The project that was described in this book was discontinued halfway through. The ways in which this happened are perhaps indicative of the struggles of Germany with migration and integration. It also tells something about how authorities in Germany in general and in Brandenburg in particular deal with criticism. Because this makes it difficult to solve problems, it makes sense to address the topic. A description of the termination of the project also offers what might be, for some, a surprising look behind the scenes of political decision making in a part of Europe that only acquired democratic structures in the 1990s and whose democratic culture has yet to develop.

In the general introduction, we already explained what phases this project would consist of. Previously, we had conducted this project on a smaller scale in the community of Rangsdorf. In the first phase, we collected quantitative data about the people living in the transitional refugee homes, surveyed a large number of stakeholders about their assessment of the situation and future prospects of these residents, and interviewed many refugees about their backgrounds, experiences, insights, problems, and ambitions. Based on this information, an initial analysis would be prepared and discussed with all stakeholders at a conference. Over a longer period of time, the various problem areas would then be worked on in separate working groups with the respective stakeholders. In Rangsdorf, these were: Housing, work, German language skills, education and vocational training, problems of women, children, and daycare centers, health and psychosocial problems, and counseling and orientation. The aim was to strengthen cooperation between institutions and organizations working in the field of integration and to improve the situation of refugees through better communication and coordination.

In two articles we reported in detail on the entire process in Rangsdorf: Kein Plan, keine Hoffnung, keine Zukunft. Sackgassen für Flüchtlinge auf dem Lande (No Plan, No Hope, No Future. Dead Ends for Refugees in the Countryside; Blokland & Neebe 2021) and Wege aus dem Vakuum. Zukunftswerkstatt zur Integration Geflüchteter im ländlichen Raum (Ways out of the Vacuum. Future Workshop on the Integration of Refugees in Rural Areas; Blokland & Neebe 2022). Both articles and the meetings at which they were discussed were commented on in detail by the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung, the biggest newspaper in Brandenburg (Böhlefeld 2021). This newspaper continued to report on our project afterwards (Neugebauer 2021). In the conviction that problems are only tackled when they are openly voiced, this reporting was also deliberately encouraged by the municipality of Rangsdorf.

On June 1, 2022, we presented our interim report at a conference in the district administration in Luckenwalde. Present were about 60 stakeholders from Teltow-Fläming as well as two high-ranking functionaries from the district administration sitting on a podium. The responsible politician, the County Commissioner, was not attending, nor was her deputy. The press was not invited. As the experiences, findings, and data presented in this book show, little good could be reported. Teltow-Fläming was no different from the municipality of Rangsdorf in this respect. Moreover, the district administration in particular was heavily criticized by numerous actors, first and foremost the managers of the refugee homes, but also by representatives of the municipalities and civil society organizations. It was accused of looking the other way, not taking problems seriously, showing indifference, actively suppressing criticism, playing people and organizations off against each other, being structurally understaffed and unreachable, and having too few competencies. Some participants also explicitly doubted that the district administration was really willing to improve the situation.

The official who had organized the meeting was satisfied with its course. Many people had shown interest and willingness to work together to solve problems, he said. The opportunity to communicate with each other, to work together, to express frustrations, and to name problems explicitly seen by many participants as an important first step towards improving the situation. The presence of an independent outsider, namely Social Science Works, also ensured to some extent that the problems were harder to ignore.

The press was not invited, but learned about the meeting and its proceedings through contacts with many of the actors present. The Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung reported on it relatively soberly.[1] The official directly responsible for the project was very pleased with this coverage.

An appointment was made with the latter official for an initial meeting with the relevant stakeholders. In order not to lose the momentum that had been created, the meeting was to take place just four weeks later. The topic was to be the mental health problems of the refugees. An appointment was also made with other officials of the district administration to prepare the content of this meeting.

Other topics that stakeholders wanted to discuss included: asylum law, labor law, system overload, bureaucracy, the tender system, accommodation and housing, German courses, Kindergarten and school, work and vocational training, social participation, staffing in refugee shelters and their well-being and functioning, and support for volunteers. Of course, as stated above, on the level of a district government one does not always have the opportunity to change, for example, asylum law, labor law, or the contracting system. Still, it makes sense to inform those who have more decision-making power about how laws, rules, and regulations actually work out in daily practice. Often, there is a lack of this awareness, which results in necessary changes not being made.

So much for the good news. But then things went quiet. First, the meeting to prepare for the next stakeholder conference was canceled without any reason given. Then the conference itself, scheduled for June 29, 2022, was canceled. Likewise, no substantive response to the interim report was given. Finally, on June 14, a reassessment of the collaboration was announced in writing, with reference to the above-mentioned publication in the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung. This rather benevolent publication was blamed on Social Science Works.

