online, 2015). The refugee challenge also led to the rise of far-right wing groups like the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA). As the name suggests, the group`s chief aim is to curb the migration of people especially of the Islamic faith to Germany. 

But by and large, the refugees were most warmly welcome at train stations where local citizens and non-citizens alike administered first aid: At reception centers where volunteers channeled their efforts and skills into shelters for the newcomers: In churches where members provided shelter and in some cases threw the weight of their institution against the deportation of refugees. And how could one forget the dozens of  Facebook pages with the phrase ``Refugees Welcome`` boldly written on their cover profiles? The magnitude of the love and support for the refugees at the heights of the crisis far outweighed the hostilities towards them and was only paralleled by the magnitude of the tragedy that caused their flight.

But the lion's share of the burden of integrating the refugees fell on the Government of the Federal Republic and its various Länder. Upon entering the Federal Republic, asylum-seekers are registered and kept at the reception facilities closest to their places of entry. To ensure their fair distribution among the various Länder, a mechanism known as the EASY system based on the Königstein key is used. The number of asylum seekers that a state (Länd) receives is calculated on the basis of its population and tax receipts. This is not only fiscally good for the various Länder, but it is also good for the asylum seekers for the simple reason that it allows them to be sent to places where they could be best absorbed.

The refugees with the best chances to stay in Germany are mostly individuals from unsafe countries of origin. They include Syrians, Iraqis, Eritreans and until recently, Afghans. Three areas of integration have been prioritized. These are language, labor market, and housing integration. Asylum seekers are housed in reception facilities or camps by the Länder during the asylum application process. They also receive benefits in kind and in cash, as well as roughly 700 hours of integration courses in German language, society, and legal system. They also benefit from a number of job training programs intended to boost their work experiences and supplement their relatively low vocational skills.

The Good
Participation in the integration programs has been high. According to the office for migration and refugees (BAMF), nearly 320,000 migrants began an integration course last year (most of whom were likely to have been refugees). In terms of job acquisition, 6% of refugees who arrived in 2016 have so far secured some form of employment and 10% of those who arrived in 2015 secured some form of employment by the end of 2016 (BAMF, IAB, SOEP, 2017). Believe it or not, these are impressive numbers considering the refugee`s low German language proficiency and vocational skills. The employment numbers are also expected to improve significantly over the next few years. There is also some noticeable progress in the area of accommodation. The number of refugees in emergency shelters has reduced significantly nation-wide. In Hamburg for instance, only 600 refugees remained in emergency shelters by the end of March 2017 (SPIEGEL ONLINE, 2017).

The Bad
Despite this progress, serious challenges still remain. Thousands of refugees continue to live in refugee camps. In Hamburg alone, roughly 6,500 refugees lived in initial reception facilities as recently as March 31, 2017 (Spiegel Online, 2017). Progress in social housing projects has been slow across the country and landlords have been reluctant to rent their buildings to refugees. Added to this is the general housing shortage facing the nation. All of these factors have combined to impede the ability of many refugees including those among them who are both employed and German language proficient to fully integrate into the larger society.

On the job front, it was obvious from the beginning that without the German language, integration into the labor market will be impossible. However, language integration has been slow for both structural and practical reasons. Structurally speaking, refugees from safe countries of origin do not have a good chance to stay and by law are not entitled to integration courses. They include Ghanaians and surprisingly Afghans. In the event that many of them end up staying, their language integration - and overall integration - will be delayed by the existing legal restriction. On the practical side of things, sources tell me, conditions in the refugee camps are not conducive to learning and the quality of teaching is often times very low. As one source in Hamburg puts it, ``all you need is a certificate that says you can teach. Nevermind the experience or knowledge about the culture of the people you are going to be working with.``

There are also differences in terms of education among the migrants. Those from Eritrea for example, are relatively less educated and therefore less familiar with a structured learning system. As a result, sources say, their language skills development rates have been relatively low compared to other migrants. But in general, progress on the German language front has been slow for all refugees and their labor market integration has suffered as a result. However, low German language proficiency skills alone does not explain all the employment struggles. Overall, the refugees possess low levels of education and vocational training. The long asylum application process and lack of legal certainty over the future status of many of them have made it difficult for firms to invest in their training.

In order for the refugees to be fully and properly integrated into the labor market and society of Germany, more must be done. Class sizes, composition, and teacher quality must improve. Legal certainty over their status must be created, companies must be incentivized to train and employ refugees, and landlords and tenants must be talked into cooperating with them.

