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Is Berlin's immigration office doing enough to 'combat discrimination' by its staff?

The Local Germany
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Is Berlin's immigration office doing enough to 'combat discrimination' by its staff?
People walk next to a mural at the State Office for Immigration (LEA) on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

With its responsibilities set to expand next year, questions are arising about whether the central immgration office in the German capital is adequately addressing issues of discrimination and diversity.

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Foreign residents from non-EU countries living in Berlin will be more than familiar with the city's immigration office, or Landesamt für Einwanderung (LEA), as this is where they have to go to renew their visas, work permits and residence permits.

Recently, the office has been struggling under an increased workload, with recent reports painting a picture of chaos: including ten thousand unanswered emails and not a single available appointment in the next six months.

Even the head of LEA, Engelhard Mazanke, has acknowledged the growing challenges, describing the situation as approaching the "border of dysfunctionality".

READ ALSO: Could backlogs at Germany's foreigners' offices stifle skilled immigration?

The situation could be about to get even worse next year as the LEA prepares to become the new home of the capital's Central Naturalisation Centre, the new centralised citizenship office which plans to up the number of people granted citizenship in Berlin each year, from 8,000 to 20,000.

But concerns are not just arising about the office's ability to deal with the increased workload. There are also signs that the office's staff might not be adequately trained to provide a welcoming culture to migrants. 

Lack of training

Elif Eralp, a member of the Left Party in Berlin, has raised important questions about the immigration authority's ability to deal with its tasks.

She made inquiries with the Senate Department of the Interior about how the LEA is preparing for its new task in terms of anti-discrimination and diversity – something that is clearly crucial for an authority that deals exclusively with foreigners.

READ ALSO: Are Germany's immigration offices making international residents feel unwelcome?

According to the TAZ newspaper, she found that there were "not sufficient efforts to establish the LEA with sensitivity to discrimination, not even in the establishment of the new naturalisation department...The authority appears to be completely overwhelmed by its tasks."

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Despite claims from the city's coalition government to be prioritising discrimination-sensitive administration, Eralp's assessment of the LEA's actions seems to show otherwise.

With over 500 employees, the LEA provided training in anti-discrimination, diversity, and participation to only 25 staff members in the past year and a half. Only three training sessions were offered in 2022, each lasting four days, and these were only attended by employees in lower salary groups – with no staff members in leadership roles in attendance.

Eralp's concerns are also amplified by the number of complaints lodged against the LEA's employees.

Since early 2022, five complaints have been made under the State Anti-Discrimination Law, and an additional 50 complaints about the agency's conduct have been received. Many of the latter complaints highlight the extended waiting times for appointments or the agency's unresponsiveness.

READ ALSO: 'Traumatising': Foreign residents share stories from German immigration offices

Despite the existence of an "independent ombudsman" within the LEA to address customer complaints related to discrimination, there seems to be a lack of attention to these issues. When asked about the number of complaints received by TAZ, the Senate Administration responded by saying: "No statistical recording is done for this."

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Eralp argues that these circumstances, combined with extensive wait times and supervisory complaints, mean that there is a pressing need for external oversight for the LEA, as well as an independent quality control mechanism.

With the new Central Naturalisation Office due to open in just five months, concerns persist about the agency's readiness to deal with a whole new wave of foreign applicants. Elrap suggests that, for the new office to function effectively, a comprehensive anti-discrimination and diversity strategy, along with external guidance, will be needed.

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