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Employees of Diakonie Dusseldorf
Image: DW/K. Jäger

Help for refugees

Karin Jäger / ng
June 20, 2013

Refugees come to Germany hoping for peace and jobs. But the demands of daily life and the bureaucracy in a foreign country take its toll. The Protestant organization Diakonie is one of many that try to ease the burden.


"Taking refuge is not a crime," Abdoulaye Amadou said, "many people simply leave their country to survive." Amadou, too, knew he didn't have a future in Niger.

He was lucky when, in 2001, his uncle gave him a ticket for a boat trip, which is how he ended up in Hamburg. For him, it was no-man's land and, fairly soon, he realized what it meant not to be welcome.

Being a refugee, he couldn't choose where to live in Germany, he could not even move beyond the confines of his district and, crucially, could not accept any work.

On the sidelines

"Refugees are being sidelined, it's part of the system," according to Karola Dolk, who works as a lawyer for the charity Diakonie in Dusseldorf.

"The refugee camps are often out of the way, in old military barracks, for example. The refugees have no contact with ordinary Germany and they don't learn the language."

Asylum seekers board a bus in Dortmund
It's a waiting game for many refugeesImage: DW/K. Jäger

Diakonie is the one of the two giant charitable organizations in Germany. It is funded by the Protestant Church, whereas its main rival, Caritas, is affiliated with the Catholic Church. Both are major employers in the care sector as well as other charitable areas in Germany.

Amadou is one of those refugees, he knows what it is like to spend all your time waiting - getting up in the morning, eating, sleeping and waiting.

"It's a terrible life, a lot of refugees become ill. You feel like a criminal and it hurts," he said. But Amadou hung in there. He is now a trained language and integration mediator, which enables him to work as a translator and point of contact for other refugees having trouble settling in.

The 38-year-old is now part of the team at Diakonie. He is Muslim, but his religion does not matter, he says. One of his main tasks is to lend a helping hand to refugees arriving in Germany.

Diversity management is key

Daniela Bröhl, who heads the Diakonie department dealing with integration, migration and refugees, agrees. All her employees are trained in diversity management to be able to deal with different cultures and harness their potential and their skills.

Although the refugees have often experienced terrible hardship, Bröhl says working with them is "wonderful."

"They came to Germany to stay. But when they apply for asylum, they've only gained the right to stay," Karola Dolk explained. "And that takes months, even years. During that time, they are left hanging and can't plan their future." Organizations like Diakonie help them secure the right to stay, so they can at least rest a little bit more easily.

Fighting windmills

It is a common misconception that most refugees come to countries like Germany purely for economic reasons. Dolk knows differently - at the moment she is looking after a young Somali man who has been a refugee since 2008. Throughout his adolescence, he has been pushed around within the EU. He needs psychological help, but because he still does not have the right to stay, he can't settle down and start therapy.

A form asylum seekers have to fill in
German bureaucracy is a challenge for refugeesImage: DW/Karin Jäger

But many refugees also refuse therapy. "They fear they will get locked away in a mental institution, especially if they are from Chechnya and Russia," Dolk explained. People from those countries also often do not trust translators from their own countries as they think they might spy on them.

German bureaucracy is another area that refugees find very hard to deal with. Filling in forms and dealing with various government agencies is a massive challenge, and if they put a foot wrong, it could have a negative impact on their status.

Diakonie tries to boost the refugees' self-confidence and strengthen their resolve.

"It's also really important for us to help people be independent once the initial, most important obstacles are out of the way," Daniela Bröhl said. "We want to enable them to find their own way," which also applies to those asylum seekers who have been turned down and have to go back home.

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