No German, No Benefits: Turkish Family Fights Language Requirement

By Bruno Schrep

After three-and-a-half years of legal wrangling, there’s still no end in sight. At least officially, the case centers on €290.70 ($392). The K. family, thus identified to safeguard its privacy, is made up of ethnic Turks living in Germany. They claim that the state owes them the money. But, in reality, it’s a matter of principle.

The questions at the heart of the dispute are: Can immigrants be forced to learn German? Can people who decline such an offer be denied welfare benefits? Or, viewed from the other perspective, can immigrants who live off state benefits refuse to integrate into society, or can they live as a group as if on an island and free of societal obligations?

The case of the K. family is typical of the problems German authorities face in dealing with immigrants from countries such as Turkey who don’t want to integrate.

Ismail K. had just turned 19 when he came to Germany. It was 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. He left behind the hardship, rigid moral values and ironclad hierarchical structures of a world whose rules have remained an internal part of him to this day. His extended family lived in a tiny village in eastern Turkey. As the head of the family, his father decided which of his sons went to school, for how long, when it was time to marry and what jobs they would have. His mother looked after the children, managed the household and generally saw to her husband’s needs.

On his arrival in Germany, Ismail K. sought political asylum, claiming that Turkish authorities had falsely accused him of belonging to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). His application was initially turned down, and for a while he faced deportation. But the case dragged on and on.

Ismail K. (left) immigrated to Germany in 1989 from a tiny village in eastern Turkey. He moved into a small town near Limburg an der Lahn in the western state of Hesse, where he married a woman from his village who had followed him to Germany. After years of running a successful pizza company, his business failed. He and his family, with six children, have lived off welfare payments for him and his wife, Imhan, who also works as a cleaner for a temp agency and speaks practically no German after living in the country for over two decades.

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