“Under UN law, they are entitled to go to school!” said the bearded man sitting next to me. “It’s a human right!”
“Yes, but the problem is that they’re not on the books here!” a woman with a long black plait retorted from the other side of the room.
“Look,” said a blonde woman with a biro. “How did they get into the home in the first place? They wouldn’t have ended up there if they weren’t registered!”
The issue under discussion was a home for unaccompanied migrant children which has recently opened in the area. It’s located by a lake in the forest and is currently home to 55 young males between the ages of 15 and 17.
Apparently at least. There’s no way of really knowing their age since they don’t have any papers to prove their identity.
And that’s just the beginning. Assuming these boys are the age they say they are, they could be required to attend school here. Berlin state law requires people to spend at least ten years in school. If these kids have already completed that number of years in their home countries, they wouldn’t be required to do so here.
But then there’s also the Berufsschulpflicht (vocational training requirement). It requires pupils to either continue studying or attend vocational training once those ten years have elapsed.
So, assuming that these kids have in some way met both those requirements in their home countries (or at least, say they have), what then?
Well, then there’s the Schulbesuchrecht (right to attend school). That means that pupils have the right to attend school if they wish but aren’t required to by law.
To make matters more complicated, different rules apply in different German states, making it a logistical nightmare if kids are moved around. And it’s not even clear whether German law applies to asylum-seekers.
So, having got all that confusion out of the way, what about the kids in the home by the lake?
Well, for one, they don’t seem to be registered with the local authorities yet. It’s the first thing you have to do when you move to Germany. Without that piece of paper proving who you are, anything from opening a bank account to getting a job is pretty much impossible.
But the waiting list for an appointment seems endless. And without that piece of paper, you can’t get an asylum-seeker into a school. And so the discussion continued:
“So, how about we just go down to the town hall with a group of them and register them ourselves?” one woman suggested.
“Sure, but what are we to say?” asked another. “I mean, it’s not like we can vouch for them. We don’t have their papers either. We won’t be able to answer any of the officials’ questions!”
“Yes, but at least we’ll know what’s going on!” the first woman replied.
Conversations like these are going on all over Germany.
Remember, we are talking here of 55 asylum-seekers out of the close to million expected to have arrived in the country before the end of the year.
It’s not going to be easy. But I sure am proud to be living in a country ready to take on the challenge.
On Sunday, I’m going to meet some of the boys at an event organized by volunteers in my area. The “Advent Sunday” party will introduce the youngsters to the delights of German Christmas biscuits – a staple requirement for successful integration into the culture.
The other hurdles won’t be quite so sweet.