This summer, I was lucky enough to spend a week in Germany working alongside a social worker who works for a charity called Caritas and is a part of a team responsible for looking after a group of 300 refugees. I travelled to a small village near Mainz called Osthofen and lived in an apartment alongside other members of the community including refugee families.
Osthofen has welcomed refugees from many different countries including: Syria, Afghan, Iraq, Somalia and Pakistan. It was intriguing to see how effectively people have adapted themselves to life in this small area. Caritas is in charge of an area called Alzey, which consists of 11 villages that have welcomed around 300 refugees. Angela Merkel said ‘Wir schaffen das.’ (We can do this) and they have. Germany has responded to the refugee crisis with sophistication and warmth and the people I met reflected this generosity. Their gratitude towards the social workers and wider community was clear to see and I didn't see any examples of tension or threat that people seem to fear could arise from allowing refugees across borders.
Everyone who I spoke to seemed genuinely grateful, happy and friendly. Every flat I visited presented me with tea and cake on arrival and people were delighted to hear about where I come from and what my life in England is like. One family even invited me over to try some Syrian specialties one evening, which were tasty melted-cheese delicacies called ‘kunafeh’.
As well as socialising and eating, my week also included some actual work! An essential part of my role was taking Afghan toddlers to Kindergarten, teaching Syrian women German and visiting a school that has welcomed refugee teenagers to help parents understand the application process. The main obstacle facing most refugees is the language barrier. When arriving in Germany, asylum seekers are expected to learn the language so it is easier for them to integrate, work and socialise. The charity Caritas reinforces this by running weekly classes for all, encouraging refugees to talk to people on the street and organising festivals such as ‘Fest der Kultur’. Here, the streets are closed and there are stalls and entertainment originating from different countries and cultures: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Germany. The aim is to introduce the refugees to the German lifestyle and vice versa, in order to build a strong understanding and sense of the benefits of diversity. I am hoping to study drama at university and would love to be able to go back to see this happening!
I went with the hope that living in Germany for a week would improve my spoken German but the week ended up being so much more than that. The experience was life-changing, some of the stories I heard have really opened my eyes to the reality of the refugee crisis and made me realise that the United Kingdom is doing very little in comparison to other countries. I saw no evidence that people’s fears of breeding racial tension and overloading the infrastructure are valid and I was really touched by the warmth with which this community welcomed me and felt very sad to leave. I am planning to return for a longer visit after I have finished my A-levels and hopefully see the children more settled in their homes and schools and everyone growing more confident in speaking the German language. Nothing was permanent yet for the families and individuals who have been welcomed in Alzey, but at least they are safe and aware that the world has not completely turned its back on them. Should we be offering more asylum to the millions of people who have had to leave their homes and countries? I believe so. Come on Britain….Wir schaffen das!