How did this project come about and what was the original plan? For that we have to go back to 2020. In that year, we were invited by the municipality of Rangsdorf, in the so-called Speckgürtel (“Bacon Belt”) of Berlin, to conduct workshops for the refugees who were housed in this municipality. Since 2016, Social Science Works has conducted hundreds of such workshops with diverse groups of migrants and locals (Blokland 2018ab, 2019abcd). The topics of this particular workshop were determined in consultation with the two social workers working in Rangsdorf and ranged from democracy, gender equality, autonomy, and personal responsibility to the educational importance of playing with and by children. We started these workshops at the end of 2020 and came into contact with more and more stakeholders in this community as a result. These included, of course, the 150 refugee people living in the two container villages, but also social workers, responsible officials of the town, representatives of various NGOs working in the place, and citizens who volunteered to help integrate the newcomers. Among all these people, we could detect a certain desperation regarding the integration issue. We got the impression that integration had reached a dead end. The municipality had obtained a permit for the containers for five years, but at the end of those years the situation of the residents had hardly changed. Many refugees had no jobs, spoke hardly any German, and appeared lethargic and disoriented. There also seemed to be a lack of direction among the volunteers and the various civil society and government organizations. The initial euphoria and very great willingness to help were followed by disappointments, frustrations, and conflicts. Slowly, the realization had taken hold that the containers, which were obviously not intended as permanent housing, had become an integral part of life in the community.

Since the situation proved to be not very practicable – even implementing the workshops proved to be hardly feasible – Social Science Works suggested to the municipality to conduct a study on the background and living conditions of the refugees and their future prospects. The goal was to research and identify the problems and to develop solutions. The responsible official and the mayor accepted our proposal and actively supported the implementation of the study.

In January and February 2021, we interviewed approximately a dozen stakeholders from the areas of administration, welfare, and volunteerism, as well as a dozen refugees. Central questions were: How do the actors assess the current situation of refugees? What problems and perspectives do they perceive? What solutions do they see? How will the situation develop in the coming years if the policies remain unchanged?

In addition, we conducted a small quantitative study on the demographic background and the current situation of the residents of the two refugee centers. As in the majority of refugee centers in Germany, little to no data had been collected about the refugees in Rangsdorf until then. Thus, little was known about who was actually living in the container villages.

An unpleasant picture emerged. A total of 41 men, 29 women, and 41 children lived in the containers. Twenty-one of the seventy adults had a residence permit. All the others were waiting, sometimes for years, for a decision about their status, or were “tolerated”: they had not been granted asylum, were asked to leave the country, but were not forced to do so. Most of the people had been living in the shelters for more than three years. Very few residents spoke German reasonably well. Many were unemployed and had little chance in the labor market due to their low qualifications. Many children under the age of six were not attending daycare centers. This would put them at an enormous disadvantage as soon as they started school. The women and men living in the camp often appeared psychologically and socially overburdened. Many were traumatized. A culture of poverty seemed to have developed among many residents, characterized by lethargy and hopelessness. The people who had worked in Rangsdorf for several years, either full-time or on a voluntary basis, to integrate the refugees had made admirable efforts. However, many of them were now burned out and also speechless in the face of the directives of state refugee policy. They felt left alone by a policy that, like the media, had turned its gaze away and toward new issues.

The municipality then organized a meeting to which all stakeholders relevant to Rangsdorf were invited and at which the results of our study were discussed in detail. A meeting was also organized for the refugees, where the results were presented and debated in German, English, and French. The article No plan, no hope, no future. Dead Ends for Refugees in Rural Areas (Blokland & Neebe 2021) was published on the Social Science Works website, among others, and subsequently commented on in detail by the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung.[1]  This newspaper, the largest one in Brandenburg, continued to report on our project afterwards. [2] Based on the conviction that problems are only tackled when they are openly identified, this reporting was also deliberately promoted by the municipality of Rangsdorf.

After the meeting, where the results of our research were discussed, it was decided to organize a future conference for refugee integration.

