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Projects with refugees
The refugee crisis is one of the chief challenges of our times. The Goethe-Institut plays a part in the integration of refugees in Germany and, in cooperation with partners, has also been organizing various cultural and educational programmes in the regions of origin, for example in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and in a number of cities in Turkey, since 2013. The different projects are presented in reports and interviews here.

Annual Report 2015/2016: Focus on Refugees



Today, the Goethe-Institut’s new Annual Report is being released – its focus is on the subject of refugees. In the picture: A concert at a refugee camp in Istanbul 2015 | Credit: Enis Yücel

Migration and the plight of refugees are focal topics of the Goethe-Institut. Nothing dominated the last year like the global refugee situation. For this reason, the latest Annual Report being released today focuses on it. For World Refugee Day, this article provides insights into the Goethe-Institut’s commitment to refugees – both in Germany and in their regions of origin.

The global refugee situation changed the political landscape in Germany and Europe. It revealed willingness to help and acceptance on a scale that no one would have anticipated. It also produced fears and concerns among many people that the challenges involved could overwhelm our country.

The tasks ahead are worth every effort. The Goethe-Institut with its 159 locations worldwide, twelve of them in Germany, can make an important contribution to coping with the refugee situation. This applies both to the integration of refugees into German society and to cultural initiatives in the original areas of conflict. For instance, the Goethe-Institut is active with educational and support programmes for children and young people in refugee camps near the Syrian border in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Along with many other partners, it wants to help prevent a lost generation growing up here.

Bratislava – Exhibition “Fear of the Unknown” | Photo: Zuzana Štibranyiova

The Goethe-Institut, like few other institutions, has experience in reckoning with many variables. Numerous Goethe-Instituts operate in countries with difficult conditions – from restrictions of the press and freedom of speech, to climate and environmental issues, to violent conflicts. At the same time, our host countries are closely watching Germany’s actions in the current refugee situation, its willingness to critically discuss its policies and how it deals with the controversies in its own country.

Strengthening civil society structures in our host countries is a major concern that can only succeed if we ourselves act credibly and cooperatively, and are willing to learn. In this way, in many crisis-ridden regions the Goethe-Institut has become intermediary, partner, point of contact and organizer all in one. Drawing on its decades of international experience it is capable of intervening in the current refugee situation, making a specific contribution as a constructive player.

Language is the key to social participation

Refugees need language skills to get their bearings in Germany. Language is the key to social participation. Many voluntary helpers have offered to help teach refugees basic German skills. It’s easier said than done. Therefore, the Goethe-Institut with its long experience in the field of German as a foreign language has begun offering courses where volunteer helpers can learn how they can support refugees and help them learn German. We also provided them with an informative online series that introduces them to the foundations of language work and answers frequently asked questions about teaching the language to refugees.

Germany – Excursion to the Bundestag during a German course for asylum seekers | Photo: Anne Schönharting / Agentur Ostkreuz

For refugees, mobile phones are not only a lifeline to their homelands. Together with the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees, the Federal Labour Office and Bavarian Radio, the Goethe-Institut developed a smartphone app called “Ankommen” (Arrival). With its help, new arrivals to Germany are given the skills to communicate and, for example, to better cope with traffic, doctor visits and in dealings with authorities. It has been downloaded more than 135,000 times and the language programme in the app created by the Goethe-Institut was commended by Stiftung Warentest.

Germany with subtitles

In refugee shelters, the Goethe-Institut offers German classes for children and young people to bridge their waiting time until they are accepted into regular schools and welcome classes. They are also taught about peculiarities of their new environment, which are not easy to understand without translation. Exactly this – Germany with subtitles – is what the project Cinemanya offers: a suitcase of German films with Arabic subtitles to help children and young people in the refugee shelters and cultural centres understand local customs, lifestyles and values. Both programmes were generously funded by the Japan Art Association.

Integration policies also include projects like “Muslim communities as local stakeholders” or “Intercultural training for Imams” – initiatives that intensify political, regional and further social training in the Muslim communities. Funding is still pending, but a programme is urgently needed that will help highly qualified refugees learn German faster to facilitate their entry into the labour market.

Using cultural work to deal with traumatic experiences

All of these projects help to give the refugees perspectives for life in Germany; not to isolate themselves, but to build relationships with their new environment. However, the Goethe-Institut does more. It also contributes, under difficult circumstances, to generating new perspectives abroad.

The Goethe-Institut is active in various ways in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Greece and Slovakia, among other countries. Circus training is achieving remarkable successes in the Turkish Mardin camp near the Syrian border to help traumatised children and young people detach and to gain new courage. Many artists groups, including a Bavarian group of stilt walkers, are giving young people something new to think about and positive experiences in dialogue with foreign cultures. After all the humiliations they have experienced, it must be an amazing feeling to walk about five feet taller than other people.


Beirut – Cultural Production Fund | Photo: Simone Perolari

With scholarships of the Cultural Production Fund, the Goethe-Institut is enabling Syrian artists who have found refuge in surrounding countries to continue their work and to network them with the German arts scene.

On the initiative of the Goethe-Institut, German and Lebanese teachers are visiting one another to share their experiences with the integration of refugee children, a photography exhibition in Athens is documenting refugee routes and an event series in Bratislava is stimulating analysis of the problems of European refugee policies.

All of these may look like tiny drops in a very large bucket. But the world changes in direct encounters among people. The Goethe-Institut teaches and learns. Taken together, all of its projects connect people all over the world. It has wide experience of how encounters between different cultures can be made more fruitful, peaceful and profitable. Even in extreme situations. Even when fleeing from home.

For the Goethe-Institut Athens, since 2015, the photojournalist Nikos Pilos has been photographing refugees on their trek – on the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos, in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border and on the Balkan route. Here he comments on his pictures.

    On the run: A debate between Aman Sethi and Georg Diez


    What are the problems and consequences for Central European nations in the face of the influx of humanity? How wide ranging is the migration? For how long and for whom should the European nations open their borders? Indian journalist Aman Sethi and German journalist Georg Diez will attempt to answer some of the questions by way of a regular exchange on the Goethe-Institut India's website.

    Learning app “City of Words” in Arabic


    Play “City of Words” in Arabic! Starting today, the learning app is available for download from the app store in the Arabic language. It will help you deal especially with everyday situations in German.