Program Land.Zuhause.Zukunft.

How municipalities can now help through their integration work

Municipalities in Germany are currently having to cope with the arrival of thousands of refugees from Ukraine. Since 2018, the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the University of Hildesheim have been supporting districts in the Land.Zuhause.Zukunft (LZZ) program to improve the integration and participation of new immigrants in rural areas. Here, representatives from these rural districts report on what they have learned from the program.

Mia Raben
Reuters, dpa, Getty Images
April 26, 2022

Creating exchange spaces – and adopting ideas from immigrants

Time and again, Yana Shykhyrina from the Office for Integration in Karlsruhe District Office has seen how and when integration actually takes place in everyday life: when the District Office books a room and makes it available for for new immigrants to talk to each other. Or when specialized agencies regularly and reliably invite new immigrants to really get to know them. Or when public agencies facilitate the work of migrant organizations with financial or material resources.

It is important to be really clear about the needs of the target group, group, Shykhyrina points out. "Imagine that volunteers invite people to a mountain hike for new immigrants, and no one comes," says Ingeborg Bias-Putzier, integration pilot in Weilheim-Schongau rural district. Naturally, this will disappoint the organizers. But perhaps it was just the date – or the fact that those invited did not know what was in store for them. "An integration concept must be filled with life in a cooperative way," says Ingeborg Bias-Putzier. "Including the ideas and needs of the new immigrants in the planning is very important for the success of a project."


Taking different regional structures into account

In Ludwigslust-Parchim County in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, approximately 212,000 people live in an area twice the size of Saarland. "There are big differences in our district when it comes to integration tasks," Heidrun Dräger from the Equality, Generations and Diversity department tells us. In the western part of the district, there are large employers such as Tchibo, Oetker and Edeka, that attract many immigrants from EU countries; in the central and eastern parts, in contrast, the refugees live in community accommodations.

That's why, as part of the LZZ program, the county has created five local administration, business and civil society networks that can respond to the different needs. "We reactivated these networks in spring 2022," says Dräger. "Our population's willingness to help is great." Currently, 1,300 of the 1,800 Ukrainian refugees are accommodated privately in the county.

Pupils from Ukraine in Germany

Understanding women as integration anchors

"If women and mothers feel comfortable, a lot is gained," says Ingeborg Bias-Putzier from Weilheim-Schongau rural district. She says it is important to approach them specifically to find out their concrete needs. "Many new immigrants want contact with German families, but don't know how to establish them," she explains.

Thanks to a digital tool that functions like a local social network, contacts can be successfully established in Weilheim-Schongau rural district and meeting spaces created. "A mother from Nigeria with two children, for example, writes that she'd like to go for a bike ride on Saturday, but doesn't know her way round very well. Who's up for it?" Bias-Putzier says. "Sometimes, several replies come in on the same day and the bike ride can take place."


Bringing migrant organizations on board

"Many new immigrants feel a strong inner drive to help other new immigrants integrate into German society," reports Yana Shykhyrina. This has a doubly positive effect: it makes arriving here easier, while others become active helpers themselves and often identify more strongly with the local community as a result.

"The voluntary, often highly professional commitment of migrants can be productively enhanced in partnerships with the rural districts and municipalities," Shykhyrina says. The importance of migrant organizations was also demonstrated in a scientific study conducted as part of LZZ. It is important to support migrant organizations in a variety of ways and, at the same time, guide them through Germany's administrative jungle. Shykhyrina sees the rural districts as lighthouses that that illuminate a safe course into the "harbor of society”.


Learning from other municipalities

One important finding from several LZZ counties is network, network, network – at all levels. "Meet, exchange ideas, talk to each other!" says Tamara Gericke from Uckermarck rural district, for example. "Form operational groups, for example between the youth welfare office, the job center, the social welfare office, and the immigration office."

Exchange is also important at a higher level, the experts from these rural districts emphasize, and highlight the network that is being created with the Land.Zuhause.Zukunft program. After all, there are many rural districts and communities in Germany where innovative integration work is taking place. "Integration happens in communities," says Heidrun Dräger from Ludwigslust-Parchim county. That's why municipalities also need to communicate with each other.

An employee at a Berlin hotel that has taken in refugees

Avoiding negative framing

The subject of immigration is often communicated in very negative language. There is talk of "refugee crises" and "uncontrolled immigration" – threatening words. Yet immigration is part of everyday life in Germany. You have to be aware of exactly what language you are using in this context, says Ingeborg Bias-Putzier from Weilheim-Schongau rural district. "That doesn't mean you should deny or keep quiet about the difficulties that migration also brings. But why is what's negative, the lack of success often mentioned first? The positive images and stories of successful integration need to be emphasized – and there are many more of them," says the integration pilot. The fact that integration is wanted must be heard, read and felt.

Read more

Land.Zuhause. Zukunft.

With the Land.Zuhause.Zukunft program, we are working with the University of Hildesheim to promote innovative approaches to the participation and integration of new immigrants in rural areas. Click here to go to the project page. 

The knowledge generated in the program has been made available to the public in a series of short expert reports. Here is the latest publication "Work is Not Everything. Shaping the Local Integration of EU Migrants in Diverse Ways."

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