African Teen in German Visa Fight ; A Special Commission Recommended New Laws, More Programs for Migrants Yesterday

Article excerpt

On the May morning that the police came for him, Yannick Assi was getting ready for school. "It took me by surprise, I wasn't expecting the police," remembers the lanky 16-year-old.

"I was taking a shower, and then the doorbell rang."

Three plainclothes officers were standing outside the family's home in a wealthy Berlin suburb.

They took the frightened boy to a detention center and told his father, Adiepo Assi, to pack no more than 44 pounds of luggage.

The next day, the authorities planned to deport Yannick to his native Ivory Coast.

Thanks to a judge's last-minute intervention, Yannick was released, but only after Mr. Assi agreed to send the boy back to Africa "voluntarily" at the end of July, once the school year is over.

"Germany doesn't want my child," sighs the exasperated father. "I dream every day that when I come home from work, there's a letter from the authorities saying that my child can stay."

That possibility is highly unlikely. Since last summer, the Ivorian electrical engineer - who has lived legally in Berlin for 15 years and is married to a German - has been fighting a Kafkaesque battle against the authorities.

The Assi family's travails underscore the deep ambivalence in German society toward immigration, perhaps the country's most divisive issue. Although the mainstream political parties have largely agreed that immigration is necessary for Germany to compete in the global economy and to fill a projected future labor shortage, this new openness is accompanied by the old German attitude that foreign workers are merely "guests" here - not potential citizens.

Yesterday, a special commission on immigration presented its recommendations to the government, which include more programs to integrate migrants and the urgent passage of legislation regulating immigration. According to some estimates, Germany needs more than 300,000 immigrants yearly just to maintain its present population.

Family reunification is hotly debated, with some conservatives arguing that only children up to the age of 10 should be allowed to join their parents here. And while Germany has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it gives precedent to its own legislation, which regards foreigners under the age of 16 as minors - not under 18, as in the UN Convention.

In 1999, there were some 33,000 deportations from Germany. No official numbers exist on the deportation of minors, and except for a few high-profile cases, most are not made public.

The deportation of a 14-year-old Turkish youth touched off a national debate two years ago. Although the boy was born in Munich and both his parents live there, a court deemed his long criminal record reason to revoke his residence permit and send him to Turkey, unaccompanied. …