‘Refugee Participation’ was the topic of the all-day Otto Benecke Stiftung e. V. (OBS) regional forum held on 12th of September 2018 in the Bad Godesberg Stadthalle. This forum discussed the first provisional appraisal of the project ‘GET INVOLVED - Participation and Responsibility of Refugees’, undertaken by the OBS in Bonn community housing to initiate participation opportunities for refugees. As part of the national program ‘Live Democracy!’ the project is funded by the Bundesfamilienministerium (Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth), the Integrationsministerium NRW (Ministry for Children, Family affairs, Refugees, and Integration of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia) (who also financed the conference), and the city of Bonn.
Dr. Lothar Theodor Lemper, Chair of the OBS, welcomed more than 300 people from politics, the voluntary sector, and science and research backgrounds who wished to learn more about the Bonn project. He announced: ‘Our project, ‘GET INVOLVED’ is founded on the recognition of the relationship between democracy, freedom and responsibility. It emphasises the fundamental necessity of personal responsibility as a partial aspect of subsidiarity."
The NRW State Secretary for Integration, Serap Güler outlined in her welcome speech the importance of social participation: ‘The social integration of refugees is vital, as opportunities to get involved in their immediate living environment can enable them to experience democracy in everyday life and influence their commitment to democracy. At the same time, this commitment is also a commitment to the order of values in Basic Law, which determines belonging in society. "
Thomas Heppener, Head of the national program ‘Live Democracy!’ for the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, highlighted the German government's desire that the funded projects promote democracy, uphold diversity and prevent extremism. He reminded the Forum that migrants will often yearn for democracy.
Social Affairs, Education and Health Representative for Bonn, Carolin Krause, made clear in her statement that ‘participation in political and social processes is a fundamental prerequisite for happy co-existence. Through the OBS project, we aspire to increase the participation and involvement of new citizens."
In his address the renowned migration researcher Professor Emeritus Dr. Dietrich Thränhardt observed that, thanks to the support of civil society, the integration of refugees into the labour market had proceeded faster than expected. Nevertheless, he called for greater recognition of the refugee integration services and denounced the numerous bureaucratic federal state regulations which hinder rapid integration. Direct integration measures (i.e. language courses and parallel working) can also increase motivation to integrate.
Various workshops discussed the social importance of political education, the role of volunteers, and how people perceived their own refugee experience.
In their concluding remarks both the Managing Chair of the OBS, Dr Lothar Theodor Lemper, and the church leader of Bad Godesberg parish, Dr. Wolfgang Picken, emphasised the social, political and economic importance of migration - the so-called refugee crisis was and is a great opportunity for civil society. Politics and society have grown closer than ever, despite all the prophecies of doom. Family and neighbourhood support networks remain effective and are essential to the functioning of a humane society. As a result of the conference, Pastor Dr Picken is promoting the institutionalisation of the involvement of refugees themselves in refugee accommodation – and therefore its embodiment in law. This project may provide us with great insights.
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