We invited all stakeholders to participate in order to utilize all available knowledge, insights, and perspectives. Participants in the discussions included the involved refugee home managers, social workers, volunteers, political decision-makers from municipalities, district administration and Brandenburg, representatives of civil society organizations, the employment agency, the job center, immigration authorities, and representatives of the refugees. Building on the above analysis of the situation of refugees and refugee work, we identified problem areas that we further discussed and analyzed in a participatory process. This aided in identifying goals for action, as well as measures, responsibilities and desired cooperations. We dedicated the first workshop to the topic of integration in order to clarify which different ideas and expectations of integration the participants brought with them. In the following months, we discussed the action fields of German language skills, housing, education, children and school, women’s problems, the labor market, and counseling and orientation. The municipality always invited representatives of the press to these meetings, an invitation that was regularly accepted.

As we intended, the exchange fostered collaboration and coordination among stakeholders, which is crucial because the integration of refugees depends on the cooperation of a wide range of actors. Partly due to ambiguities in laws and regulations, this coordinated action seemed to be regularly lacking. The knowledge, skills, and resources needed to achieve common goals often already exist among stakeholders, but are underutilized or unutilized due to a lack of communication and cooperation. In addition, communication was strained by disagreements and animosities that had grown over time. We therefore tried above all to create a flexible framework in which the volunteers and members of the administration could exchange ideas, formulate common goals for the future and discuss options for action.

Many of the participants saw important progress in the course of the joint workshops, in the fact that those involved had begun to talk to each other (again or for the first time). Behind e-mail addresses and telephone numbers, faces became recognizable that could now be addressed directly to coordinate actions and solve problems. As shared values, goals and motives were identified, antagonisms and animosities could also be somewhat reduced. In addition, those involved were often previously unaware or insufficiently aware of each other’s responsibilities and opportunities for action. There were integration projects and instruments that consequently remained unused. New collaborations could be initiated by informing each other.[3]

The municipality also invited representatives of the Teltow-Fläming district administration to the meetings in Rangsdorf, the latter out of the realization that many local problems can only really be addressed in cooperation with other communities and with higher levels of administration. One or more representatives of this administration were enthusiastic about the project we had carried out in the municipality. In the fall of 2021, they asked Social Science Works to repeat the project throughout Teltow-Fläming. To this end, we wrote a project proposal that was accepted by the district administration at the end of 2021.

Teltow-Fläming is located in the German state of Brandenburg, bordering Berlin to the north and Saxony to the south, and consists of 16 municipalities, including Blankenfelde-Mahlow with almost 30.000 inhabitants, Ludwigsfelde (28.000), Luckenwalde (20.000), Jüterbog (12.000) and Rangsdorf (12.000). Most of the total population of about 173,000 live in the area surrounding Berlin, where the majority of economic activity also takes place, especially in logistics. Teltow-Fläming is considered one of the economically most successful districts in eastern Germany.

The refugees in Germany are distributed among the various states on the basis of tax revenues and population numbers. Brandenburg is thus assigned the care of about 3% of all the refugees (by comparison, Berlin takes care of 5% of the refugees, North Rhine-Westphalia of 21% and Bavaria of 16%) (BAMF 2023: 14). In the federal states, the refugees are then redistributed to the various districts. Brandenburg has 14 such districts or “Kreisen” and, in addition, four so-called “kreisfreie” towns (Cottbus, Frankfurt Oder, Potsdam and Brandenburg an der Havel).

The project in Teltow-Fläming would proceed as it was done in Rangsdorf. First, with the help of the responsible managers of the eleven refugee homes in this district, we would try to collect quantitative data on the residents of these homes. In addition, we would conduct interviews with the relevant stakeholders and ask them about their assessment of the situation. We would also conduct in-depth interviews with the residents of the shelters. Based on all this information, we would prepare an interim report and discuss it at a meeting to which all stakeholders would be invited. Then, in separate working groups, we would discuss the various topics – housing, employment, school, German language skills, kindergartens, health, orientation, bureaucracy – with the stakeholders relevant to these topics.

Structure of the book

In line with the objective outlined above, in the period from January to May 2022, we first collected quantitative data in refugee homes.[4] In Teltow-Fläming, a total of 1078 beds were available for refugees. Almost nowhere was there a systematic overview of the backgrounds of the residents. We had to compile the data on the basis of various existing, very limited files and the informal knowledge of one or more social workers. As a result, many questions could only partly be answered, or not at all. These included questions about occupational background, work experience, education, and language skills. The most important data are summarized in Part III.

Also, because we know or want to know so little about the people who live in the so-called “transitional homes” (Übergangsheime), we additionally collected qualitative data. We spoke at length with about 50 residents, sometimes for more than three hours. Many questions were asked: Why did people come, what was their life like before, what expectations do they have, what do they want to achieve in Germany, what experiences have they had so far, what problems do they face, what solutions do they see for them? In Part I, these interviews are collected in alphabetical order according to the country of origin of the interviewees. Also, out of respect , I chose to let the refugees speak first in this book. Too often we talk about them and not with them. As a result, a lot of knowledge and insight is lost.

To facilitate access to the interviews, we created a comprehensive index listing the most important themes. Besides, the interviews were analyzed in detail: What are the main themes, what are the similarities and differences. This analysis of the backgrounds, experiences, ideas, problems and hopes mentioned by the interviewees follows in Part II.

Next, we spoke at length with a variety of stakeholders relevant to Teltow-Fläming. These included refugee home managers, social workers, civil volunteers, municipal administrators, mayors, integration commissioners, representatives of the various civil and public organizations involved in integration work, the job center, and the social welfare office.[5] Central questions were: How do the actors assess the current situation and the prospects of refugees? What problems do they perceive? What solutions? How will the situation develop in the coming years if the policy framework remains unchanged? An impression of the leitmotifs of these interviews is presented in Part III.

Based on the information we collected, reflections and recommendations on the policies regarding migration and integration were formulated. These are included in Part IV.

Finally, the epilogue reports how the project evolved after Social Science Works provided an initial overview of the quantitative data and the experiences, impressions, and views of stakeholders and refugees at a conference in June 2022 at the county government.


[1] Udo Böhlefeld. Chancen, Dilemmas und Sackgassen. Sozialwissenschaftler aus Potsdam legen ernüchternde Analyse zur Situation Geflüchteter in Rangsdorf vor (Opportunities, dilemmas and dead ends. Social scientists from Potsdam present sobering analysis of the situation of refugees in Rangsdorf). Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung. 13. August 2021.

[2] Lisa Neugebauer. Rangsdorf sucht Antworten: Wie gelingt die Integration von Geflüchteten? (Rangsdorf searching for answers: how does integration succeed?) Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 Oktober 2021.

[3] We have reported extensively on these future conferences, including on our website in Ways out of the Vacuum. Future Workshop on the Integration of Refugees in Rural Areas (Wege aus dem Vakuum. Zukunftswerkstatt zur Integration Geflüchteter im ländlichen Raum; Blokland en Neebe 2022).

[4] The nine homes in question were in Rangsdorf (Seebadallee, 37 adults and 14 children), Luckenwalde (Anhaltstrasse, 89 adults and 26 children), Luckenwalde (Grabenstrasse, 44 adults and 14 children), Blankenfelde-Mahlow (129 adults and 72 children), Niedergörsdorf (24 adults and 10 children), Jüterbog (77 adults and 30 children), Ludwigsfelde (117 adults and 47 children), Am Mellensee (23 adults and 26 children) and Trebbin (15 adults and 13 children).

[5] These people included Nadine Patzer, Torsten Schulz, Daniel Küsters, Marcel Klömich, Karsten Stolze, Herr Voluntrova, Morten Baumgartner, Christopher Schewe, Annette Mahnke, Beatrice Wiedig, Marwa Farraj, Michael Krentz, Frau Rothe-Förster, Nadine Fischer, Sandra Jüngst, Uta Schwarze, Christiane Witt, Frau Stadelmeyer, Frau Röseler, Anke Habelmann, Barbara Radtke, Peter Baade, Doreen Boßdorf, Herr M. Schwuchow, Frau Wunder, Dirk Krause, Rainer Grunert, Herr Heine, Laura-Sophie Schaaf, Herr Hochbaum, Mechthild Falk, Wolfgang Bonneß, Frau Hildebrand, Monika Timpe-Held, Klaus Rocher, and Andreas Rau. We thank them all for their insights and wisdom.

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