The situation is all over the news, it’s what people are earnestly discussing over dinner, it has moved the country on a national scale – I’m talking about Europe’s migrant crisis and the role Germany is playing.
This is not the time nor place to be political. All I’ll aim to do here is offer a few fleeting observations as an expat in the Hauptstadt (capital) and give a few tips on what you can do to help if you’re so inclined.
- Despite what you read about violent protests by the extreme right against Angela Merkel’s ongoing stance of taking as many migrants as come to Germany (they may accept as many as 1 million in 2015 – far more than many other European countries), the vast majority of Germans – at least the ones I come into contact with – think that this is a humane and appropriate response to the crisis.
- People are horrified and embarrassed by the reaction of extreme right to the point where they simply cannot believe it’s happening. This criticism is justified, but as an outsider, I find it interesting to see what harsh critics Germans are of Germans, though many European countries and their governments are in reality being no more welcoming.
- There is a huge and dynamic grass-roots response ranging from individuals crowd-funding ice-cream deliveries and outings to lakes in the very hot weather to much bigger complex projects to collect and supply all of the basic necessities such as clothing and toiletries, and even accommodation. This shows people want to help and will go out of their way to do so.
When we took a bag of clothes last week to “LaGeSo” (Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales – the local office for health and welfare), which serves as the central registration office and the center of charitable donations in Berlin, the scenes were not nearly as chaotic as the media had made out. There were a lot of people there, but no-one was outwardly distressed, despite what they may have behind them. The atmosphere was warm and friendly. Volunteers buzzed around handing out pots of food from local cafes, others taking in clothing donations. Perhaps we came at a good time, but it gave me an overall impression (admittedly superficial) that once refugees arrive in Berlin, they are being well looked after.
- This crisis is touching many aspects of German life. Additional classes entirely dedicated to refugees are being set up in schools, small towns are converting empty buildings into suitable temporary accommodation. This is not just a Hauptstadt phenomenon and, depending on how it unfolds, it will potentially change Germany for the long-term.
My husband’s colleague is a key person in Blogger Fuer Fluchtlinge, which is coordinating and promoting many donation efforts across Germany. We used their advice to work out what we should be taking along to LaGeSo. If you live in Germany and want to know more about how you can help, checking out their website is a great place to start.
“Refugees Welcome” is another interesting grass-roots initiative and way to get involved. Created by a Berlin couple, it is a website matching people willing to offer up their spare room to refugees. Here is an interesting article on what they are doing in Haaretz.