"Friendship Needs Time" – Results of a Workshop on Integrating Refugees


Initial results of the research project “Integration Processes of Refugees in North Rhine-Westphalian cities and municipalities” were presented during an expert workshop at RWTH Aachen at the end of June. Over 20 experts from Cologne and Heinsberg County discussed language, work, housing, and social networks. The three departments of geography in Bonn, Aachen, and Cologne have been working on the project for almost a year.


The central result of the first workshop reflects the relationship between the refugees and volunteers. Professor Claus-Christian Wiegandt from the Institute of Geography in Bonn determined that "it is difficult to establish true relationships with refugees and that equal cooperation and good language skills are deciding factors." Results showed that more intensive relationships need time.

Further results from interviews with experts and refugees and discussions among participants show that it is very difficult to find housing both in Cologne and the individual municipalities in Heinsberg County. Personal contacts help with being able to find housing. Learning German and integrating into the job market are long processes. Here it is necessary to better coordinate measures for job market integration with the needs of the refugees. This includes adapting to the times of childcare responsibilities and orienting measures towards the respective level of eduation. Individual experts also emphasized how different the types of communication and the provision of information are in other countries. Brochures as a source of information, thus pose a problem, as refugees often do not read them.

Scientists from the three universities in Aachen, Bonn, and Cologne investigated the possibilities and barriers of integration in Cologne and Heinsberg County within the framework of the research association on "Integrated City Development" situated within the Research Institute for Social Further Development, FGW, which is funded by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Research. Both the perspective of the refugees and the host society are taken into consideration. During the project interviews were conducted with refugees and central actors in the absorbing society. Student assistants with Arabic language skills were hired to assist with the research and discussions with the refugees.

Professor Carmella Pfaffenbach from RWTH in Aachen is very happy about the workshop results:"We are so impressed by the participants' involvement and hope that the upcoming workshops are just as successful at sharing experiences." According to Günther Weiss from the Institute of the Didactics of Geography in Cologne, the next workshop will take place in December with refugees, with whom interviews are currently being conducted.