Diaspora and citizen engagement SHARE ‘look & learn’ knowledge exchange & visits

18 - 20 of September 2019 to North Rhine Westphalia


Engaging NGOs & local authorities through workshops & exchange visits

As a part of the SHARE Integration project, Migrafrica and ICMC Europe, in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Cologne, organised a Refugee Integration ‘Look & Learn’ Exchange Visit that took place between 18-20 of Sept 2019 in the region of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) in Germany. The visiting delegation consisted of civil society and local authority experts from Croatia, France, Portugal and Sweden.

The visit aimed at increasing the overall understanding of how refugee integration programmes are implemented in their different aspects, highlighting best practices at local level by relevant actors in Cologne and small municipalities in the region.

The “look and learn” event was organised with the following objectives:

  • To present the work of Diaspora organisations (Migrafrica and other partners) on the integration of refugees;
  • Present how ‘non-bureaucratic’ grant funding schemes can build capacity and support welcome activities of grass-roots volunteering initiatives in small local communities and parishes;
  • Showcase local reception and integration programmes on the ground, including for the new pilot private sponsorship programme “New start in a team” (German: Neustart im Team, NesT) and identify common reception and integration challenges with reference to specific refugee groups and local contexts;
  • To provide opportunities for networking and further collaboration between practitioners and city representatives from countries with differing levels of experience in receiving and integrating refugees.

18th September 2019 visit to Migrafrica, Cologne:

During the event the participants had a chance to visit Migrafrica VJAAD e.V. and learn from the good practices of the Diaspora organisation.

Migrafrica is a migrant-led organisation operating in Germany and EU supporting the integration and participation of migrants and refugees. The organisation is active in the labour market integration of refugees, self-employment and entrepreneurship, political participation of migrants as well as the inclusion of migrant women.

Migrafrica presented three example projects focusing on Migrant entrepreneurship, labor market integration of refugees and inclusion project for refugee women.

ACTnow! Is an entrepreneurship training project focused specifically on refugees and migrants. The project started in 2017 and is in its second phase. The project arose from the lack of shared- and co-working spaces for refugees and migrants in Cologne. The project provided such spaces and delivers trainings on a number of issues relevant for development of skills and competencies needed to start up own businesses. A challenged that is often faced by new entrepreneurs is to raise funds for their businesses from banks or government support agencies like the Job Center. The business trainers and consultants in the project mainly focus on listening to the needs of the participants in the project and together develop a pathway towards self-sufficiency. The training builds on the skills and competencies that the trainees brought with them and further broaden options by proposing also alternatives to newcomers’ initial plans.

Workkompass Plus: is a labor market integration project designed and implemented by Migrafrica. The project trains recently migrated refugees in short-term qualifications like Forklift driving, caregiving and logistics to facilitate their integration to the labor market. The project emerged based on the request of the refugees for more interventions that help access the German labour market. The project qualifies and supports 30 refugees a year. The support is based on non-directive counselling and refugees are empowered to find their own solutions to unemployment. The short-term trainings are needed since some of the participants to the project do not have any qualification certificates that would allow them to enter the German labour market. Beyond these objectives, the project teams is planning the opening of their own restaurant where refugees will get training on cooking and gastronomy service provision.

Inclusion Plus: This project focuses specifically on refugee women, especially mothers. By supporting and empowering the target group for more than a year through gender, intercultural and language-sensitive activities, so they can be able to participate in different areas of social life, to gain access to services and to interact with other women. The Inclusion + project aims to support, mentally stabilise and empower women through the provision of sustainable counselling and support, as well as to offerings measures that support them in their inclusion process. It also offers information seminars in the project in which women are informed on needs-based topics. Topics include educational perspectives, labor market integration, housing search, coping with (sexual) violence, child and women's rights, family education, childcare, recreational opportunities and health care.

On the second day, participants to the ‘Look and Learn’ exchange visited the integrative housing project Klarissenkloster in Cologne Kalk where they were received by the coordinators of the ‘Action New Neighbours’ initiative.

