Posted on 3. April 2017
by Fiona Fritz
Closing borders, limiting immigration and a faster expulsion of criminal asylum seekers. These topics currently dominate the discourse on migration all over Europe. The numbers of people seeking refuge in Europe has been on the rise for the last 5-10 years. But since 2015 this topic is on the front pages of news outlets in Germany almost every single day. Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das!” (We’ll make it!) was met with scepticism by parts of the population and many politicians.
In the recent debates, however, the issue of integration is too often neglected. This is partly due to the fact that ‘integration’ is a fuzzy and unclear concept. Who is responsible for integration? What does it mean to be integrated? In my opinion, integration requires time and effort by both the host societies and their new members.
Wanting to contribute, I have been talking to an Iranian refugee named Sarah since September 2015. Sarah, who lived in Teheran, fled to Germany four years ago and has been living close to Kiel with her baby ever since. We met through kulturgrenzenlos (Culture without borders), an organisation from Kiel that connects students from the university with migrants from the area. It was founded by Lea Lükemeier (25), Corinna Weiß (24), and Jana Nau (26), who started the project as part of a class on social entrepreneurship in October 2014 at Kiel University.
The aim of kulturgrenzenlos is to bring migrants and university students together in their free time, in a relaxed environment. Lea says: “We want to bring people together so they can get to know each other.” Integration to them means that both the host society and the migrants need to communicate, get in touch and decrease prejudices. “There is an official support system for the administrative and bureaucratic procedures but we think that getting to know each other on a personal level is very important too”, explains Corinna. The target group of the tandem project are those migrants that don’t go to school anymore and thus don’t have the opportunity to meet people their age on a daily basis.
The ‘tandem’-idea originates from language-tandems, where two people with different native languages meet to improve their language skills. Kulturgrenzenlos transferred this idea to integration: they want to circumvent the migrant-native distinction by bringing together two individuals. “Our aim is that the tandem partners meet up in an informal setting, start talking and then maybe become friends. Not as a German or as a migrant, but as individual persons,” summarises Lea. Corinna adds that they wanted to decrease the aspect of hierarchy: “Of course, the tandem partners can support each other. But the main aim is not to have yet another situation where the migrant is in a begging position.” This idea is reflected in the conversations Sarah and I have: we meet up every few weeks and chat about our daily lives and the tricky German language. Without thinking about it, we both learn about the differences between our cultures and the issues we have with our own cultures. To ensure that the tandems get along, kulturgrenzenlos evaluate the pairings. Without kulturgrenzenlos I would not have met Sarah, our paths just wouldn’t have crossed. I am grateful for organisations like kulturgrenzenlos, which make it easy for us, members of host societies, to play our part in the integration process.
The German government tells migrants that “integration is both an offer and an obligation.” But it doesn’t extend the same sense of duty to the German host society: Integration is not something that migrants can completely do by themselves. There is a German saying “Es gibt nichts Gutes, außer man tut es” (there’s nothing good unless you do it). This saying applies very well to integration: we should actively invite them into our local communities and let them become part of society. And organisations like kulturgrenzenlos offer easy ways to connect with migrants.
Asked what integration means, Lea and Corinna agree: “It is not our aim to make everyone feel German. We want the new members of our society to be a part of the community here in Kiel. Being integrated means to have the same rights and opportunities and being able to participate in all parts of society.”
“It is not our aim to make everyone feel German. We want the new members of our society to be a part of the community here in Kiel. Being integrated means to have the same rights and opportunities and being able to participate in all parts of society.”
When asked what integration means to her, Sarah states that a job is the most important thing for her in terms of feeling as being a part of German society: “I want to stand on my own feet, I want to be independent.” But to get to this point is not as easy. She just passed the so-called ‘Staatsbürgerkundetest’ which tests her knowledge of German politics, laws and culture (she now knows more about these things than some Germans do).
Still, the highly specialised and certificate-focused German labour market makes it hard for her to find a job in the field she was trained in back in Iran. Sarah comments: “It’s important to have German friends. But we need more language courses and support to get in touch with companies so we can find an apprenticeship or job.” This shows how closely linked all the aspects of integration are and that both civil society and authorities have to work together.
Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” is now accompanied by a new slogan from the German government: “Deutschland kann das“ (Germany can do it), while the initiative “Wir zusammen“ (we together) from German companies shows in short ads how newcomers can contribute and enrich our society. The fact that German companies are now speaking out pro-integration is a very important step. Hopefully, more social players will follow so we can work together to make integration possible. Let’s do it!
In spring 2015, we FutureLabbers presented a research paper on the integration of young migrants in Europe to the European Commission.
Our main demand is to create coherence between migration and integration policies at the European level. Migration and integration are fundamentally linked and thus policies on migration, which are governed on a European level, should reinforce integration aspects in migration policies.
Kulturgrenzenlos started as a course project in a social entrepreneurship class at Kiel University. The founders Jana Nau, Lea Lükemeier, Corinna Weiß were awarded with the YOOWEEDOO-Prize in 2015. The first official event was on April 22, 2015 where they rolled out their tandem project to the public. Since then, they connected more than 450 tandem couples, offer support for tandems and regularly organise events where all tandems can meet up together. All of the now seven organisers are full-time students and organise kulturgrenzenlos in their free time. You can learn more about them here: http://kulturgrenzenlos.de.