Rüsselsheim, Germany

Older but not Overlooked

Stadtteilwerkstatt Dicker Busch

February 11, 2009

Creating programs for older migrants through community consultation.

Meelek dreams of returning to Turkey and speaks frequently of her former life there – the foods she ate, the easy socializing in her small town on the Black Sea coast and her extended family that all lived a short walk away. Meelek is in her late seventies and has lived away from Turkey for over 55 years. Financially struggling, it is highly unlikely that she’ll ever make the move back to Turkey that she speaks of so often.

Like many migrant workers of her generation, Meelek and her husband came to Germany in the late 1950’s as “guest workers” to help fill the labour shortages. Their plan was to work for a few years and then return. The German government also viewed the influx of new migrants as temporary and as a result, never created, encouraged or coordinated large scale efforts to help the migrant community settle, adapt and integrate into German society. Even after Meelek and her husband had three children enrolled in the local schools and were good German taxpayers, the expectation lingered that their stay was temporary. This belief was supported by German citizenship law that is largely based on parentage rather than birth or residence – making it difficult for migrant workers and their descendants to obtain citizenship.

Meelek’s experience is representative of a broader German story. Current estimates suggest that there are 700,000 migrants living in Germany who are 60 years or older. By 2010 this number is expected to reach 1.3 million and by 2020 to grow to over 2 million. This makes seniors with an immigrant background the fastest growing population in Germany.

Strong In Numbers – But Overlooked…

Despite their numbers, older migrants in Germany and other countries are too often overlooked by programs, organizations and governments. Neither public debate on immigrant integration nor existing services for workers address the needs of this aging population, focusing instead on young people with an immigrant background and on newcomers requiring language and professional orientation.

Statistically, older migrants experience higher rates of poverty, health problems and housing deficits than the German population at large. As a result, both programs and resources available for older migrants are limited and often fall short of migrant needs. Participation rates are also very low due to poor information, lack of awareness of government and government services and a legacy of mistrust. These challenges are compounded by older migrants who often report a lack of deep attachment to their German homes or community – despite the years spent there.

Stadtteilwerkstatt Dicker Busch has developed a strategy to help address the displacement issues of the ageing foreign born population by encouraging elderly migrants to become more active in their local communities and by also learning more about their needs in order to create programs that are more appealing and reflective of their circumstances.

Participant organizations offering recreational opportunities for this kind of involvement will receive assistance through the program. Activities will be held in schools or daycare centres, providing local places where elderly migrants have an opportunity to meet, share their stories and participate in a range of programs.

This well coordinated outreach activity is also an opportunity for Russelsheim institutions to make themselves more sensitive to intercultural matters in order to improve their ability to best reach elderly immigrant needs. The program includes a data collection and monitoring component to gather and analyze information that can be used to take a more strategic approach to community and social services planning – particularly around elderly migrants.

The program also represents an opportunity for elderly migrants to make their experience more accessible to the public. Modeled on a series produced by the “Forum for a Culturally Sensitive Alternlife”, a voluntary organization working in the field of elderly migration and labour, the “Older Migrants Living in the District” will provide the city of Russelheim with services for the elderly that address their needs and their preferences and a greater confidence about their place in the community.

It is the information gathering process that is one of the hallmarks of this programs success. Relationships with elderly migrants are built through personal contact, and by leveraging the trust of the mediators and institutions in their midst. Based on the relationships that have been built and the direct information that has been gathered the project is now in the midst of shaping the way ahead.

Next, elderly migrants are systematically consulted using qualitative interviews and informed of the existing offering regarding public assistance intended for the elderly in Russelsheim.

This process encourages elderly migrants to become active and assist in the implementation of these program offers. Collaborative efforts with Russelsheim institutions throughout the entire project will help ensure that information is effectively distributed and that intercultural sensitivity is supported.

The project has been fully developed and is scheduled to run from 2007 – 2010. To date, contacts with elderly migrants have been established and their needs fully evaluated. The interconnectedness of the stakeholders has been one of the early successes of the project – as actors, individuals and institutions that previously had little to no contact are working together towards to the implementation of these programs. Program implementation is expected to begin in 2010 and will be then be evaluated and adapted mid-year.

For a selection of library resources related to this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Hier geht es zur Fallstudie auf der Seite Demographie Konkret (Bertelsmann Stiftung): Rüsselsheim – Ältere Migranten im Stadtteilleben.

Making it Work for You:

  • Integration programs and practioners often overlook elderly newcomers and senior populations - a group that is often isolated or living in self contained communities. What programs or services does your organisation offer that could be adapted to increase the participation of the elderly immigrant?
  • Building a program model based on needs identified in consultation with the target audience increases its chances for success. When planning a campaign, a service or program, how and when will you consult your target group to identify the best strategies for meeting community needs?
  • How well do you know your local community? Does your organization or municipal authority collect and maintain statistical profiles of local community populations? Find out where this valuable information is located, and use it!