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Helmstedt – helping migrants and refugees feel at home

Juleum  (Copyright: Thomas Kempernolte)

People in Helmstedt are familiar with borders and how to overcome them: having welcomed its neighbours from former Eastern Germany, this previous border region now wants to extend that same openness to new immigrants as well. With this in mind, the region has brought together a whole array of practical assistance and guidance services, from the Refugees Guide and and first aid vocabulary to the Welcome App. Join us as we discovery what successful integration can look like in practice!

integration conference
The district’s second integration conference: the recommended actions that were developed are being prioritised in six working groups. (Photo: Landkreis Helmstedt)

Falling numbers of residents and growing numbers of refugees – people are aiming to make a virtue of necessity in the Helmstedt district. While the population figures in the region have fallen slowly but surely since reunification, the number of registered refugees is growing: over 500 people came to Helmstedt in search of a new life in 2016 alone. Of the approximately 91,500 inhabitants in the region, around five percent have a foreign passport and over 15 percent have a migrant background.

Turning a challenge into an opportunity

This is a great challenge for us and also a great opportunity,’ emphasises Hans Werner Schlichting, Erster Kreisrat (First District Councillor), who, among other activities, coordinates the integration opportunities in the region. ‘Opportunities that help people with a migrant background participate in society and, naturally, successful cooperation between all citizens, with and without a history of migration, are particularly important to us.’

In order to initiate and manage activities that promote integration, the region has established recommendations for action. Stakeholders from all areas of public life, from official and voluntary positions, have contributed to these recommendations in the form of ideas, projects and initiatives. Bringing the fields of activity defined in them to life is the daily work of Ilona Stolpmann and her colleague Angela Dynatowski, who are employees in the Office for Integration Opportunities, which the region set up in early 2016.

‘We coordinate and manage the integration work that is being done in the Helmstedt district,’ explains Stolpmann. Specifically, this means that both integration officers not only work with various multipliers in the region, such as the job centre, social welfare organisations and the region’s adult education centre, but also act as an interface within the region’s administration. ‘After all, integration primarily takes place on the ground – in the neighbourhood, in clubs, at work, and naturally in nurseries and schools. But we in district administration can also play an important role by being open and friendly.’

Language classes, education, work and business, intercultural openness and a welcoming culture, health and social issues, as well as recreation, sport and culture are the fields of action in which the Helmstedt region wants to get involved in order to achieve better integration. In terms of language classes, the primary aim is to make them more accessible, and for instance, offer courses with integrated childcare. Furthermore, there are plans to offer training and support for voluntary ‘private tutors’, who provide targeted support to individuals.

Helmstedt makes residents mobile

With so many services, it is easy to overlook the fact that, especially for asylum seekers, attempts to get involved in society may fail due to the simplest basic requirements, such as a lack of individual mobility. While it’s natural for most people to travel by bus, train or car, this can be a real hurdle to integration for asylum seekers. Due to the uncertainty of their residency status, they are not free to choose where they live, are often housed on the outskirts of towns, and have hardly any money for public transport. Helmstedt is set to offer reduced fares and cycling courses with the aim of changing all of this.

Language courses, football training or intercultural street festivals – in order to get involved, you have to know what’s on offer. Work is actively being done in Helmstedt here, too, and not only when it comes to leisure activities. How can I cope with the language? How do I open an account? How does the school system work for my child? The district’s website isn’t the only place to find a great deal of important information. Since 2017, Helmstedt has also welcomed refugees, migrants and other immigrants to the region with the Welcome-App.

 

The app, which can be downloaded for free via the usual stores, offers general information about Germany, its regions and its communities. It also provides details for important contact persons. A special feature is that anyone who wants to save information can do so very easily – by using the form at www.helmstedt.de/welcomeapp.

Interregional Welcome Center

Overall, there are great hopes that refugees, migrants, immigrants and foreign students can be successfully integrated into the job market as there is a shortage of hundreds of specialist workers in the Helmstedt district and the region as a whole. For this reason, the Fachkräftebündnis Südostniedersachsen (South-East Lower Saxony Skilled Workers’ Association) opened the Welcome Center in Braunschweig and Wolfsburg in order to promote a culture of welcome, bring together existing consultation services, increase the attractiveness of the area, and make arriving in the region easier for foreign skilled workers and their families.

The Helmstedt Integration Office serves as a close cooperation partner here as well, and supports, for instance, a joint project that aims to make it easier for younger refugees, migrants and immigrants in particular to gain an education that will offer them good prospects. In the Helmstedt region, it’s taken for granted that integration involves everyone. If the task is seen in this way, integration will be more successful.