‘Differences in culture exist’: Berlin refugees given sexual consent classes

More sexual education classes are being offered to refugees in Berlin following recent cases of rape and assault in Germany.

'Differences in culture exist': Berlin refugees given sexual consent classes
A woman walking to a club in Freiburg, where a gang rape case in 2018 - with several of the suspects refugees - led to a call for sex education classes in Germany. Photo: DPA
In a classroom workshop, students watch a video of a man and woman meeting in a nightclub. They drink, laugh, dance and kiss.
The tone in the room and on the screen quickly changes when the man takes the woman home, locks the door and, when she attempts to leave, he rapes her.

When the grim video ends, seven men in their thirties, refugees who have come to Berlin from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, are invited to react and comment.

“She has had too much to drink, they are sleeping together,” says one, convinced the man in the video took advantage of the young woman's drunkenness to abuse her.

“He knew very well what he wanted,” says another.

At this point, the workshop's moderator, Carola Pietrusky-Niane, jumps in to explain that “it happens frequently in Berlin, young people drink a lot, take drugs,” and in certain cases, this type of aggressive crime can happen.

The participants in the four-hour course titled “Together for Security”, which is currently only held in Berlin, have joined the class voluntarily.

Germany's integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz has called for such
sex education classes to be more widely offered to refugees, following a gang
rape case in Freiburg, in which 10 of 11 suspects are refugees.

SEE ALSO: Why Freiburg has been rocked by protests after shocking crime

Germany's integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz speaking at a conference in Ulm in May 2019. Photo: DPA


Several high-profile rape cases committed by migrants have stoked a backlash against the mass influx of a million asylum seekers to Germany since 2015.

Mass assaults by recent migrants in Cologne on New Year's Eve 2015-2016, and a rape-murder in 2016 by an Afghan refugee, have been seized on by the far-right in its push against Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to let in the newcomers.

In Germany, there was a 15-percent rise in sex crimes committed by foreigners in 2018, 6,046 offences compared to 5,258 in 2017, according to federal statistics.

SEE ALSO: Study shows the tenuous link between foreigners, refugees and criminality

The increase is largely due to stricter legislation since 2016, which made it easier to prosecute perpetrators of sex-related crimes.

But they also underline the challenge of integrating large numbers of migrants, a big proportion of whom are young, single men from countries which would view Western norms as surprisingly liberal.

In Norway, migrants were compelled to undergo similar courses between 2013
and 2015, after several rape cases involving refugees.

'Don't get angry'

“These are difficult themes, speak freely,” Pietrusky-Niane tells the group, as they discuss the video in a mix of German and Arabic.

The session, attended by the seven single men, some of whom are fathers,
was organized by the Norwegian group Hero, which manages several hostels for
migrants in Germany.

The topics in the workshop are broad with questions like: How do you know whether a woman is willing? And, how do you react if she isn't?

Advice is given to refugees from countries where displays of affection are banned in public, boys and girls often attend separate schools and rape within marriage is not considered a crime.

One of the short videos during the workshop spells out the difference between consensual sex and rape.

“It's like asking a person if they want a cup of tea,” says the voiceover in English.

“If she answers 'Yes, I love it', it's because she wants one.

“If she hesitates, you can make the tea and ask again,” the video continues.

“And if someone says 'No, thank you', don't make the tea and don't get angry — it's the same with sexuality,” the video concludes.

Tea is often used in the workshop as a metaphor for sexual consent. Photo: DPA

'Two laws' 

In another video, each participant stands facing each other.

A video tablet shows them how close they are allowed to stand without invading someone's personal space.

“You shouldn't get too close to the person you're talking to,” says Pietrusky-Niane.

“The same with children, they don't necessarily like to be touched (by strangers),” she noted.

Many of the group taking the course admit that reporting rape or abuse to police would not be self-evident, especially if the perpetrator was a relative.

“In our country, we have two laws: that of the state and that of the family, of the clan,” says one participant.

Professor Heinz-Jürgen Voss, professor of sexology at the University of Merseburg, noted that it was precisely because “differences in culture and customs exist” that such training is “useful”.

He believes the courses should be offered to refugees throughout Germany.

Aid group Pro-Asyl however has a different view.

“We learn values and norms better in daily lives than in class,” it says.

“Contact with people, support at school and an access to the job market are

the best keys for integration and prevention.”

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‘Lack of transparency’: What it’s like to apply for permanent residence in Germany

Getting permanent residency can be a great way to secure your rights in Germany - but what's it like going through the application process? The Local spoke to readers about their experiences.

'Lack of transparency': What it's like to apply for permanent residence in Germany

For non-EU citizens living in Germany, permanent residence is often the go-to status when they decide to build a life here. For years, there have been strict rules that make it difficult to obtain dual nationality, so those who aren’t keen on losing their old citizenship can secure their rights by becoming permanent residents instead.