We responded to the announcement that the project would be reconsidered on June 20, 2022, pointing out, among other things, that we could not influence the reporting, that many stakeholders were in contact with the journalist in question, that he had published numerous critical articles on the topic of integration in Teltow-Fläming in the past, and that it is also the task of the press in an open pluralistic democracy to critically follow politics and administration. Instead of seeing the press as the enemy and excluding it, it would be more productive to cooperate with it. One makes oneself less vulnerable to suspicions of all kinds if one openly addresses possible problems and is also prepared to admit mistakes and shortcomings.

We received no response to our statement. As a result, it had become completely unclear whether and how the project would continue.

Some stakeholders turned to us and inquired when the next meeting would take place and asked to receive the interim report we had written. We referred the stakeholders to the district administration. And indeed, a month later, the administration sent our interim report to all meeting participants, having previously “edited” it. The report was cut in half. What remained was the quantitative, demographic data on the residents of the refugee homes. All of the experiences, observations, ideas, and criticisms of the stakeholders and refugees were removed from the report. Since the stakeholders had seen our PowerPoints at the conference on which the interim report was based, they could understand that criticism was not appreciated.

Criticism from refugees was also not welcomed. From February 2022, we had started to publish our interviews with refugees on our website. However, before this could happen, the district administration demanded to see these interviews. Several times, there were demands to remove passages. In some cases, even the publication of the entire interview was prohibited. The inadmissible statements included critical remarks about the structural condition of the refugee accommodations, about poor hygiene and the presence of cockroaches, lice and other vermin, about the privileged treatment of other refugee groups (e.g. people from Ukraine), about possible misconduct by social workers or officials (from the social welfare office, the job center, the immigration authorities), about drug use and moonlighting by residents.

Uncertainty about the project’s progress was obviously a problem for Social Science Works because we couldn’t schedule work. In addition, stakeholders kept coming forward wanting to know what was going to happen next. Time was also running out: the project had to be completed in fiscal year 2022. However, questions about how to proceed were not answered by the district administration. It was summer, they were away. So at the end of July 2022, we wrote to the person with ultimate political responsibility in Teltow-Fläming, the district commissioner, a member of Die Linke (The Left)[2]. She was told in detail about the history, the background, and the purpose of the project and asked to clarify the situation.

The district commissioner did not get in touch, but after a month her deputy invited us through her secretary for an interview. However, this interview could not take place until two months later, in mid-September 2022. Not much later, we were also invited for a meeting with two lower-level officials. This took place on August 22, 2022. We were told that the project as originally conceived had ended. There would be no more meetings with and between stakeholders from Teltow-Fläming. No working groups would be formed to discuss the various topics. There was no need for that. Instead, there would be better communication from the district administration to the lower bodies. Social Science Works was asked to continue interviews with refugees and to formulate policy recommendations. The latter included a proposal for an intake form that shelter managers could use when new residents arrived at the shelter.

In the subsequent conversation with the hierarchically second official of the district of Teltow-Fläming, it turned out that she had been informed that the termination of the project had been done in agreement with Social Science Works. We again explained the original plans and the ideas behind them. Instead of improved communication from the top down, we felt that Teltow-Fläming needed above all improved communication from the bottom up. The point was to take seriously and use the knowledge and insights of the people who deal with refugee integration on a daily basis. The culture of indifference that already out of self-protection had developed in the entire policy field needed to be broken through a constructive engagement with all those involved. In the process, the naming of problems and deficits had not to be suppressed, as this would undermine faith in one’s own work and in political leadership, and thus problem-solving.

The second official from Teltow-Fläming seemed convinced. It did indeed appear better to implement the original plan. To do so, however, the project had to be extended – we had now lost four months. To make this possible, we offered to shift a significant part of the available budget to 2023. This sounded good. However, the official would first have to discuss everything with the district commissioner and would then report back to us.

Time passed and no one got back to us. In two letters in October 2022, we reminded the official of the conversation and offered to continue the project at the same cost. We received no further responses. We did not claim a significant portion of the budget.

In the meantime, we continued to work on the final report. We provided that report, without this afterword, to the three highest responsible officials in mid-February 2023. A printed copy, we had already been told in September 2022, was not necessary. A digital version would do. [3]

We never heard about it again.



[1] Udo Böhlefeld. „Teltow-Fläming: Analysis of the situation of refugees shows deficits in homes. Understanding and improving the situation of refugees is the focus of a project in the district of Teltow-Fläming. An initial analysis of the current situation took place last week.“ Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung. June 4, 2022 (translation HTB).

[2] The party is the direct descendant of the Marxist–Leninist ruling party of the former East Germany, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.

[3] Subsequent attempts at obtaining financial support from various state and non-state institutions in Brandenburg for the publication of the book were also unsuccessful. The publication was therefore financed from our own resources.

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