The whole refugee topic is as big in Berlin as it should be. Hundreds of new shelter-seeking refugees are arriving on a daily basis. Last week, many people have united to help during the heat-wave in front of the LaGeSo. It was relieving to know that one could take immediate action by driving up to Moabit to donate food, water and some hands-on help. It did not cost a lot of time, money or effort. And most importantly: politics and regulations were pushed to the side in order to simply process the human task of empathy. I know many people always want to help, but they think that they can’t – either because they’re inexperienced, or because they don’t have the time. Some just lack the passion and have their own problems. But it’s not that difficult, and it makes you feel good. No altruistic excuses necessary. Win-win.
0. THE BERLIN REFUGEE HELP STARTER PACK
Let’s do the tl;dr right at the front. Here’s the quick & dirty bullet list of things you can do even without reading on:
- Read this article to get an overview about Berlins current refugee situation.
- Look at the checklist of stuff that the Ohlauer Infopoint needs and drop your donations right at the door, or if you live closer to Moabit, look at the updated sheet of the LaGeSo.
- Give Something Back To Berlin has a listing that could fit your profile, and Vostel could also be interesting.
1. Help translate for refugees
If you speak German and pretty much any other language, you’re already golden. Specifically: if you speak the languages of the biggest groups of refugees. Syrian Arabic or High Arabic helps immensely, as well as probably all Roman languages. Imagine you have to do those tedious paperworks and bureaucracy stuff without knowing a word of German (and most of you know what that feels like already, but at least you had money, a home and friends). Even if you only speak English and Arabic it should be fine, so at least you can communicate between the refugees and the German helpers if they need anything.
You can either go to the Notunterkünfte and Erstunterkünfte, where the refugees are placed for the first time after arriving in Berlin, and simply offer your help there to anyone who needs it. It is a very informal procedure. AWO Asyl has a list of the housing centers, and ref-connect directly connects you to a refugee you can accompany on their official dates to the Behörden. If you don’t want to leave your house, look around the Berliner Facebook groups if you can offer your help. Refugees Welcome gives an overview. I have also met a few people on Free Your Stuff Berlin who needed quick and simple translations or phone calls. Moabit Hilft is also a great community.
2. Rent out your free room
I know: your apartment’s career is taking off on AirBnB. And it pays off. But if you have a free room (especially if you’re female: many young women and girls would be relieved not to share housing with strange males), consider letting someone stay in there for a few days. There is an official channel to do that on Flüchtlinge Willkommen, but that seems to take a lot of commitment (although you can use the site to simply connect to refugees, even if you don’t have a free room, so that’s great).
Instead, for a more informal way, roam around the aforementioned Facebook groups or post your room via your Social Media channels. There’s always someone who knows someone, and it’s usually a matter of days before the refugees get placed in proper housing. Again, get in touch with the leading organisations if you want to offer your free room for a couple of nights or longer.
3. Donate your old stuff effortlessly
You have something you don’t need anymore but is still too good to throw away? That’s great, just give it away – instead of simply throwing it out on the street. It could be clothes and shoes, bed clothes and mattresses, that old sleeping bag you never used again after you realized your fear of spiders was irrationally crazy, the microwave you wanted to toss away after you met your diet-conscious girlfriend, furniture, stationery and dictionaries, anything for kids and babies such as strollers, diapers and toys, but also that fancy looking Quran you scavenged at the flea market and even the football you never really took to the park.
You can also call or mail LaGeSo’s Karin Leiding –: 030/90229-1001 or email@example.com – and ask where you can bring your goods (though we can’t tell how busy she is these days). This is usually quick and effortless – just load up your car and get rid of your stuff. Be aware that even though last week we dropped everything at LaGeSo, you might want to consider the newly opened emergency housing estate in Karlshorst for a quick drop-off instead. If you are in Kreuzberg, you can also give up your stuff at the Ohlauer Info Point (remember the school that was occupied by refugees? They’re still using this school and they still need donations). There is an elaborate list of things that they need on the website and you can formlessly drop them at the security post on the front door (scroll down for English)!
Pro-Tip: you could also prepare little emergency packs and hand them out by yourself to those in need (people camping in front of the Lageso, but also at any other place). Those emergency packs could consist of hand-sanitizer, toothbrush & toothpaste, a banana, water, some nuts, wet wipes, and other small, useful things.
4. Teach German to Refugees
While translators are obviously always high in demand, teaching refugees some basic German also helps them in the long run. Once they leave the office, they have wait for their next appointment which might be next week or next month. Biding their time in the overcrowded shelters, they are often excluded from everyday city life because everything seems so alien to them. Speaking a little German not only helps them to get in touch, but also is a valuable skill for when they finally receive their residence permit, look for jobs, take part in society and try to start a new life. Many help organisations host German classes where everybody can teach with or without formal training – reach out to an organisation near you and start with your very own class soon.
