The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe has been a major issue in the media and society in recent times. If you live, study or work in Europe, it is likely that in one way or another, you will have met, read about or heard about refugees and the (often negatively perceived) impacts that they are having in your society. Many countries across Europe are worried about the number of refugees that have already entered or are trying to enter their territory, but Germany has largely adopted a welcoming approach. Over one million refugees, primarily from Syria have been accepted, by the country. While many may consider that noble – others will criticise the decision – a key issue to overcome is how best to successfully integrate these refugees into a new and often foreign environment.
Upon entering a new country – whether it is Germany or any other foreign country – refugees can be daunted by the differences to their home environment and often have little to no clue as to where they must begin, in order to start their new lives. Commenting on this Cornelia Roeper, the Founder of Wefugees, says that “refugees are an opportunity not a threat.”. Things perceived as simple by locals, such as obtaining a mobile phone sim card, opening a bank account or registering for a language course, can often be difficult for people newly arrived in a foreign society. Therefore, the need exists to make information easily available about the different possibilities that refugees are able to access. Enter Wefugees.
Wefugees, a Germany based online platform is one such initiative, that is striving to enable and support the rapid and successful integration of refugees into Germany society. Established in 2015, Wefugees, enables visitors of the platform to ask questions – both simple and complicated – related to settling into, and adapting, to a new life in Germany. On how she first identified the need for such a platform, and on why she then decided to establish it, Roeper says “there are a lot of information platforms for refugees on the internet. The problem is, they all treat the refugees as one big group. There is really no website that tries to answer their individual questions together with experts.” Visitors of the website, whether they are refugees or not can then answer the questions asked, thereby enabling refugees to better understand local processes and regulations and to more easily gain access to products and services that they require.
Although it is an online platform, Wefugees is keenly focused on promoting increased connectivity amongst people from different cultures, who speak different languages and who live in different communities and neighbourhoods. If refugees in Germany, and across all of Europe and the United Kingdom, are to thrive in their new environments, integration is critical. Roeper acknowledges this, and comments that “communication and interaction is key. It is the only way to reduce problems that may arise because of cultural differences.” Without it, tensions are likely to arise, and there will be the potential for racist or violent clashes. Misconceptions will also likely arise. Many of the recent refugees who have entered Germany are highly competent, educated and skilled. The challenge for them is often that they just do not how they can apply their expertise and skills in a new environment and what processes they must go through in order to get started. Compared to other online platforms like Facebook and Twitter Wefugees enables a conversation to take place, and not get lost in an avalanche of new posts or comments, and for the person asking the question to get direct answers, comments and referrals to people or organisations that might be of use to them.
With the rate of globalisation rapidly increasing, both across Europe and the rest of the world, the opportunity for peoples to move across national borders is likely to increase. Yet, the issue of refugees, and how best to deal with them remains, a hugely divided, controversial and topical issue. Different governments react differently to the acceptance and treatment of refugees, yet, what is evident is that the rate of refugees is not likely to decrease in the near future due to a variety of factors including armed conflicts and wars, climate change, economic opportunities and many other factors. Considering this global situation, what is evident, is that innovative initiatives and solutions will be required in order to deal with both the increased number of refugees and how best to integrate them into new communities and countries. Wefugees is one such example of an innovative initiative that has acknowledged that refugees will not simply disappear and that viable support needs to be provided to them. While acknowledging that there are many other initiatives, both in Germany and across Europe, designed and implemented in order to support the integration of refugees into new societies Roeper says that Wefugees is unique due to the fact that it is “building a whole catalogue of answered questions. Whenever someone wants to ask the same question, he/she gets promoted to the answer that already exists. Most of the time a good answer will help not just one but a huge number of refugees.”