‘Action New Neighbours’ (ANN) is an initiative run by the Archdiocese of Cologne in collaboration with Caritas. It is based on core values of compassion, acceptance and a willingness to help refugees, and a belief that ‘contact and exchange mean that strangers become neighbours’. A central project fund offers small grants to ‘non-bureaucratic’ reception and welcome initiatives proposed by individual parishes, including for housing, language-learning and awareness-raising. Action New Neighbours aims to complement existing structures for refugee reception and integration by strengthening welcome and broadening the type and nature of available integration support, building the capacity and resourcing welcome activities of local parishes, and providing increased volunteering opportunities for local residents via their respective parishes.

Presentation of “Action Neue NachbarnIrene Porsch, Caritas Cologne

The initiative was created in November 2014. At the start it had 22.000 volunteers welcoming refugees in bigger and small communes around NRW. The focus back then was more on fostering welcoming culture. Now, as people have settled, ANN focuses more on integration. The campaign is financed by the fund that Archbishop Wolki made available in 2015 and that has been renewed annually since its establishment. Most of the funds went to strengthening refugee relief in parishes and providing support to parishes' volunteer work. Ongoing trainings were provided to volunteers and the fund facilitated networking between local actors. Apart from these, 1.800 language courses have been financed by the project. The church's language courses made it possible for newcomers to learn Germany who were not included in the regular language courses provided by the institutions. To date, the initiative has 12.000 active volunteers. 

New neighbours, even at work by Johanna Schneider, Caritas Cologne

As an example, Johanna Schneider from the Diocesan Caritas Association for the Archdiocese of Cologne presented the activities to integrate refugees into the labor market. In addition to the development of unemployment counselling centres and the establishment of additional training and employment positions in church institutions, the project "job mentorships" is particularly successful: More than 340 mentorships have already been set up for guidance in vocational orientation, and more are expected in the coming years. The project differentiates between mentorships and peer-to-peer support, whereas latter is referring to the matching of locals and newcomers based on common interests or characteristics such as academic background, age, gender or professional goals. Due to the intensive support refugees have received by their mentors and peers, newcomers received not only employment contracts, but could also grow their social networks.   

Restart in a Team" (NesT)

Klaus Hagedorn, Refugee Aid Coordinator at the Archdiocese of Cologne, presented the humanitarian admission programme "Restart in a Team" (NesT). In this pilot programme as agreed by the Federal Government, citizens and civil society organisations are called to form mentor groups of five to welcome a person/family of a total of 500 refugees, identified by UNHCR. Mentors will accompany and help the refugees in the integration process. In addition, mentors will provide suitable housing for the refugees for two years. Civil Society Contact Point (ZKS), brings together Caritas Germany, the Red Cross and Evangelical Church for Westphalia to support the mentoring groups.

Klaus Hagedorn highlighted the different types of social and counseling support the mentoring groups can receive through the Action New Neighbours Campaign in the Archdiocese of Cologne. He also reported on the creation of a special assistance fund for NesT, which can support sponsoring parishes raising funds for the rents of their refugee mentees, if needed. In the Archdiocese of Cologne, five mentor groups have been established so far.

"Bürgerpark" in Unkel:

In the afternoon of 20th September 2019, the delegations traveled to Unkel, Germany. Unkel is a small municipality of 5.000 inhabitants at the Rhine river. Participants were welcomed by the lead of the initiative “Seelsorgebereichs Unkel” Detlev Cosler. Together with the Mayor of Unkel, and dedicated citizens, the hosts reported on the Unkel’s great commitment to the civic community who welcomed and currently hosts 250 refugees which has been realized in close cooperation with the local housing association. As a result of this partnership, all refugees assigned to the municipality of Unkel could be accommodated in direct housing and numerous integration services could be offered through the very active volunteer network of local citizens. Recently, the project "Der Bürgerpark" (citizens park) of the Unkel citizens' initiative "Together for Diversity e.V." has received the German Integration Award of the Hertie Foundation. During a visit of the old outdoor swimming pool area, the initiators presented the idea and design of the future “Bürgerpark” a place for positive encounters.

On the last day, on the 20th of September 2019, the visit was concluded by a reflection session that took place in a small municipality town Linz am Rhine. The participants reflected on the projects that they visited and discusses the elements that they will take with them and apply in their local contexts.

Click here to listen to a radio interview (in German) about best practice exchange between local actors through the SHARE Network and the Look & Learn visit to North Rhine Westpahlia

- by the local radio station Dom Radio Cologne on 20/09/2019.


For more information on the visit, as well as the SHARE Network, please contact Marika Carlucci: