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Stuttgart, Germany

Refugee Dialogues

Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart

December 21, 2017

Dialogues and friendship circles help the host community appreciate the 'human face' of refugees and their experiences, through their own stories

As the number of asylum seeking arrivals increased in Germany, so too did information guides, apps and integration projects aimed at helping refugees settle. However, until recently there was little opportunity for real dialogue with refugees about their expectations of life in Germany and the daily challenges they face.

The city of Stuttgart has a rich history of services to support the integration and inclusion of migrants. To welcome this newest cohort of arrivals and help the refugees settle, the city heeded the insight of German sociologist Heinz Bude: “To understand the social setting one needs to make people talk about their experiences.” So began the Stuttgart Refugee Dialogues.

According to Ayse Özbabacan, the idea of hosting an open dialogue platform was to “create spaces where people can come together, talk and get to know each other and learn about their respective life experiences – refugees, volunteers and especially inhabitants and neighbours of refugee homes.”

The Dialogues bring refugees together with Germans to talk about daily life expectations and the experience of integration. These conversations are an opportunity for refugees to reflect openly and honestly on their experiences with Germans who are genuinely interested and eager to help.

Stuttgart citizens have also founded neighbourhood-based friendship circles to support these new Stuttgarters in their neighborhood. Dialogues and friendship circles, help “the host community to better appreciate the ‘human face’ of refugees, through their own stories.” At the same time, it helps the refugees to better understand the culture of the host community.

“We are all Stuttgarters”

The Stuttgart Refugee Dialogues are primarily a way for different groups in the city to get together, talk and listen to each other, crossing cultural, national and social lines. They come together to build community through conversation and connection. Native Stuttgarters learn about their new neighbours and how to best welcome them. New Stuttgarters gain a better understanding of their new community and society. Everyone develops their intercultural and communication skills.

The Dialogues offer a natural and informal way for anyone in Stuttgart to be part of the refugee welcome, settlement and integration process. Dialogue volunteers are trained through the city’s Dept. of Integration Policy. Training includes background and orientation to the refugee experience of seeking asylum in Germany, as well as training about trauma and how to deal with mental health issues that might come up when working with refugees. This training enriches the knowledge of the volunteers, and also builds empathy for refugees in their neighbourhood.

Refugees gain first-hand information on living in Germany from Germans interested in their integration. For them, the Dialogues provide a bridge as they move from asylum seeking to integration, helping to ensure that they become independent, active participants in their new city, and make the community connections so essential for inclusion in Stuttgart. Formal services are important, but for a refugee to truly thrive, they must make the connections that will help them integrate socially.

Success

The Dialogues approach came easy to the city. In 2001 the Stuttgart Pact for Integration was created to lead efforts to promote the participation and integration of the city’s migrant population. The Stuttgart Way means that everyone who lives in the city can call Stuttgart home.

For Stuttgart’s leaders, helping new Stuttgarters feel welcome is not only about working for the common good. The talents and potential of their migrant population are crucial for the development of the community and local economy. Migrants are seen as assets, future citizens and partners who will actively shape the future of Stuttgart.

Successful integration of new Stuttgarters requires an entire community of formal and informal actors to welcome and integrate newcomers into public life and society. The Stuttgart Dialogues provide an example of the importance of building integration strength within a city, where everyone has a role to play.

Making it Work for You:

  • Migration and its diversity are part of building your city's (new) narrative. Providing a welcome starts with connecting newcomers to their neighbours and neighbourhoods.
  • Reflect on existing integration and diversity policy approaches and adapt to the current setting.
  • Capitalize on the competences, skills and talents of community members interested in integration, and being part of creating a welcoming city. Train them to be effective supports to refugees.
  • Promote empowerment of refugees and involve them as partners in their integration process.
  • A welcoming approach and culture is important, but it is equally important to build formal approaches and structures to embrace, welcome and integrate newcomers.



For this Good Idea contact:

Ayse Özbabacan, Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart Abteilung Integrationspolitik Referat Soziales und gesellschaftliche Integration
Eberhardstr. 61
70173 Stuttgart, Germany,
0711 216-80395
Ayse.Oezbabacan@stuttgart.de

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