Talking about the refugee issue has a political character, a very emotional nuance, and is, for many reasons, controversial. One has to take into consideration the historical moment, the political perspective and laws, as well as national and international agreements. And yes, geography, geopolitical delimitations play a relevant role.
In this article, I am going to talk primarily about my experience through civil organizations in Berlin that work to support people who for some circumstance had to ask for refuge, who has lived a migratory experience, as well as the role that non-profit organizations play in this very current social event.
Throughout history, we have dedicated ourselves to look for “the best” place to live, to develop, we went from being nomadic to sedentary, since our main motivation is to survive and that our descendants have the possibilities to continue living as the human species that we are.
From there we also recognize the migratory movements throughout history, the first groups that crossed the Bering Strait, from the arrival of the English to the African coasts, as well as the Spaniards making transatlantic voyages.
No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. – Warsan Shire –
As people belonging to a culture, we are accustomed to certain habits, and if for different reasons these habits cannot be satisfied, we start to move, create, or search in different places. If this is the case, we start negotiations and we move the goods that help us to satisfy or carry out this habit, our needs, we can remember the great trajectories of Marco Polo or Magellan himself.
It is possible that we move, we change our place of residence to continue with our development, with our way of life in a space that offers better life possibilities for us and for our loved ones as well.
Another aspect to highlight is the concept of nations and borders, we talk about private property and territories. Geographical demarcations are not static and have cost blood, conquests, and wars. Many times they are the result of some kind of ideology. In the end, human creation.
Refugees or Migrants
Let’s start with the definition of the terms: “Refugees are people fleeing armed conflict or persecution”, according to the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). The dictionary of the Royal Academy indicates that the verb Refugee means: “To welcome or shelter someone, serving as a refuge and asylum”.
On the other hand, there is a difference between being a migrant and being a refugee, “Migrants choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work or for education, family reunification, or other reasons.
Unlike refugees, who cannot safely return to their country, migrants continue to receive protection from their government.” On the website, we find that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created on December 14, 1950, at the end of World War II to help the millions of Europeans displaced by the conflict. 68 years later, the office continues its work to protect and assist refugees around the world.
Currently, we find on the official website of the German Migration and Refugees office figures that indicate that for the year 2016, 722,370 applications for asylum were registered, a figure that dropped considerably year by year, and for 2020, 12,212 applications were registered. The states receiving the most applications are North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously said in 2015 when referring to “the crisis” of refugees from Syria, Iran, or Afghanistan: “We will make it”. Opening the doors of the European Union and Germany, for those seeking asylum.
In Germany just over a third of the population spends their free time in some kind of volunteer activity or is associated with a non-profit organization. Whether in sports clubs, nursing homes, parks, or kindergartens, in this country it is said that social commitment not only makes sense but is also a lot of fun. Many young people today also get involved with a social cause through such programs and find it fulfilling to use their skills and talents, as well as their free time, to make a tangible difference in the lives of others and the environment.
There are non-profit organizations such as Go Volunteer in Berlin that promote projects throughout Germany, to describe it in a simple way: it is a volunteer agency that promotes social projects since they have a directory of organizations in Germany and provides a space for young people of different nationalities to perform their internships in an intercultural, jovial and very active environment.
They have a Machwerk coworking space located in the center of the German capital, where they host different associations and host their events and programs. Go Volunteer is also a bridge between volunteers and organizations, as well as an ally for companies looking to support projects with social sense. And I don’t have to overlook the campaigns they organize on topical issues.
I was a volunteer in 2019, in the Coaching area of the association, where I was able to give support and advice to refugees and migrants like me who wanted to practice their hobby, help in a social project, meet people or continue practicing a language, and first hand I can say, that projects like these provide the possibility to be, to participate in a small community and interact, they provide that support and accompaniment thanks to the variety of their programs. It is a platform. This experience was enriching not only because of the activities that are carried out but also because of the people with whom we interact on a daily basis.
On the GoVolunteer website, you can find the list of Associations, as well as their projects in which you can participate and it is precisely the platform to promote their programs such as:
#helfengeengegencorona: Where you can find first-hand information about the pandemic, the addresses of organizations working on this issue locally or worldwide, and possible calls to action (if required).
#engagiertenewcomer: A program that supports the poorly named integration process (for lack of a better term and using the concept that governments use), where migrants and refugees can participate in various activities promoted by civil organizations, practice a hobby and meet people.
#Hautfarben-Buntstifte: It is a set of materials containing workbooks and colored pencils. It promotes the diversity of nuances of those who live in Germany.
#GoNature: This is the campaign where they promote issues of nature care, they make content about the flora and fauna in Germany, as well as the current ecological programs in different regions and organizations.
#HiMate: It is the program where spaces for coexistence and fun are provided, where interaction is promoted through various activities and events; it promotes that people from different backgrounds and interests can coexist, meet and share their experiences.
Refugees didn’t just escape a place. They had to escape a thousand memories until they’d put enough time and distance between them and their misery to wake to a better day. – Nadia Hashimi –
As we can see these are thematic to current social problems in the same country of Germany and resonate in the world. Their programs are spread by their work of diffusion in social networks as well.
Now, it is not the only association that is dedicated to supporting the work of other associations, there is also Vostel and I want to promote the work of more traditional organizations to give them an adjective, who have years of tradition and are well known in the country, such as AWO and Internationaler Bund.
It is human
Seeking shelter is an activity that we have all done at some time, whether we have been sheltered by our mother or by an institution, “lending a hand” to anyone who needs it is a sign of humanity (at least one throughout our existence) either at an individual or institutional level. Not everyone can sing like Sting “I’m a legal alien …”.
Some of us get to be the vulnerable part of the game of borders, wars, and economic power, as well as injustice, violence, or simply the insecurity, the uncertainty of the times in a territory in conflict. It does not matter only our color, economic level, or idiosyncrasy. Hence, our survival instinct and desire to provide our loved ones, or ourselves, with the minimum necessary conditions of stability, security, and well-being, motivates us to move, move, cross the desert or get on a boat, go out to help, share our goods, donate them, or promote causes that we think have human sense.
Refugee policy in the European Union and in Germany, in particular, is highly criticized and flawed, it has led civil society to question the very values that have inspired it for years, such as tolerance and freedom.
I can also affirm that there are many success stories, support programs, and infrastructure, people committed to this cause who dedicate more than their free time to those who need a word of encouragement, and an attentive listening ear, a roof over their heads, a companion to interact with, someone to “lend a hand” in this fragile moment of their lives.
There are many ways to help and many spaces to which we can approach to offer our support. Are you up for it?