What you can do
So much is expected from the government - and sometimes rightfully so. However, individuals - especially from the African community here in Hamburg - could also make a big difference. Now that the massive wave of support for the refugees has subsided, individual involvement is most crucial. ``There`s so much they could do`` says Asmara Habtezion, a German-Eritrean and founder of the Amaras World Refugee Support (AWRS) based in Hamburg. AWRS caters mostly to refugees from Eritrea and has been in existence for more than 2 years. Miss Habtezion`s volunteer-based work mostly involves translating legal documents for the refugees, taking them to the job center, teaching them German and English, and providing them with emotional and psychological counseling. It is in these areas that she mostly needs help; ``It doesn't take much. Just every once a while for one or two hours of people's time. They [refugees] are shy and lack confidence, so they need someone to mediate their interaction with folks at the job center for example. But after one or two times, they are normally able to help themselves and their fellow refugees.``

 Mohammed Adawulai is a columnist for TopAfric

This week being Germany Election Week…

How does the German General Election Works?
Presented by Augusto d'Almeida 

Germany has a notoriously complex voting system for electing its Bundestag (Parliament), or lower house (House of Representatives).

The system seeks to combine the benefits of both direct and proportional representation while guarding against the electoral mistakes of German history.

This year, 61.5 million people age 18 and above are eligible to vote in the national election, according to figures from Germany's Federal Statistics Office.

Of those, 31.7 million are women and 29.8 million are men with some 3 million first-time voters. Over a third of Germany's voters - 22 million - are over 60 years old, meaning the older generation often has particular sway over the election outcome.

The largest number of eligible voters live in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (13.2 million), followed by the southern states of Bavaria (9.5 million) and Baden-Württemberg (7.8 million).

Split ballot

When Germans head to the polls on September 24, they'll receive a deceptively simple ballot with two choices - one for a district representative and one for a party.

The first vote or "Erststimme" for the district representative, follows a first-past-the-post system like elections in the United States. The voter selects his or her favorite candidate to represent their district in the parliament. Every candidate who wins one of Germany's 299 constituencies - which are divided up per 250,000 inhabitants - is guaranteed a seat.

To fill the other half of the 598 seats in Germany's Bundestag, voters cast their ballots in the second vote or "Zweitstimme." This vote goes to a political party instead of a single candidate. It also determines the percentage each political party gets in the Bundestag.

German states with larger populations get to send more representatives to the Bundestag than the smaller ones.
Source: DW

Germany Election Week
How does the German general election work?

The 5% hurdle:
A minimum percentage of total voters a party should have in order for a party to enter the Bundestag, it has to win at least 5 percent of the second vote. 
This system was put in place to prevent smaller splinter parties like those that bogged down the Weimar Republic in the 1920s from entering parliament.

The "five % hurdle" has served to keep the far-right NPD and other extremist parties out of the Bundestag until now.

Currently, there are five parties represented in the Bundestag: Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right CDU and its Bavarian sister-party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Left Party and the Greens.

There are two key 5 percent threshold races to watch in the German elections this year: In 2013, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) failed to make the 5 percent hurdle but may be able to enter parliament this time around based on recent state election wins.

The other party to watch out for is the right-wing populist anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) which also failed narrowly to enter the Bundestag in 2013, when they had been campaigning on a euroskeptic platform. Since then, however, the party has gathered enough support to have a presence not only in the European Parliament, but also in 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments.

How does the German General Election Work?..
24th September is Election Day

Who picks the chancellor?

Unlike the presidential system in the United States, voters in Germany do not directly elect the chancellor, who is the head of the government. The new parliament must convene for the first time no later than one month after the vote.

It can be earlier if coalition talks go swiftly. The top candidate from the party that wins the most votes usually manages to forge a coalition. The president, who is the head of state and plays a largely ceremonial role, then presents this person as candidate for chancellor, who the newly-elected members of parliament then approve in a secret ballot.

If, as in the previous three elections, the CDU wins the majority of the vote, their candidate for chancellor, Angela Merkel, will hold the post for the next four years.
In Germany there is no limit to the number of terms a chancellor may be in office.

But so far no chancellor has served more than 16 years in total since Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

German Election.
24th September
A Possible Coalition: 
Whether Angela Merkel CDU or Martin Schulz SPD, no party is likely to emerge with an absolute majority.