Although this is not an immediate, quick-fix help, you should consider it if you’re a student with a bit of time on their hands or between jobs.
5. Share some carefree time with Refugees
Many refugees fled from war-ridden, politically or socially unstable countries and even though they escaped the constant threats they find it hard to take a step back from their haunting memories while they bide their time in the overcrowded shelters. The same organisations mentioned above take refugees to the football court, families and their kids to playgrounds, chat over a hot coffee or tea, host reading and painting sessions, concerts, Christmas, Ramadan and other festivities.
Definitely check out Give Something Back To Berlin. There are always listings on there regarding neighborhood-engagement, even beyond the subject of refugees. The website is tailored to English speakers, so even as an expat you can use this as a resource to help.
6. Show Refugees around Berlin
Refugees are not confined to their shelters. But they don’t stroll about and discover the city on sightseeing tours either. That’s where you can help: Just show them around. Show them their new Kiez, where they can do some inexpensive grocery shopping, find the next church/mosque/temple/religious community, a sports club (some of which accept refugees for a reduced or even no membership fee), park, bathing lake or the next community centre. Chances are, some countrymen have already established an infrastructure helping them to deal with the daily challenges only compatriot can understand (such as where to get the incredibly tasty berbere spice, a staple ingredient in Eritrean and Ethopian cuisine).
You’re going to ask yourself: how do I find a refugee to show around? Visit the emergency housings, or left-wing organisations who are in close touch with refugees. Even the Mahnwache at Oranienplatz may yield a nice conversation. In general: be interested in what’s going on around you, especially in Kreuzberg there are many obvious signs if you know what to look for (it took me some time, too, to get my vision focused on posters about refugees instead of parties).
7. Ask if immediate help is needed
This is just an example, but you can always either show up or just email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about any immediate things they need done that you could do. They will definitely send you all the infos and lists of possible activities you can engage in, especially regarding the emergency housing on Kruppstraße / Lehrter Str.
The most informal and immediate way is to go by Social Media and see how the initiatives are organizing. You can also directly apply online at the Berliner Stadtmission by filling out a profile with your preferences for work and time.
The LaGeSo situation is defused for now, but they do need help every other day and are still collecting donations regarding specific things. Check out their real-time updated status sheet to see what you can drop off in Moabit.
I am not a fan of slacktivism. The promise of making everything – especially one’s own conscience – right with one click is just too easily broken. That said, I do believe that after immediate activism comes necessarily the loudness of your political voice. Although it might seem sometimes that it has no real life value, it actually does. And it enables other, morepassionately engaged people to do their work on the base of donated money and a better political infrastructure.
You can partake in demonstrations virtually. You can sign petitions. You can donate money. You can even broaden your cultural horizon and go to exhibitions, parties, and gatherings all initiated by or for refugees, for example the We Will Rise exhibition. This is literally no effort at all.
9. Inform yourself and question everything
Please, for the love of God: please inform yourself about refugees, why migration exists, and what is happening in this city / country / continent before you mindlessly support or attack institutions and / or people.
Some of my educated friends have already made terrifying statements on Facebook and other Social Media regarding the subject, and it’s frightening – not because they’re obviously right-wing; I think, even as a left-wing supporter, yes, there are arguments AGAINST migration and we must take them into account while we’re restructuring this country to become more open and better for all of us. But: there’s a difference between arguments and just plain ignorant bullshit. Know your facts. Do your homework. Better yet, talk to your friends, talk to people who know something about the subject, and if you really want to help, research the facts so you can correct anybody who tries to fuck with reality. We don’t need the voice and opinions of the BILD-Zeitung in the minds of people who are otherwise clever and smart.
A very good resource that I found that will give you an overview of what is currently happening in Berlin with refugees in English: Refugees Welcome – Local Interventions for an EU Dilemma on Collidoscope Berlin. You will also find a very elaborate list on institutions and local initiatives that help refugees in Berlin. If you need an even broader overview, check this article on the BBC out.
10. Register at the database for volunteers
Even if you don’t know how you can help, if you have a tight time schedule or if you can’t travel far you can still make it count: The mayor’s office maintains a database for volunteers (German only, see Google translation) where you can put in your personal details along with some detailed information what you can and what you can’t imagine to do and they will approach you with some offers so you can see if it fits the bill. The upside: Even if they can’t find you a suitable volunteering programme, you might as well find something else to help other foreigners, the elderly, disabled people, kids etc.
Honorary mention: Consider employing a refugee
This is certainly something only few of you could even consider, since only the minority of you are employers and even less have jobs to offer. However, words go around, so we would like to mention Workeer.de, a website where employers can find skilled refugees. The job fair service is free of charges and aims to establish contact, get both sides together so they can gain some leverage to better overcome administrative barriers.