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17. March 2017


How the Round Tables in Kehl enable refugees to have a voice and to co-produce innovative solutions

The members of the Refugee Council of the neighbourhood Kreuzmatt in Kehl

The social and labour market integration of refugees requires new solutions through co-production

Kehl is a multi-cultural town with 35,000 inhabitants at the border to France. Being a border town means that historically the residents of Kehl have always been used to flows of migrants. Even within living memory in the city, there have been occupations and evacuations, so that some families have members who themselves have experienced what it means to be a refugee.

In 2015 Kehl received about 500 refugees from the Near East and Africa. Local citizens wanted to provide help, so they founded a citizen-led initiative. They were supported by two Refugee and Social Integration Managers, including Raya Gustafson, who took up her post in Kehl City Council in March 2016. In June 2016, the local council approved a Social Integration Plan. This plan emerged from a broad participation process, including residents and refugees, as well as representatives of education, employment and economic development services, young people’s services, social care and other local services. The plan includes projects related to issues such as participation, culture, education, employment and housing. Social integration is understood as a reciprocal process, which enables people of different cultures to live together and to contribute valuably to society, with the objective of achieving an inclusive society, in which each individual can participate and contribute as an equal.

In order to facilitate the social integration of refugees and to enable their participation a new perspective was needed: To see the situation through the eyes of refugees. Nanine Delmas, the Head of Social Services of Kehl City Council decided to set up “Round Tables” with refugees in November 2016 to ask refugees about the challenges of social integration and their needs.

The initiative “Round Tables“ with refugees in Kehl

In a first step, the Refugee and Social Integration Manager Raya Gustafson invited refugees to take part in four “Round Tables”. The first one was part of a city-wide event – a so-called Café International, which was organised by a third sector organisation (Diakonisches Werk) and supported by the Red Cross and the local citizen initiative for refugees. This was followed by three Round Tables specifically with refugees at neighbourhood level. In total, 170 people participated at these events, including 160 refugees.

This involved a needs and capability assessment of refugees, based on a method developed in Kehl. At all events, refugees were invited to sit around tables where they could speak in their own language. At each table a volunteer (who spoke both the relevant language and German) facilitated the discussion around two questions, using images of everyday issues such as children, learning, sports and work-related activities. The first question focussed on the needs of refugees: “What do you currently need in Kehl in relation to the issues shown on the images?” The second question was: “What can I do in relation to the issues shown on the cards? What can I contribute?” Each question was followed by a discussion at the tables. The results were written up on cards which were presented by each table to the plenary session. For example, the refugees discussed issues such as the provision of childcare or leisure activities for older children during their language classes, continuous learning and access to employment.

It was easy for the participants, who mainly came from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, to identify their needs. However, participants thought it was challenging to identify their strengths and assets, given that this meant a change of perspective to perceive themselves as active contributors to society.

Possibly, this step in the process was taken too fast for participants to work out specific ways in which their capabilities might be better used to enable them to make a contribution. In terms of needs, participants identified that they would like to become a member of sports clubs, to benefit from music offers, to get in touch with Germans, to take part in language training and support classes for their children and to find a job in the German labour market. Moreover, they expressed a general desire to show their gratitude to the people of Germany and to demonstrate their willingness to make a contribution and to give something back, although they did not find it easy to pinpoint exactly how they might do this.

The role of the volunteer interpreters from the various language communities was key to the success of the Round Tables. They played the role of a socio-cultural mediator and a person of trust who could act as a bridge to the refugees.

The interpreters invited the refugees to the Round Tables. Given that they were already in touch with the refugees, this triggered a high participation rate. Moreover, the knowledge of the interpreters about the culture of refugees ensured that the events could be tailored to the needs of the participants.

In the final Round Table, all results achieved were presented. The needs identified included:

  • housing
  • space to study
  • counselling on labour market issues and trainin
  • information about language training, childcare during language classes
  • support classes for children
  • access to cultural and sports offers
  • counselling on health issues
  • contacts with Germans.

One specific idea which had been put forward was to found a Refugee Council at neighbourhood level, consisting of refugees. This idea was developed further by the participants of final Round Table, who discussed the objectives proposed by the Refugee and Social Integration Manager Raya Gustafson. The 25 participants of the Round Table agreed that a Refugee Council should have the task of improving the quality of life of ‘language communities’ in Kehl. In particular, a Refugee Council should provide a voice for the different language communities, and act as a bridge to the local people of Kehl. It should also deliver refugee-led projects with material provided by the local City Council. The project-specific costs might involve up to 1000 Euros in the first year, but could be increased in the following year, if the project proved to be successful.

Consequently, in January 2017 the first Refugee Council was elected, consisting of six persons from the Afghan (dari) and Eritrean (tygrinya) language communities. It was amazing that a lot of Afghan women wished to run as members of the Refugee Council, so that they could represent women and children and promote their issues. Indeed, two Afghan women were elected to seats on the Refugee Council. The second Refugee Council was set up in the parish of Kork due to the initiative of the local citizen initiative for refugees and the support of the parish councillor. The Kork Refugee Council consists of a 19 year old Afghan woman and an Arab-speaking Syrian who have been elected by both language communities in Kork in a full meeting.

The first meeting of the two Refugee Councils showed that improvement of basic needs had priority. For example, the hygienic conditions in the refugee accommodation were seen as inadequate. After three working meetings, an article in the local press and consultation with the provider of the accommodation, the Refugee Councils managed to agree a joint cleaning plan. This involved intense conversations with the more than 90 inhabitants from six different language communities in a local refugee accommodation, resulting in a trial cleaning plan for a test phase of four weeks: The plan is that each Sunday two volunteers from different families will be cleaning the toilets and showers on two levels. If the plan does not work, a full meeting will be convened to appeal to all inhabitants to help out over the weekend. At the time of the publication of this blog, the delivery of the cleaning plan is still in the trial phase but it is already obvious that not everybody is contributing. Therefore, it is likely that a full meeting of all residents in the refugee accommodation will be called for to discuss how to make it work.

Next steps: Refugee Councils at Neighbourhood Level

So far, two Refugee Councils have been set up, one in the neighbourhood of Kreuzmatt and another one in the parish of Kork, which is a village in Kehl. It is planned to set up Refugee Councils in other neighbourhoods in Kehl as well. Furthermore, the local job centre and agency for foreigners of Kehl City Council and Kork Parish Council are planning an event with local business to join up job seekers and offers in the local labour market. Possibly, in the future, some refugees in Kehl may found a Council for Social Integration in order to enable participation by all people who have migrated to Kehl at some stage.

The authors:

Raya Gustafson is a Refugee and Social Integration Manager of Kehl City Council.

Nanine Delmas is the Head of Social Services of Kehl City Council.

Raya Gustafson
Nanine Delmas

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