From emergency aid to integration work

From emergency aid to integration work

A volunteer talking to refugees © Thilo Schmulgen

In the beginning, enthusiastic parishioners collected toys and used clothes. In the meantime, many church initiatives to help refugees have become astonishingly professional.

St. James Catholic Church in Mainz is a plain new building, but the basement with its dark brick walls offers a little protection from the greatest summer heat. A German course is held in one of the rooms. Next door, the board of the okumenische Fluchtlingshilfe Oberstadt (oFO) meets for a meeting.

When hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived in Germany within a few months in 2015, volunteer aid initiatives sprang up all over the republic, often overnight and in many cases in the context of churches. Since then, the mood in the country, refugee policies and laws have changed, but many initiatives remain active.

Associations professionalize themselves

In the Upper Town of Mainz, Catholic, Protestant and free church members joined forces after the city administration wanted to open a large collective housing facility in the neighborhood. The initiative could not complain about a lack of willingness to help. On the contrary – donations of clothes and toys quickly piled up.

"At some point, the realization came: we have to become an association," reports oFO chairman Bruno Hoffmann. "Private donations dry up at some point if no donation receipts can be ied."

Hildegund Niebch from the Refugee and Asylum Department of Diakonie Hessen has closely observed how the church’s refugee work has changed since 2015. In the meantime, the focus is no longer on emergency aid for new arrivals but on integration work. Church groups mediate work, organize German courses and private lessons.

Diakonie Deutschland oversees projects run by diaconal institutions throughout Germany in which volunteers are involved in helping refugees.

"The focus is now more on integration," confirms Lorenz Hoffmann of Diakonie Deutschland. Many volunteers help refugees find training or jobs and familiarize parents and their children with daycare and school. Mentoring and sponsorship projects are particularly well suited for this purpose and have proliferated. The individual aid projects would also become increasingly better networked.

The initiatives have become more professional, reports Niebch from Diakonie Hessen. They have experience in attracting project funds. And they have, for example, increased the demands on the helpers who offer courses. In some cases, there are even full-time employees, as at the oFO in Mainz.

Euphoria not unbroken even among helpers

Not everyone shares this understanding of refugee work, so some of the first helpers left at some point.

In addition, church work with refugees has become more political in many places, reports Niebch, who is in charge of the Diakonie. In Hesse, for example, church groups are currently fighting against the excessive costs that working refugees have to pay for accommodation in collective housing.

Another trend is that offers of help for refugees are increasingly being opened up to everyone in the locality. In Jugenheim, Rheinhessen, committed volunteers from the area around the Protestant community offer homework help. The initiative "Willkommen im Dorf" (Welcome to the Village) announces that it is now open to all children.

The helpers in the Upper Town of Mainz have also found that it is good to expand the target group of the projects. To the language courses in the St.-Jakobus-Kirche now also foreign students or foreigners who have recently moved to the city from other EU countries come to the church.

The fact that a very different wind has long been blowing in refugee policy than it did a few years ago does not escape the notice of helpers. "We feel it with the young Afghans, who live permanently in fear," says Franz Hamburger, professor emeritus of education, who is also involved in the Mainz oFO. "Some left for France because they heard that the French do not deport."

And also some of the volunteers are now more reserved towards the refugees. Reports of crimes such as the murder of Mainz schoolgirl Susanne F. would have caused anxiety even among helpful locals.

Niebch, a deaconry officer, regrets that at meetings she now hears more and more complaints from helpers who "feel like doormats". Nevertheless she has the impression: "There are still surprisingly many at the thing."

Like this post? Please share to your friends:
Leave a Reply

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: