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Ask Hans-Torsten: Helping out refugees

In February, Hans-Torsten Richter advised a woman who was looking to volunteer after the holidays. In light of the tragedies in the Mediterranean, this advice may apply to those who wish to do something to ease the hardship refugees face in Berlin.

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Über den Tellerrand Kochen

Dear Hans-Torsten,

I would love to get some information on how Berliners help asylum seekers. I was inspired by the newspaper stories about the many German families who offered to share their Christmas with refugees – but now that Christmas is over I’m looking for a regular, practical way to get involved and help out on a local level. How do I start?

– Helen

Dear Helen:

One of the easiest ways to contribute to the well-being of asylum seekers is through donations. There are refugee homes in many neighbourhoods in Berlin and while the state supplies residents with the basics required to live, many things are simply missing. The best way is to just drop by and ask the staff what is needed. Having asked around myself, it seems the most common needs right now are warm clothes and shoes (especially for children and babies), school supplies, toys and stuffed animals, towels, cutlery and kitchen supplies. If you’re not sure where to go, contact the city administration responsible for refugee welfare: email [email protected] or call 030 90229-1001.

Those who want to get more personally involved can help out at a refugee counselling centre. This involves helping them deal with paperwork, informing them of their rights and accompanying them at intimidating administrative appointments at the Ausländerbehörde, Sozialamt and perhaps embassies. Beware, this requires good German and at least some experience dealing with German bureaucracy. Email [email protected] for more info.

The non-profit KuB (Kontakt- und Beratungsstelle für Flüchtlinge und Migrant_innen e.V., www.kub-berlin.org) in Kreuzberg, which provides legal and psychological counselling and organises activities and language courses for refugees, also offers opportunities to volunteer. If you’re up on your German, decent at maths or grammar and have an hour and a half per week to spare, you could become a refugee kid’s Schülerpate (“school patron”, or tutor; more info at www.schuelerpaten-berlin.de). In case your German language skills leave much to be desired, expat volunteer network Give Something Back to Berlin is a good place to start. Recently, their website had various posts from groups looking for musicians to play in a refugee band in Wedding, a German-Arabic language tandem partner and volunteer German teachers.

Another option for the truly committed is offering a free room in your apartment to a refugee, now possible online via Flüchtlinge Willkommen (www.fluechtlinge-willkommen.de). The volunteer team helps match renters to potential refugee flatmates – and helps ensure that the rent gets paid, either through the refugee’s Wohngeld (housing benefit), if they’re eligible for it, or else through donations.

For those who simply don’t have the time to commit to helping out regularly, Über den Tellerand (ueberdentellerrand.org) – cooking courses taught by refugees – provides an easy way to come in contact and make a small difference.

To get a complete overview of what’s possible, visit the website of the Flüchtlingsrat (www.fluechtlingsrat-berlin.de/mitarbeit.php) where you’ll find the contact details of dozens of organisations and volunteer initiatives in virtually every neighbourhood of Berlin, with activities ranging from collecting donations to visiting refugee families who have been traumatised by war or violence in their home countries or even becoming the legal guardian of an orphaned refugee. There is no shortage of ways to help. In this age of PEGIDA and aggressive local protests against refugee hostels such as those in Hellersdorf, it’s more important than ever that Berliners show their support for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Originally published in issue #135, February 2015.