On the Make it in Germany website – set up by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) – information in English states that most applicants simply need to fulfil a short list of requirements. They need to prove they know German, are well integrated, have a secure livelihood, and have held another residence permit for at least five years.

But how are these rules applied in practice, and how long does it take to switch from a temporary visa to permanent residence?

When The Local spoke to readers about their applications, we found hugely varied experiences for people on different types of visa and in different parts of the country.

“The requirements for permanent residency are clearly defined in the law,” said 27-year-old Manpreet J., who’s originally from India. “What is not defined is how to prove that they are met. This is where the problem begins.”

According to Manpreet, there are even different definitions of a secure livelihood in different regions. In Aachen, for example, a temporary work contract wouldn’t be enough to fulfil this requirement, while just 30km away in Heinsberg, it would.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

‘Bring everything you can think of’

Jaton’ West, a 77-year-old retiree who lives in Berlin, found the criteria for accepting applications similarly inscrutable.

“We applied twice,” She told The Local. “The first time they only renewed our visa – no explanation as to why. We reapplied when it expired and were granted it. Seems like it’s a crapshoot and just depends on the whim of the person processing your application.”

For Jonathan in Nuremberg, the whole process was marked by a “lack of transparency” – starting with the fact that there was no available information, in English or German, about what documents would be needed during the process.

Forms for visa applications at the Foreigners' Office.

Forms for visa applications at the Foreigners’ Office. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

Six weeks after sending in his application for permanent residency, his local Foreigner’s Office emailed him to inform him that he would need 10 additional documents – including a German language test and integration test that he didn’t know he’d have to take.

With his residence permit due to expire in a matter of weeks, he was left with no time at all to find hard copies of all the other documents, let alone manage the 14-week turnaround for booking and receiving results for the tests. 

“The frustration is that I could have taken these tests anytime in the past year, if I had known that I needed them,” he said.

Düsseldorf resident Dmitry, 33, also received incomplete information about the documents he needed to provide – both on the website of his local Foreigner’s Office and in an email he was sent.

“As far as I recall, no list mentioned bringing the work contract, and the contract for the flat was also required. Finally, I had to provide them translations of my degrees, despite already having provided them for my Blue Card,” he said. “In the end, it’s worth bringing everything a person can think of.”

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is my British residency title the same as permanent residency in Germany?

‘Smoother than expected’ 

For the vast majority of respondents, the sheer amount of paperwork involved in the application was the hardest thing about securing permanent residency.

Others said they had found it tricky to brush up their German skills to meet the B1 language requirement.

However, a number of people said they been pleasantly surprised by how relaxed their case workers had been and how simple the process was.

This was the case for 32 year-old Angela, who moved to Berlin from Colombia. 

“I prepared a lot of documents, but in the end all they checked was my salary and that I had contributed to the pension fund and Krankenkasse (health insurance),” she told us. “I don’t know why it was so easy for me – my intuition tells me higher income people have it easier.” 

Folders filled with documents sit on a windowsill.

Folders filled with documents sit on a windowsill. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | arifoto UG

For 39 year-old Shila, who lives in Mainz, the experience of applying for permanent residency was similarly hassle-free. After emailing the Landesamt and her local case worker, she was given an appointment and a list of documents to bring with her. 

Despite the fact that she wasn’t able to supply a language certificate, the application was a success – and her case worker even offered to talk to her in English.

“It was in 2021 in the middle of lockdown, but it was a very positive surprise to me after hearing all the bad experiences on Facebook groups,” Shila said.

The huge variation in experiences even extended to the amount of time it took for permanent residence to be granted.

While some lucky applicants managed to complete the whole thing within a month, others have waited as long as a year and a half – and in some cases are still waiting for an outcome. 

Easier with a Blue Card

Among those respondents who had an easier time, many told us they had originally come to Germany on a Blue Card – a special EU visa for skilled workers on high incomes.

Blue Card holders with basic German language skills are able to receive permanent residency after living in the country for just 33 months. Meanwhile, those with slightly more advanced skills (B1) can secure their permanent status after just 21 months.

Berlin resident Steven, 50, told us he was pleasantly surprised to find out that he’d only need an A1 language certificate, thanks to the fact that he’d been living in Germany on a Blue Card.

Others took advantage of the fast-tracked option and secured their B1 certificate in order to get a permanent residence permit after less than two years.

Adi Singh, 33, said getting a hold of permanent residence in Munich had been an incredibly smooth process – largely because he’d applied through his employer.

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

With his B1 language skills, Adi was able to apply after just 21 months, and he received his card within just six months.

“I had one in-person appointment at the KVR close to the approval stage, but that was quick and short,” he said. “But they make it a point to speak to you in German, likely to establish that B1 level.”

Compared to the experience of applying for his Blue Card himself, Adi said applying via his employer had helped him avoid bureaucratic issues.

“I was fortunate to do it through my firm, and I would recommend that if your company does not apply for it for you, it is a good idea to hire an immigration firm that will do the process,” he advised. “It’s worth the time and energy saved.”