We continue our series of articles looking at how cities are responding to the current refugee crisis with Dresden, which has welcomed 5,500 asylum seekers so far this year.
A growing number of people from crisis areas are arriving in Germany, including in Saxony and the city of Dresden. This presents new challenges for local authorities across the country.
So far this year, 5,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Dresden. Like every other city in this position, Dresden must provide them with basic services and care on a daily basis.
Dresden’s motto is ‘Dresden acts’ (‘Dresden Handelt’). The city has brought together a number of different stakeholders with the IQ network Saxony (Integration through qualification) to support those that need help.
“Our goal is clear” says Dirk Hilbert, mayor of Dresden. “We want asylum seekers to be welcomed professionally and socially in Dresden. We want to start as early as possible to avoid that people get a feeling of being sidelined. There is another motto in Dresden: ‘activity beats passivity’. With a good structure, clear processes and a culture of doing things by ourselves and for ourselves, we will overcome the challenges caused by immigration, asylum and refugees.”
With the ‘My folder’ (Mein Ordner) project, an initial support structure set up by the city. Available online and through a dedicated app, it was set up in Dresden to provide comprehensive information for all residents and newcomers. In addition to thematic dossiers with useful contact addresses and checklists available in English and German, these folders can be used to store important documents and can be used as part of all counselling situations. Dresden believes that its experience with this could be the basis of a nationwide instrument to support the individual integration process. Some other German cities are expected to use it soon.
Another offer support measure is still in the planning phase: a joint competence centre, seen as an essential tool for integration in the city. All stakeholders working on access to the labour market are involved in this initiative, helping immigrants with advice, consulting expertise and assistance in a comprehensive manner.
Dirk Hilbert says: "Integration in the job market or in the education system is one of the most successful ways to integrate into our society. Unemployment, lack of training and no knowledge of the German language have the opposite effect."
Many local citizens have mobilised in support of asylum seekers and refugees. They have set up 22 civic and neighbourhood networks have been set up, supported by more than 80 initiatives. Dresden residents have been collecting clothes and toys and distribute. They provide a first introduction into the German language and organise joint football matches for newcomers and residents. They accompany migrants on visits to the doctor or the authorities, play with children, and cook together.
These and countless other examples show that the city is doing much more that what the news images of weekly demonstrations in Dresden might convey. According to a study published on 21 October by the Technical University of Dresden, it would be wrong to assume the majority of people in Dresden are opposed to the reception of refugees. In fact, more than half of respondents consider refugee reception not to be a threat to the local culture, and would have no problem having a refugee centre near their own home. About half the city’s population rejects the ideas put forward by anti-Islam group PEGIDA, while only 12% supports them. “The city population has positioned itself clearly against PEGIDA,” said a representative of the Technical University of Dresden.
The Bündnis for ein offenes Dresden (Union for an open Dresden) photo campaign, launched on 15 October to ironically mark the first anniversary of PEGIDA resulted in hundreds of residents posting picture of themselves with the hashtag #IchbinDresdnen (‘I am Dresden’) and simple slogans condemning intolerance and welcoming diversity. The mayor of Dresden was the first among them.
Nevertheless, fears remain about the refugee situation but these can be overcome. The city of Dresden regularly hosts public meetings to talk to residents and promote understanding and acceptance. In addition to the arrival of newcomers, Dresden has a growing population and benefits from migration within Germany. Contrary to the national demographic trend, the city is forecast to grow to 585,600 by 2030.
Mayor Dirk Hilbert concludes: “No matter what are the causes of immigration, Dresden accepts the challenge. At our University of Excellence, in our universities and our research institutions, employees from more than 50 different nationalities work together. Nearly 40,000 students come each year to Dresden and more than four million tourists and visitors come annually and leave with a positive impression of our city. We do everything to ensure that this remains the case.”
Folow the conversation on Twitter via #citieswelcomerefugees and for more information on Dresden, visit @buntesdresden and http://www.dresden-place-to-be.de/.