• Germany's news in English
Rural Germany an 'integration laboratory' for refugees
Photo: DPA

Rural Germany an 'integration laboratory' for refugees

AFP · 25 Jan 2016, 08:36

Published: 25 Jan 2016 08:36 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"The rural regions are a laboratory of integration," said Karl-Friedrich Thoene from the infrastructure and agriculture ministry of the eastern state of Thuringia.

Unlike in densely populated big cities, "there can be no parallel societies in rural areas," he said. "The village community is the ideal chance for integration."

The lower cost of living, cheaper rents and tight-knit communities in the countryside are main "factors of success" for integrating the newcomers, said Gudrun Kirchhoff, an expert on refugee issues at the German Institute of Urban Affairs.

Social life in small communities is typically held together by clubs and associations in which most villagers take part, experts point out.

Germany has taken in more than 1.5 million asylum seekers since 2014, from war-torn Syria to Balkan countries. On arrival, they are allocated accommodation across the country, with cities, towns and villages all expected to take their share.

Dwindling rural populations

Wolfgang Borst, mayor of the Bavarian village of Hofheim, population 5,000, is among those who see the influx as an opportunity.

"We are very satisfied. We are gaining a lot more villagers," said Borst, who has long been concerned about Hofheim's dwindling population.

Of four young Syrians living in Hofheim who have just obtained refugee status, "one will leave, the other three will stay," he said.

Borst was speaking at the Grüne Woche (Green Week) agricultural fair in Berlin, which ran until January 24 and where the refugee issue was the subject of many round-table and panel discussions.

Some regard the mass arrivals as a huge challenge, but others see it as a chance.

And for the refugees themselves, frequently traumatized by the war and destruction they escaped, the peace and quiet of the open countryside can be a godsend.

Hofheim and six nearby communities have taken in a total of 224 migrants and housed them in 19 homes. Their joint "asylum support group" organizes German language courses, traffic safety classes and sporting activities.

That is not to say that life in remote and isolated communities is free of problems.

Dwellings are frequently far apart, public transport networks are threadbare and people often have to travel long distances to see a doctor or attend a language class.

There are also entrenched social structures, very clear ideas about societal norms and often a "latent racism" and distrust of outsiders, said Kirchhoff.

More prosaically, Internet connections are often slow and few supermarkets stock the staple foodstuffs that the refugees are used to.

Dismantling prejudice

Gransee, with a population of 4,000 and located 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Berlin, has opened up a home with space for 80 refugees.

"Initially, reactions were hostile," said Klaus Pölitz, co-founder of an initiative called 'Welcome to Gransee'.

"Our aim was to prepare for their arrival and dismantle prejudice."

Story continues below…

When the first Serb family arrived in 2014, he and the mayor used Google Translate software to write a short welcome speech, much to the newcomers' bemusement, Pölitz remembered with a chuckle.

While refugees are obliged to stay in their assigned accommodation during the asylum application process, they are free to move once they are given refugee status.

And many choose to move to the cities, where more of their compatriots live or the employment prospects are better.

Thoene argued that "we need incentives to persuade the migrants to stay" in rural areas.

Gerlinde Augustin, who heads the SDL institute for rural and land development in Augsburg, said care should be taken not to pit the interests of newcomers against those of native inhabitants.

A local family who has waited for months for a kindergarten place, for example, may have little understanding if refugees are awarded a place straight away, she said.

Timm Fuchs, of the German federation of towns and municipalities, argued that not every village should have to take in refugees, only those that are economically strong enough to cope.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

Obama to visit Berlin in last presidential trip to Germany
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel during a Berlin trip in 2013. Photo: DPA.

The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama will be paying one last unexpected visit to the German capital - his last before he leaves office.

Hostility towards minorities 'widespread in Bavaria'
A village in southern Bavaria. Photo: DPA.

Hate and hostility towards groups deemed to be different are not just sentiments felt by fringe extremists, a new report on Bavaria shows.

Hated RB Leipzig emerge as shock challengers to Bayern
RB Leipzig. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig's remarkable unbeaten start to the Bundesliga season has seen them suddenly emerge at the head of the pack chasing reigning champions and league leaders Bayern Munich.

Munich taxi driver in hospital after attack by British tourists
Photo: DPA

A taxi driver had to be hospitalized in Munich on Monday evening after three British tourists refused to pay their fare and then attacked him.

German police carry out nationwide anti-terror raids
Police outside a building in Jena during raids on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Police forces in five German states carried out raids on Tuesday morning with the aim of tackling the financing of terror groups, police in Thuringia have reported.

The Local List
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Photo: DPA

So you've mastered German, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

Iconic German church being eroded away by human urine
Ulm Minster towering over the rest Ulm surrounding the Danube. Photo: Pixabay

It will now cost you €100 to spend a penny. That’s if you get caught choosing to pee against the world-famous Ulm Minster.

German small arms ammo exports grow ten-fold
Photo: DPA

The government has come in for criticism after new figures revealed that Germany exported ten times the quantity of small arms ammunition in the first half of 2016 as in the same period last year.

14-year-old stabs 'creepy clown' in prank gone wrong
File photo: DPA.

A 16-year-old in Berlin decided he wanted to scare some friends, but his plot backfired in a violent way.

Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd