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Interview 4: Deputy Mayor Andreas Ruhl, Dimitri Avramenko, Ulrike Just: Schwerin Government Service Providers

[Integration Specialist] Welcome to Germany. My English is pretty old. I have been with the city of Schwerin since 2008, and I work as an integration counselor. I'm now working in the area of integration for the past year, and the latest theme is the problems with refugees. But even before that there was migration into Schwerin.

[Deputy Mayor] This is____, he's a journalist from our local newspaper. I would like to mention some numbers. Schwerin has about 100,000 inhabitants, and we have approximately 7,600 foreigners in our town. In our federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, we are the town with the most refugees who came to our country since 2015. So, the fact is yesterday we had 2,800 refugees in our area, and in addition to that we do have one large refugee camp with about 600 refugees there. So, it's much more than 3000. This is a real big challenge for a mid- sized city like Schwerin. So, 90 percent of the refugees are unemployed and they're living on welfare. They are getting social welfare. We do have real problems to find places in kindergartens and programs in school for them and to offer the needed number of places there. We still have people moving and coming to Schwerin so the families can get together, so we easily could reach 3,500 or 4,000. And this is, for a city like Schwerin which is in the area of the former German Democratic Republic—who didn't have any experiences like this —a big, big challenge. It is quite different here from cities in the western part of Germany like Oberhausen, Dortmund, and other places that are used to migration since the sixties. So, this is quite different here in our area, so it is a very big challenge for the society. And of course, it is expensive, because much of the social welfare has to be carried by the town. We do have to carry three, four, five million which are not covered by federal programs or federal state programs. So, we have to pay for it on our own, and it's a challenge with our very tight budget.

         There is another problem. The refugees who came to us are living in flats. We didn't have to put them in empty supermarkets or gymnasiums or stuff like that, they have flats. And 40 percent of them are living in one certain quarter of the town so it's kind of ghetto building. So, this is a challenge. There is a statistic that shows Schwerin and Rostock, another town, are most like this—ghetto building. You see Schwerin is a very nice city, and it's attracting people, and we do have many, many flats for people. Seven percent of the flats in our town are empty so we could offer flats for the refugees, but most of the flats are in one certain part of the town.

         So, I believe there are two keys, really two keys. One is education, in the broadest sense, and the other is work. One challenge is to bring all these refugees into work and training. And it's not easy to bring them in because many of them have a very low level of education not comparable with other European standards. Maybe Frau could tell you something about that.

         Another problem is, a political problem. We do have, if you like, an anti-migration party which is the second strongest party in our federal state. It’s called Alternative For Germany (AFD), and this gets attention within the society. Dimitri could share about his work with all these different religions we have and the religious related societies—to get in touch with each other and to share. I'm quite sure that we are doing a very good job in this area. We are known for our good work, in the whole Republic, we are getting an award for how we work with the refugees. And there is a very strong volunteer area so the organizations working voluntarily. And those volunteers are being supportive and contributing a lot—doing things we couldn't do. We are the administration. The engagement of the volunteers had decreased.

         When many people coming to us are from Syria, maybe 70 or 80 percent, many of them came without any clothes—just sneakers and shorts, trousers and a plastic bag. Not all of them of course but many of them. They came with almost nothing. The volunteers were getting clothes and toys and food, and they tried to give them food they were used to. This was a very, very big help.

         But nowadays, the problems are changing. We have to work on education, training and work, and this is a task for the administration, not for volunteers. As a town, we would really like to do more, but we are missing the support from all federal states. We, as a city, have 200 million euros in debts. Now more refugees are coming so that's increasing our debt, and we are getting to our limit. We have to convince our federal government to support cities like Schwerin. I have a lot of contacts, very good contacts with my colleagues in other towns, and I have been at the Vatican where I gave a speech about integration.

         We discovered that many cities have almost the same problems; they are very similar. We really hope that the whole state and the federal state themselves could support us a little bit more. When I think that 1.5 to two million refugees came to us, which is an incredible high number, where at the same time many other European countries didn't take refugees at all. So, to be honest, I'm not a friend of Angela Merkel; but we could be very proud of what we did and how we did it. If integration will work, we will see that in 10, 15 or 20 years.