The grand coalition is not unpopular among the general public," political analyst Hugo Müller-Vogg told Deutsche Welle. 

"Germans Crave Harmony". 
They are basically comfortable with a grand coalition.

The problem that the grand coalition usually represents for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), however, is that it is both forced to accept the CDU's authority in the two key government offices - the chancellery and the Finance Ministry - but then also struggles to present itself as a viable alternative when election campaigns come around. The old argument: "What can you offer? 
You've been in power all this time!" always stings.

But then again, given that the SPD and the CDU usually gain more than 50 percent of the vote, it's rarely an option that is called upon.

Compiled by the Social Media Commentator -/Augusto d'Almeida


The trial involving a man accused of extortion and raping a young woman who was on a camping trip with her boyfriend began in a Bonn regional court on Monday.
The 31-year-old asylum seeker from Ghana allegedly threatened the 23-year-old woman with a branch saw and raped her in front of her boyfriend in April.

According to the prosecution, he cut the couple's tent with the saw and demanded they give him their valuables before raping the young woman, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported.

The young couple from Baden-Württemberg were camping in the Siegaue nature reserve north of the former German capital of Bonn in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The 26-year-old man had been afraid to intervene but afterwards managed to call the police.

A nationwide manhunt then took place as the perpetrator had fled, running off into the night in the direction of the Rhine river.

Police had also distributed facial composite images of the man. Five days later, a passerby who noticed a resemblance between the images and the man alerted the police who then made an arrest.

On the first day of the trial, the defendant denied the crime. He described in detail how he grew up in Ghana as the son of a rich plantation owner.

The man - whose hands and feet were bound in the courtroom - did not follow the advice of his two lawyers on making use of his right to stay silent.
"I don't understand why I should remain silent when I don't know anything about the case," the defendant said.

According to SZ, the case caused controversy when it was later discovered that the young man's emergency call was initially considered a joke by a respondent at the control centre in Bonn.

The trial at the regional court in Bonn is expected to last eight days.

He has been beaten up, received death threats and hundreds of insulting emails, but Karamba Diaby is not one to give up.
After winning a seat four years ago as the first African-born black MP in Germany, Diaby, 55, is now seeking re election.

"To all racists: I'm not your negro!" he wrote on Facebook in exasperation after receiving a torrent of vitriol online ahead of the September 24th general elections.

"I won't be intimidated," the Social Democrat lawmaker said in an interview with AFP, despite noting that on social media, "the commentary has become very, very aggressive."

Germany has experienced a surge of racist and incendiary speech online, particularly since the arrival of around one million asylum seekers since 2015. After the far-right NPD party called him a "black monkey" and used "the N-word" which he refused to pronounce, Diaby filed a lawsuit.

"There is no freedom of expression when one insults someone else," he said, adding that it was "the duty of all society" to combat such hate.

"The dignity of an individual is written in our constitution," said Diaby, who speaks fluent German, French and Mandinka.

Bundesliga and BMW

That he is not easily deterred is demonstrated in his unusual life story. Born in Senegal, he won a scholarship to study in then communist East Germany thanks to his membership in a left-leaning student organisation.

"I only knew two German words, Bundesliga and BMW, when I arrived," said Diaby, recalling the day in 1985 when he first set foot in East Germany.

Life for a migrant was not easy in the closed-off former east, where there was little effort to integrate Africans, many of whom were students from socialist countries. 

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, racism in the region exploded as unemployment shot up. One night in 1991, as Diaby got off a bus, he was set upon by neo-Nazis. But he went on to get his doctorate in chemistry, marry a German, and in 2001, obtained German nationality. In 2013, he stood for a seat in the Bundestag.

Not only did he beat the odds to become the first African-born MP in Germany, he won his seat in Halle, an eastern city known for its nationalist and hard-right leanings. Last year, the upstart anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) clinched 24 percent in state elections there.

Diaby recounted his odyssey in a book published last year, "Into the Bundestag with Karamba: My road from Senegal to the German parliament."

So rare was it to see an MP of colour that on one of his first days in parliament, a cashier at the Bundestag canteen initially refused to serve him until it was made clear that he was an elected lawmaker, he recalled.

But Diaby sought to play down the fuss surrounding his feat.

