Defending yourself against possible discrimination in the office is not always easy, complains social worker Timur Beygo.

In an open briefcase you can see the cover of the internal labor aid from the employment exchange, which was leaked in 2019.

The Federal Employment Agency clearly has a problem with antigypsyism Photo: Sarah Eick/Amaro Forum

SEDAN taz | Roma and welfare fraud are a favorite topic of the tabloid media. In suspicious cases, such as last August in Duisburg-Friemersheim, people happily report about “mega-raids” against “clans” with “luxury cars in the underground parking lot” and politicians extend the microphone for “tough announcements” . There are no concrete figures, but the stigma that continues to be nurtured is extremely stable and has consequences.

In the summer of 2020, for example, the Federal Employment Agency (BA) sent its employees an internal brochure on “the fight against abuse of benefits by gangs in the specific context of freedom of movement in the EU”. In 20 pages, it describes practices that EU foreigners use to illegally obtain German social benefits, such as false employment or rental relationships or false salary information.

The word “Rome” did not appear in it, although in the original version the countries of origin Bulgaria and Romania were mentioned. After the protests, the countries were eliminated. But it was clear who it was.

The BA noted that the applicants “in many cases are victims themselves; they are exploited by gangs who take advantage of the material difficulties of many of those affected in their home countries and often lure them to Germany with false promises.” The BA “expressly points out” to its employees that “EU citizens are not under general suspicion of benefit abuse” and that the vast majority have a legitimate claim. But the pamphlet still had an impact.

The Federal Association of Independent Social Services (BAGFW) surveyed around 400 counseling centers at the end of 2020, almost half reported cases in which EU citizens “have already been rejected in the entrance area of ​​employment centers and therefore do not apply for the 'Hartz IV'.” More than 40 percent of the counseling centers surveyed stated that employment offices “illegally refused to accept applications due to lack of language knowledge.”

The findings were “alarming,” BAGFW vice president Jens Schubert said at the time. “It should not be the case that EU citizens are prevented from claiming the benefits to which they are entitled under EU law and legislation.”

Contemptuous and discriminatory practice

“Some of the discriminatory practices of employment offices towards Union citizens are also true,” said a protest letter from eleven counseling centers to the Federal Ministry of Affairs. Social of November 2020. And in response to a circular email sent to the joint counseling centers this spring, the taz received letters pointing in this direction.

The right to receive benefits arises when EU citizens take up employment subject to social security contributions in Germany. If your salary is not enough to live on, you can apply for supplementary benefits (“Hartz IV”).

But enforcing this and defending yourself against potential discrimination in the office is not always easy. “The authorities don't say: 'You're a Roma and you don't get anything,'” says social worker Timur Beygo, director of the social counseling center of the Romani Association eV in Frankfurt am Main.

Beygo mainly advises Roma from Romania, who often work in the cleaning and construction sectors in Germany. Some of them do not know how to read and write, which has a lot to do with exclusion in their country of origin. “Access to school is often extremely difficult,” says Beygo. In this country they are sometimes exploited by employers. Working conditions are often precarious and salaries are often so low that there is a right to additional benefits.

But employment offices sometimes requested documents that employers withheld from applicants. “If they did that to me, I would just go to HR,” Beygo says. “But if you don't know German, it's much harder to assert yourself.” Therefore, it often takes a long time before the money flows. Often there are no savings to cover at the moment and sometimes debt is the result. “A provisional permit like this for German families is rarely granted to gypsies; usually everything has to be complete,” says Beygo.

Regardless of their income level, EU workers are entitled to child benefit. But the documents that foreigners must present are sometimes treated very differently. “The authorities may request additional documents at their discretion, such as a school certificate, which is very difficult for Roma in Romania to obtain.” In some cases, they have to pay bribes for this.

Difficult life situation

Anyone who loses or leaves their job also loses their right to German social benefits six months later. This only changes after five years of living in Germany. But some Roma could not prove it and ended up homeless. “From then on it is very difficult to find employment again, also because life on the street affects your health,” says Beygo.

In general, the living situation is a big problem. In Hesse, for example, the Safety and Order Act obliges municipalities to provide accommodation to homeless Roma if they are entitled to social benefits. Many would be housed with asylum seekers in collective accommodation and would remain there for a long time.

They can apply for social housing after one year. “But in Frankfurt there are hardly any large apartments,” says Beygo. “As a family of seven, you have almost no chance of getting out of there.” Their clients stayed in collective housing an average of five to six years. “Families are then allocated three rooms with no private showers or cooking facilities, which can be very stressful.”

Beygo complains that the authorities are rarely willing to pay for integration measures, such as literacy courses. An exception is the BAMF, which approves participation in integration courses upon request. “But there is often a lack of places.” Regarding other courses, employees often said: “It's not worth it, they'll leave soon anyway” or “They have a job, that's enough.” This is how people's potential is left untapped. “There is no investment in their development and opportunities.”

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