         First, we did the first things, the very essential needs, things that were very necessary; and now we are going to start to do the integration. Are we able to make the education effort? Are we able to work on training and bring the people into work. So, we will see if we are able to integrate all these people. This was just to open our discussion.

[Interviewer] So what I'm hearing right now, is that you're right out front with the new worldview.

[Deputy Mayor] Yes.

[Interviewer] How are we going to deal with that. We need training from people with different

degrees of training. How do you bring them together so that they can be together? And then you have the integration work. What type of ideas have you created? I'm really interested in hearing further from you two. What are some of the challenges, and what are some of the strengths you have? From our perspective, when I came this year and last year, and as I lived here, Germany is quite a role model for other countries—especially for our students. We also need ideas, but we don't have this type of problem. Excuse me?

[Deputy Mayor] What about the refugees, the migrants coming to the US—like to San Diego orother places.

[Interviewer] We need another interview for that one.

[Deputy Mayor] Oh, okay.

[Interviewer] It's not easy, many people are busy with this. There are fears, and the excitement and anxiety, and “What are we going do?” 

[Deputy Mayor] Yes.

[Interviewer] And I believe that the people have the heart for this. And what are we doing, what can we do? Otherwise it's overwhelming.

[Deputy Mayor] No, I believe this, I believe it.

[Education Specialist] The big change is the language. We have big challenges in kindergarten and school. The children have a legal right to be in kindergarten, and they are required to go to school. It's a big challenge. We have enough places for the kindergarteners, but we ask what can we do to find lighter weights for kindergarten classes. We are on a good way. We have a federal program from the federal state. Our children and parents are paying so they can, if they have questions, they can have answers about our health system and so on.

[Deputy Mayor)] Your social office and early childhood something.... So, we have a program of 

investments, it's about 80 million euros for schools—kindergarten and others. We put new schools on green meadows; we really built new Kindergartens. So, it was a program of an investment of 85 million euros. It's quite a lot of money for a city of our size, but the effect should be long term.

[Interviewer] There has been a lot of engagement to make those decisions.

[Deputy Mayor] Yes, indeed, for a period of 10 years we were closing stores, and closing youth meeting points, or youth clubs. So, this federal award we are getting is for the idea that the people don't need to come to us, but that we are going to the people. We call it mobile social work. We bought cars, like older vans, and put table football inside and billiard inside and other games to play. So, these vans are going to the places where the youth are. So, we are going to expand this program for women and girls. It's also a very big challenge because we have great difficulties getting in contact with the women because the men coming from Syria, and all these societies, don't want their women to appear in public. So, this is really a challenge We have to really find places, to find the points where the women are—like kindergartens or playgrounds. We are offering places that we call cafes, places where women could go to and to share their problems. And then we have this challenge about domestic violence. This is an increasing problem. Women are showing up as victims of domestic violence. So, we have to meet the women, we have to go to them to meet them where they are and to try to get them out—to pull them out of their isolation. This is something that we saw very, very early after the refugees were coming.

[Integration Specialist] I'd like to state in general that Germany has always had different experiences with migration, for example, the Second World War. There were guest workers here then. And earlier in our history, after the wall came down, we had people from Russia and the Eastern European countries coming here. They came from big cities — a number of different migrations.

[Deputy Mayor] From Russia and the Jewish.

[Integration Specialist] Oh and the Jewish population. In the last three years, however, the experience has gone beyond what we've known. For example, the experiences with the level of training, and academics, and skills has been a problem. There is lot of difference in the different regions. There were other situations and different societal splits that took place. But I believe what was already said, I can only say that Schwerin citizens and institutions have done a lot. For example, in 1996 I came from the Ukraine; and I received a lot of training, a lot of ongoing training and a lot of work related to certifications. I believe that the people who have come here feel like they have a home, that they can find work, and they can participate. And it was said that we have a lot of volunteer programs that help people to find connections with people who live here. And we try to provide contacts with different events. For example, there was a garden show in 2009; there was an 850-year celebration that we had here. There are a lot of different offerings here, so I believe that we are a place of diversity, a city of diversity, and we have the integration concept that we brought to life. Schwerin is widely known for the vision for those who have migrated here. It's spread around and volunteers for the past three years have been very active. Right now, there has been some decline in that because the true integration has to be taken structurally. But, in spite of that, we are on a good path. There are some stones on the road, but we can say that.

