What prevents people with a migration background from achieving their opportunities? “Sometimes false beliefs,” says Fulya Öncel. And what helps them? “When you have someone in front of you who, despite or because of their roots, is exactly where they are.” Here the police officer from Austria explains why she visits school classes and what she experiences there.

FOCUS online: Today we want to talk about an exciting project that started in your Austria last December. Initiated by the Linz Association for Integration, Education and Culture (IBUK) and the Upper Austrian police for which you work. So-called “role models” – successful people with foreign roots – go to schools. To do what?

Fulya Öncel: To show students possibilities and perspectives and to motivate them to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered. We would like to make it clear that a migration background is not an obstacle to a successful career. In April I was able to take part in a workshop at a polytechnic school. The feedback from the young people showed that the message was being received.

At which schools do the workshops take place?

Öncel: At different types of schools – such as primary schools, middle schools, polytechnic schools. So far, we have specifically addressed those schools where there is a particular need for action due to the composition of the pupils.

What does it mean exactly? Are we talking about “problem students”?

Öncel: No. The project is not aimed at individuals or just at students with a migration background, but rather at the entire class. Classes with students with foreign roots are of course the focus.

On the other hand, that’s where it starts, because what does that actually tell us? It’s called something different, so it’s different – that’s a cliché. And that’s exactly what the project wants to get away from. In general, we focus more on the possibilities and prospects and less on the problems. We have been running a crime prevention project in Upper Austria for several years.

With a different focus? Tell.

Öncel: The youth contact officer group (“JUKOB”) works preventatively. The aim is to prevent crimes. To do this, our colleagues try to get in touch with young people on site. So on the street, where they risk getting into a dangerous environment. The focus of “JUKOBS” is proactive contact at so-called youth hotspots. This happens with very good results.

But this work is not enough?

Öncel: In fact, a central issue here is the possible or already happened drift into crime. The workshops, on the other hand, start earlier, on the topic of equal opportunities. Many young people with a migrant background do not seem to be aware of what they can achieve with hard work and commitment. Beliefs are a very important topic.

What kind of beliefs, for example?

Öncel: Something like: “The police won’t take me with a foreign name anyway.” Something like that, for example.

What do you say?

Öncel: There are many people in Austria who have a foreign last name and are very successful. The project aims to make such success stories visible.

You probably talked a lot about your own career at school?

Öncel: Yes, but it wasn’t a frontal lecture, we do a lot of interaction. By the way: I held the workshop together with the project manager and a psychotherapist. Like me, both have Turkish roots.

So the project isn’t just about the police profession?

Öncel: Not at all. There are many other professions represented, from doctors to skilled trades. The psychotherapist and I didn’t initially reveal what we do for a living. The students were allowed to guess.


Öncel: For me the answers ranged from stewardess to make-up artist.

As an attractive woman, you were immediately in a certain box.

Öncel: It was exciting for me and probably also for the young people to see how wrong one’s assessment can be. I am 38 years old and have been a police officer for 17 years now. This positively surprised the students. Likewise, having foreign roots can be a plus. In fact, we at the police are happy to receive suitable applicants.


Öncel: Linguistic and cultural skills can be very valuable for the police profession. I also talked about my translation and interpreting activities. Many of the young people do not seem to have looked at their background from this perspective. However, it must of course be clear that the matter is not a sure-fire success.

You spoke earlier about commitment and hard work. No pain no gain?

Öncel: That is one thing. What some young people are also not aware of is the issue of “criminal acts”.

You mean especially for people with a migration background? In Germany, the crime statistics were presented a few weeks ago. The increase in so-called “foreigner crime” was indeed a major topic.

Öncel: The crime statistics for 2023 were also presented in Upper Austria. What is certainly also interesting is the increasing intensity of crimes. Many young people do not seem to understand the consequences of their actions.

What do you mean?

Öncel: A previous conviction that is recorded in the criminal record can have far-reaching consequences, especially for young people. Sometimes it can be a major disadvantage when looking for a job or training position. If you want to become a police officer, you cannot allow yourself to make such mistakes; an impeccable reputation is a prerequisite. We also talked about this in the workshop, because that is the basis. My professional career was the next topic.

Did you have to overcome many hurdles to get into the police force?

Öncel: The admission criteria are the same for everyone. What counts is whether you meet the requirements. Regardless of gender, origin or appearance.

Anyone can do it – is that what you’re saying?

Öncel: The environment may also play an important role.


Öncel: I’ll put it this way: If you don’t have the right environment yet, you can look for one.

As a teenager? Without support from your parents?

Öncel: I am convinced that you should at least try. And as I said, beliefs are a key here. Anyone who follows their path with hard work and commitment will soon see certain things differently. If we as “role models” have an additional motivating effect, all the better. In the end, it’s a win-win situation from which we also get something for ourselves.

To what extent is that?

Öncel: I coordinate the workshops for the Upper Austrian police. We were recently able to recruit seven colleagues within a very short space of time who wanted to take part because they thought the project was very useful. It remains to be seen whether more applicants with a migration background will report to the police in the next few years. In any case, we are happy about each and every one!