A Model of Successful Integration
On July 20, I met with Regine Hofmeister, the coordinator of the Flüchtlingshilfe (eng: refugee support) Willich, in the village I grew up in. She invited me to visit the “Moltkedorf,” a refugee camp established in Mai 2016, made from containers. With a capacity of 280 people, the camp has been housing refugees as well as homeless citizens. Hofmeister was an outgoing and lively personality. In a German manner, she welcomed me with a firm handshake and immediately marched off to give me the tour.
The camp included a playground for children, two containers with clothes, a big community container resembling a living room and communal kitchens. About 80 volunteers help refugees to integrate into the new environment – enrolling children in schools, giving language classes and helping adults to find jobs and apartments. A children’s pedagogue visits the camp three times a week and a doctor stops by once a week. Hofmeister also stressed the importance of cultural integration and proudly mentioned the weekly women’s group, which empowers women to become emancipated members of the society.
“The purpose is to integrate refugees – not to do everything for them,” she said. “We teach refugees how to function by themselves. We support them, but they have to execute what they learn.”
Hofmeister told me that the Flüchtlingshilfe Willich became a renowned national model in Germany, listed as “gelungende Beispiele für Integrationshilfe” (eng: successful examples/models for integration). The initiative had already placed nearly a hundred refugees into apartments and jobs. When I visited, the camp had already downsized to 100 inhabitants. Willich had been building more and more apartment complexes all over the place. I heard some angry voices condemning the support for refugees, while low-income residents were allegedly left behind.
“The apartment complexes are designed for both, refugees and low-income residents,” Hofmeister said. “The argument that the apartments are only built for refugees is only half true. Yes, the number of refugees who need housing was a deciding factor in building more apartments, but low-income families will definitely benefit from these as well.”
The next goal for the Flüchtlingshilfe Willich is to spread its practices to other initiatives. Hofmeister said she believes the model can help successful integration in other cities throughout Germany or even Europe. She invited me back to visit the camp and some integration classes to meet volunteers and refugees to interview about their experiences with the model. For now, we scheduled the interviews for the beginning of October.
To be continued 😉