[Deputy Mayor] We do have areas of success. We have an inter-religion dialogue where the different communities of different beliefs—Jewish or Catholic or Protestant—meet. They meet and share, and this is the intergrationalist’s work. Another success is the concept of integration. As a town, we developed this concept. We included the most important things we found about integration; we also clarified the financial issues around it; and we documented our findings. Then, it was very important to bring these concepts to the public.

         Another success has been to reduce bureaucracy. When I have to ask something of someone, I always wonder if I need to ask permission of the office that is responsible for that office. You have to be able to limit the bureaucracy once in a while; and we also need to respect and address people’s legal rights. A further success is our cooperation between different departments—like the police department, the city administration, and our employment office. We meet once a week with department heads, and we discuss individual cases. For example: “Here is someone who causes problems, could we bring them somewhere else?” So, you know, if the decision makers are meeting—like the head of the police or the CEO of the unemployment office— you can make decisions on short notice. For example, “Who is going to solve this problem? You, you or me?” It’s very good to meet once a week and work with each other.

[Interviewer] As I listened, what I experience at the table is the willingness about what to do for the welfare of everybody. To develop a plan that can work with the knowledge that we will not understand or see the results for about 20 years maybe. But we have a plan. Let's move the bureaucracy a little bit to the side and let's do something. We have good people from different levels and from different perspectives—the police, the school. Let's work together and see how we can move forward together and the integration work, how do we do that? And underneath all is relationship.

[Deputy Mayor] Yes, yes, of course.

[Interviewer] That's what I'm hearing.

[Education Specialist] Integration is not only for the refugees. It's for everybody. Many things are good; but many cities have many problems. Because we have many free flats, these are suburbs that have hotspots in social aspects. These are processes that accelerate the problems. 

[Deputy Mayor] I was talking to Mr._____, the journalist, before that. The people who live here and who are needy and living on social welfare, we don't forget them; we must remember them. We should not put all our energy towards the refugees; we have to still keep an eye on the families who have been here for about 20 years and are living in poverty. It shouldn't be that the money we invest is only for one group and not for the other one. The next step should be that we don't differ between different groups. We just say "We care for those who need" without any difference—if they have migration background from the Ukraine or living here for about 20 years. So that we don't distinguish between any group; so that we have a program for all who need help. This is one of the biggest challenges.

[Interviewer] And if I can ask, it looks like this is the vision that every person has. If somebodyneeds something, we're there for you, to help. Doesn't matter with whom.

[Deputy Mayor] This is the vision.

[Interviewer] That's the vision.

[Education Specialist] This is not only to do programs for the children but also programs for the teachers, for example. About children poverty, about....

[Deputy Mayor] Multi language.

[Education Specialist] Multi language, about trauma and so on.

[Interviewer] You're courageous, thank you. Yes, the time has over, and thank you for taking your time. I'm very honored for that.

[Deputy Mayor] Whenever you have questions, give me a call.

[Interviewer] Absolutely. And here is a letter from our president of our college, for you. 

[Deputy Mayor] Oh, thank you very much. Should I open it immediately?

[Interviewer] You're welcome to open it.

[Deputy Mayor] Or I have to.

[Interviewer] We are touched and grateful to be here. And in case you come to Minnesota, we have a large lake.

[Deputy Mayor] Okay, yes.

[Interviewer] It's called Lake Superior, you're definitely invited.

[Deputy Mayor] Oh yes, thank you very much.

[Interviewer] We're not the Vatican, but we are Benedictine.

[Deputy Mayor] My regards, my regards. And really don't hesitate to call me. 

[Interviewer] Absolutely. I'm not shy.