Starting a New Life From Scratch
What would you do if you moved to a new place and knew no one? Didn’t speak the language? Needed a home and a job, but couldn’t find either? Or what if you didn’t know where to turn with a simple bureaucratic question?
This is the reality that many immigrants and refugees face. From 2014 to 2017, more than 1.5 million refugees fleeing conflicts, war, and poverty have arrived in Germany, often with little more than the clothes on their backs. The challenges these newcomers face are immense. Everything is new, and everything takes time.
To help immigrants and refugees adapt to their new home and neighbors, in 2017 Germany launched a unique competition called “Living Together Hand in Hand Creating Communities” (Zusammenleben Hand in Hand – Kommunen Gestalten). The initiative called on local governments, the private sector, and citizens to work together to ease integration and build public understanding and trust. The Federal Ministry of the Interior offered prizes in total of 1 million euros, spread between the winning entries.
Committing to Inclusion
Germany’s 2017-2019 OGP action plan included a commitment to deepen immigrant integration into civic life, activate social support infrastructures, and familiarize immigrants with government services and interfaces beyond the immediate contact with immigration authorities. It targeted communal-level activities, flagship projects, and joint learning around these projects.
Why a competition?
By offering a prize and awarding it publicly, the competition sought to reward outstanding efforts by local governments and gave an incentive to participating municipalities to develop or enhance their activities for greater interaction between immigrants and local communities. The prize of one million Euros for further investment towards integration sent a message about the value of welcoming and integrating new communities.
More than 140 entries were submitted to the competition, and 21 winners were selected by an independent jury. One of the winners was the city of Minden (North Rhine-Westphalia), which has helped more than 200 refugees gain language qualifications in cooperation with local clubs, businesses, and the German Red Cross. These skills have been a springboard for many to find work or training opportunities. Another winner was the town of Osterholz-Scharmbeck (Lower Saxony), which has welcomed around 500 refugees from 19 countries, offering daily lunches for students, sewing workshops, men’s talk circles, and a parents’ cafe at its community center.
By encouraging and raising awareness about integration projects, this competition has provided some opportunities for municipalities to share their experiences with each other and take up new ideas. While the competition has ended, the entries showcased an impressive range of concepts, projects and measures, which have had a positive impact for local communities.