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What German volunteers helping refugees desperately need

Many people in Germany are volunteering to help refugees but they need more professional support, a new study by Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung has revealed.


“We’re certainly not seeing any drop in the commitment to help,” Bettina Windau, the director of Bertelsmann’s civil society program, told DW. “It’s considerable, and it’s very stable.”

She however pointed out that there was need for better coordination of the work of civilian volunteers with that of local authorities in order to effectively support refugees.

Ms Windau said volunteers often face questions that lie outside their areas of competence, particularly on administrative issues such as navigating asylum laws or filling out forms for people who have already been granted residency.

“That’s actually where the real work begins: applying for Hartz IV, perhaps filling out something to do with an apartment, and so on,” said a member of a refugee aid team in Flensburg, referring to Germany’s welfare program.

Ms Windau said aid workers are better organized than they were last summer. “Spontaneous commitment has evolved into structured procedures,” she said.

Several associations have been created to help volunteers become professionals. Preparatory courses for volunteers are also being conducted to enable them learn about potential intercultural misunderstandings and other aspects of aid work.

Volunteers now play a key role in facilitating integration of refugees. They often perform tasks that would normally be the responsibility of the state such as giving German courses, looking for apartments, translating forms and applications, and organizing football tournaments and holiday programs for children. For many refugees, volunteers are an important bridge to the authorities, DW reported.

The Bertelsmann study shows that volunteers have helped to spread a positive attitude toward refugees in their communities. It recommends that towns and municipalities should increase coordination units – and to publicly acknowledge the work of volunteers.

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