Following media reports on Germany one gets an ambivalent impression of a country struggling to find its way in between the proclaimed culture of welcome and violent attacks on refugees shelters. Furthermore in a big country like Germany of course realities also in the field of youth work and its strategies in dealing with the situation of young refugees vary a lot.
Everybody agrees that the main difference is especially between cities and rural areas. There is also a wide range of reactions to the situation among the field. There are those who’s approach is very much characterized by a socio-spatial concept (Sozialraumkonzept), who understand changes in their environment and inclusion of those who are there as a normal process and their very core task. There are others who struggle a bit more with re-defining concepts and offers and then there are also some organisations who force work with young refugees on their teams with the threat of otherwise losing financial means, thus leading to irritation among the workers.
It is more about letting them get some rest and calm down a bit and offering meaningful activities for the time they are there.
The city of Munich has taken an active step towards youth work with young refugees. The Kreisjugendring (standing conference of youth organisations) Munich has created with the support of the city a project called „Welcome in Munich“. A team of ten people has divided Munich in regions and provides offers for young refugees. A main feature of this provision is to know the offers of (open) youth work in a specific area and connect young refugees with those offers taking into account their wishes and needs and sometimes simply helping them to find the way. The project aims at young people that are in the so called „transition living“, which means that they are waiting for entering regular child and youth services and being relocated to different regions in Germany. Since the government passed a new law affecting unaccompanied minors including their distribution among the 16 federal states in November 2015 the young people are in this transition living for an average of six weeks. Hence the core open youth work method of relationship building is not so much the focus of this project since nobody wants to make the move to another region more difficult. It is more about letting them get some rest and calm down a bit and offering meaningful activities for the time they are there.
The team of „Welcome in Munich“ also supports the open youth work providers. Often getting into contact and finding the first steps with the new target group are the request. But also organising an evening with an interpreter to facilitate communication of the „old“ local group of young people and the newly arrived for reducing fears of the regular visitors of being driven out of their place due to the new situation, can be done.
There is a huge request for training and discourse. Near Munich the Institute for youth work Gauting is offering training and education for youth workers and naturally diversity, intercultural learning and alike are part of their offers. The interest is steadily increasing and already before the summer of 2015 when preparing their program for 2016 they planned a training called „Welcome! And then?“ that deals with the reception of young refugees from providing facts on their situation to creating networks and offers and reflection on professional boundaries of youth workers in this context. „We knew this topic was coming, but of course with the situation of last summer and autumn the interest for this training has multiplied. We have very long waiting lists and we will repeat the training in autumn. Creating extra offers during the year is something we normally don´t do – but in this case the interest is so high that we said we can not let all those youth workers wait for a year“, explains Ina Benigna Hellert, the responsible lecturer at the Institute.
The immense need for discourse and training is something Dominik Ringler from RAA Brandenburg can confirm „We could do a workshop every week“ he says. „We encourage colleagues from youth work to see the young people as young people and not so much as refugees and remind them that with the traditional methods of open youth work we have all instruments we need at hand. Furthermore we luckily have a legal basis since the Child and Youth Services Act in Germany is valid for all young people that are in the country no matter of their origin or status.“
The wish to create suitable offers but partly also of course the availability of new funds have led to a wide range of activism and new projects. Many youth work experts think that there is a need for ensuring sustainability in this context. Also the Praxisstelle “ju:an” antisemetismus- und rassismuskritische Jugendarbeit at the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung saw this need and published in November 2015 in collaboration with many partners and with national support material for youth work covering 15 points that are needed for a structure of welcome in youth institutions.
The logic behind these 15 bullet points is that open youth work with its founding principles of participation, voluntarism, low threshold and openness offers a wide range of chances and potentials
The logic behind these 15 bullet points is that open youth work with its founding principles of participation, voluntarism, low threshold and openness offers a wide range of chances and potentials. It aims to support interested youth workers with some concrete ideas how they can create a sustainable structure of welcome in their organisation.
The 15 headings are:
Ju:an has presented the publication on various occasions to practitioners across the country and reports that the most relevant and discussed items on the list are rotating around:
„The debate is only started and we definitely wish to further develop some theses based on those initial 15 points and the discussions and rapid developments we see in this field. For instance, we think that the chance to work with the social and biographical skills of the regular young visitors is still underdeveloped in youth work“, says Pasquale Rotter from the ju:an team.
In a situation where young people from different origins and countries move into municipalities new areas of intercultural encounters are forming. Therefore also International youth work is taking its role in this context. Over the past decades a lot of tools and methods for intercultural learning have been developed for supporting the mobility of young people. Now this knowledge can support local youth workers in their own surroundings. IJAB the International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany is for instance inviting for a seminar in May to discuss how experiences and methods of international youth work can be adapted and used for the local work with young refugees and their hosting communities.
The federal republic also is striving in more ways to support municipalities and regions in their welcoming of those newly arrive. A federal initiative is called „Willkommen bei Freunden“ and aims at supporting municipalities in integrating young refugees in their communities. The program does not provide funding for new projects but strives to support existing structures in creating networks, which is done through workshops for analysing the situation, facilitation of the process, training and exchange of good practice. The main target group of the program is local communities such as public authorities, administration or youth welfare offices. The overall objective is to strengthen local networks in a way that makes the first steps for children and young refugees in Germany easier for them and the hosting municipalities.
Open Youth Work has not been a primary target group of „Willkommen bei Freunden“ in the first phase but as Viola Schlichting from the program office at the Deutsche Kinder- und Jugendstiftung explains „Recently we have seen more and more requests also from open youth work, therefore developing offers also for that field is definitely on our agenda.”
Whereas most agree that the overall attitude within youth work towards the arriving young people is positive, many see that even with a lot initiatives and projects being implemented much is still work under construction. There are related issues like right wing extremism among young people, the needs of regular visitors or young females that need to be tackled and to achieve sustainability a more structural approach like including the skills needed in the education of youth workers and applying professional quality instruments such as coaching, supervision and peer counselling has to be taken.
In a situation where young people from different origins and countries move into municipalities new areas of intercultural encounters are forming
by Alexandra Beweis (2016)
Alexandra Beweis works as project manager at POYWE . She is also a trainer and facilitator and active in different areas of youth work since 1994.
Girl © CJazzmany / Shutterstock.com,
Girls protesting © paintings / Shutterstock.com
Tarek Chalabi © Information at the end of the video, supported within the programme Think Big