Navigating the Path to Integration

14 July, 2019

Hannah Miller

Summer 2019 IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow Hannah Miller breaks down the challenges facing asylum seekers in Germany. Refugees, asylum seekers, and newcomers traverse arduous routes to make Germany their home. They work diligently to become fluent in German — a language known for its difficult grammar — because they intend to stay. Berlin is a magical city. The creative people, the variety of cultures culminating in diverse cuisine, the beautiful architecture, the vast green parks, and the plethora of museums all add to the city’s charm. While refugees are thankful to find safety in Berlin, many are overwhelmed with challenges upon their arrival. It is difficult for newcomers to adjust to Berlin, work through necessary bureaucratic channels, and cope with the trauma of leaving friends and family behind at home.

IsraAID Germany provides psychosocial support to refugees and migrants, giving them crucial assistance as they find their bearings. Individuals can build community and engage in leadership development programming at IsraAID community nights, held every Thursday. Many in attendance are also members of IsraAID Leadership Groups — closed group sessions where participants, known as “Navigators,” work with coaches to improve their confidence and leadership skills, so that they themselves can aid others. As an IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow, I’ve been able to attend the events on Thursdays and help with programming.

The Navigators and IsraAID staff were recently visited by a group of young professionals on an educational tour focusing on the Middle Eastern/European refugee crises. The day was packed with leadership programming and explanations of IsraAID’s programs. One Iraqi woman, well-known at Thursday community events for her cooking, gave a speech to the attendants. She shared about her transition with her children to Berlin, the difficulty of the asylum application process, and the defeat she felt when met by challenge after challenge. The brutal immigration process left this talented and confident woman unable to find joy or meaning in the activities she once loved. IsraAID’s programs, she said, had helped her feel like herself again. Now, supported by IsraAID, she has created her own programs to assist women in refugee shelters and bring food to the homeless.

After her powerful testimony, the Iraqi woman helped everyone make lavash bread sandwiches for distribution to the homeless. I was struck by the importance of IsraAID’s techniques. While empowering refugees can mean teaching them new skills, it is often as critical to reinforce their self-confidence and support them as they gain a vision for the future.

Later that same day, another Navigator — this time a man from Syria — led the group in a movement and body awareness activity. Everyone stood in a circle on a wooden platform overlooking a canal. At almost 100 degrees outside, the water was begging me to jump in — thankfully, a light breeze passed through and large trees provided some shade. After pairing up, we danced with our eyes closed, discerning the movements of our partners by the sound of the music and the touch of their hands. The program was beautiful. While everyone was hesitant to dance with a stranger, we grew more comfortable as the activity progressed. There was freedom in moving our bodies to the sound of the music and chirping birds, knowing that no one could see us because all eyes were closed.

Many are under the impression that donating clothing and food is the best way to help refugees and asylum seekers. However, when these basic needs have been met, the lives of these individuals do not magically attain equilibrium. It requires intensive psychosocial and mental health support, both through organized programs and simple community, to achieve a place of health and stability. Refugees and asylum seekers are incredibly resilient. It requires immense strength and determination to move to a new place — especially under adverse conditions. Understanding this is the key to providing support and meeting the refugees where they are.

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Navigating the Path to Integration