Interview with Düzen Tekkal

Werte / N° 21

“We didn’t

stress our



German human rights campaigner DÜZEN TEKKAL wants clearer migration and integration policies. For her, this also includes a debate about German identity

Ms Tekkal, three major topics dominate discussions in society these days – climate change, digitalisation and migration. Five years after the refugee crisis, how do you see Germany with regard to migration?

I see it ambivalently. We are at the forefront in areas such as hu- man dignity, taking care of people in need of protection and in re- gard to our capacity to absorb refugees and we will be remembered in history for our humanitarian actions. But we still have to bal- ance out some important questions between the welcome and the arrival culture. If people are able to enter the country several times, if people throw away their passports and are still granted entry without revealing their country of origin, then this is surely taking advantage of our hospitality. We have to develop defensive answers to this. And we’re still not making the right policies to prevent migration in the first place – we are also part of the problem.

Actually, Germany has been an immigration country for 50 years. Have we not learned enough from our experiences and mistakes?

The problem is that we have never defined ourselves as an immi- gration country. And we have still not overcome the education cri- sis that arose with the first generation of migrant workers. As Max Frisch said so eloquently, “We wanted workers…and we got people instead”. When I think of my parents, at that time it was important to work but not to learn German. That prevented cohesiveness. You can't blame the people for it now. For many decades, we weren't allowed to be German.

Because the traumatised German war and post-war genera- tions first had to clarify their own identity?

That's certainly part of the issue. I’ve found that many Germans have difficulty explaining what makes them German. That probably has something to do with the German trauma. We’ve ignored this identity issue for so long that a vacuum has been created, which has been taken over by hate-mongers and right-wing extremist groups. The identity question has been picked up by the nationalist political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) – unfortunately, with a great deal of success. We now have to develop a policy to coun- teract this. The major parties didn’t see this coming.

Specifically, what did the major parties do wrong?

Over the past years and decades, we made migration and integra- tion policies for migrants – not for Germany. We didn’t stress our values enough and, as a result, migrants had no opportunity to in- tegrate – integrate where, for example?

You’ve also said that there is no warm- heartedness in our pol- itics …

Yes, I have to be able to love a politician. We’ve completely failed to realise that we're dealing with human beings, feelings, the heart, not just minds and intellect. I have to feel that I am being governed well. In Germany, we have to learn to appreciate and present our democracy, our constitutional state and our values better and not always make ourselves out to be worse than we are. I am very proud to be German. Full stop. I can't explain it, it's a feeling.

Text: Martin Häusler

Photo: Urban Zintel


Tekkal was born in Hanover in 1978 as one of eleven children of Kurdish-Yazidi refugee parents. After completing her po- litical sciences studies, she attracted at- tention as a war reporter and film maker. With her human rights organisation Háwar she campaigns for the victims of ISIS terrorism. In 2019, the German Feder- al Government appointed her a member of its Special Commission addressing global causes of human flight.