Garden allotments

"It's too bad if it's an extraordinary event or a sensation simply because someone who has lived here for more than 31 years, who studied here, who has his family here... campaigned for a seat in parliament," he said.

Diaby says he won over Halle locals after delving deep into what makes them tick. It was his doctoral thesis that laid the groundwork, as it focused on soil pollution in garden allotments -- something Germans hold dear to their hearts. Curious fellow gardeners came over to chat, and that was how Diaby broke the ice with the community, the beginning of his long road into politics.

Walking down central Halle, it is clear that Diaby is now a familiar face in the city of 230,000 inhabitants.

"Karamba!" calls a young man holding his fist up as a sign of victory.

"Are you coming to the match on Saturday?" Diaby was asked by another man as he was on a ladder putting up his campaign poster on the lamppost.

Germany is a country that is welcoming, said Diaby, despite the abuse he has suffered.

"I always tell foreigners that when you are in Germany, you should consider it as your country," Diaby said.

By AFP's Yannick Pasquet

German police in widespread raids on 'visa marriages'

Authorities have said that they know of at least 70 cases stemming from the same criminal gang. Nigerian men are suspected of paying for fake marriage licenses to Portuguese women in exchange for EU residency.

Hundreds of German police officers carried out dozens of raids on Tuesday morning searching for couples believed to have created sham marriages in order for the "husbands" to receive residency permits for the European Union.

Some 41 apartments were searched in Berlin, Potsdam, Frankfurt and Görlitz. The raids resulted in the arrest of one man and four women, although the authorities said they know of at least 70 sham marriage cases involving the same trafficking gang. Police said the female suspects were between the ages of 46 and 64 and that the man was 50 years old.

The women usually fly back to Portugal within a matter of days. According to the federal police, the purpose of the raids is to determine whether the homes look like a couple lives there. German authorities then work with Europol to prove that the marriage is a sham.
Similar raids were reportedly carried out in Portugal in tandem with the ones in Germany.

'Fake father' bust
This is the second major raid against visa fraud in recent months. In June, German police took down a "fake father" ring – wherein German men were paid to put their names on the birth certificates of children born to immigrants from Vietnam, parts of Africa and eastern Europe. The babies were automatically granted German citizenship, which allows their mothers to claim German residency permits.

Authorities estimate that about 5,000 of these false paternity claims are made every year. They are notoriously difficult to prosecute however, because police cannot order DNA tests and have to follow strict guidelines when probing into a suspect's personal life.


The criminal organization finds Nigerian men who wish to stay in the EU and pairs them up with women from Portugal. The men pay around 13,000 euros ($15,550) for counterfeit marriage certificates from Nigeria that are shown to the German authorities along with a well-rehearsed love story confirmed by the Portuguese "wife."

About 1,400 Air Berlin workers may soon be out of a job, some as early as the end of this month, according to a union paper obtained by AFP on Saturday.

Many of the cuts would hit the bankrupt airline's ground personnel and administration staff, whose contracts could end by the end of the month or in February 2018.

According to the document, Air Berlin could also soon stop operating, with only its subsidiary Niki continuing to fly. The German airline triggered bankruptcy proceedings in August after losing a cash lifeline from its biggest shareholder Etihad Airways. Lufthansa has emerged as the leading bidder for Air Berlin's assets, including valuable landing and takeoff slots at German airports.

The group has already bought or holds an option to buy some 20 Air Berlin aircraft that were leased to its low-cost Eurowings airline in recent months. Air Berlin has some 8,600 employees, including part-time workers, according to DPA news agency.

Lufthansa has said it plans to hire up to 3,000 people for the expansion of Eurowings, anticipating an accelerated hiring process for Air Berlin workers.

But it does not guarantee them employment. Air Berlin chief executive Thomas Winkelmann said in September that up to 80 percent of workers could find work with Lufthansa and British EasyJet, the remaining bidders for parts of the stricken business.

EasyJet has given him no information on whether it plans to recruit Air Berlin employees. Negotiations with the two airlines are due to conclude on October 12th. Unions have criticised management for not keeping them informed of the progress of discussions.

In late September, one of Germany's most powerful unions Verdi urged Air Berlin and its potential buyers to establish a "bailout" for employees. Verdi also urged the creation of a "transfer company" that would prepare laid-off workers for new employment by providing them professional assistance, qualification and job placement.

Technical details around winding up the carrier are to be thrashed out in the coming weeks and any final deal will need to be approved by European regulators.


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