Germany was unprepared for the large number of people who had fled here in 2015. Within a very short period of time, accommodations and supplies for hundreds of thousands of people had to be organized. The chaotic impressions shown in the news continue to echo even today: Overburdened case workers, people having to stand in line for hours on end and numerous old case files growing into toppling mountains. Meanwhile, two years later, the situation has mostly relaxed. For many refugees whose residence status has been decided on, something like everyday life has begun in Germany.
The Federal republic is a country that is founded on democratic principles and guarantees its citizens solid fundamental rights that are anchored in its Basic Law. So far, so good – but what this means for refugees in their daily life all too often remains unclear. There is a lack of practical experience with a functioning democratic system. Worldwide, many constitutions have democratic principles set down within, but in reality, these are often lived very differently.
Again and again, it becomes apparent that knowledge of how Germany is organized is missing. For instance, confusing and opaque responsibilities of federal, state and local authorities make it hard for refugees to understand the alleged advantages of a federal system. At the same time, they are confronted by German citizens' insistence that they have to accept the German Basic Law, in particular its fundamental rights like equality between women and men – or leave the country as soon as possible. How are refugees supposed to answer to these demands when the fundamentals of the Basic Law are not known?
In order to counteract this issue, a two-day workshop for refugees was held in September in Mainz. By invitation of the FES Office Mainz, 15 participants from Syria had the opportunity to study the German political system and understanding of democracy – in Arabic. They were guided by two experienced trainers who come from a migration background as well and are now involved in political education work: Dr. Chadi Bahouth und Ali Hotait.
By intensively engaging with this subject they contribute a valuable addition to the topics that are the content of regular integration classes. The highly interested participants got insights into the Basic Law, fundamental rights, electoral law and other political background information. They further received an Arabic-language copy of the Basic Law. In addition, they were able to practise dealing with problematic every-day-situations by engaging in role-play simulations with switched roles. Finally, two representatives from Rhineland-Palatinate politics, Miguel Vicente (State Representative for Migration and Integration) and Ziya Yüksel (Chair of the SPD State Working Group Migration and Diversity) made themselves available to answer concrete questions of the participants. Dr. Martin Gräfe, Head of the FES Office Mainz, emphasized the particular goal of the FES to foster political education through direct and immediate discussions. He remains convinced that small, intimate formats like this workshop create the ideal conditions for integration. Ultimately, however, it is up to the refugees themselves to implement the insights from the workshop in their own lives and to further spread them along.
Contact:Dimitri Gvenetadze, Regional Office Mainz
More information on the project: “Democratic Education in Arabic”.