Understanding Europe: Strengthening Young Refugee Men’s Integration in Germany

Social Science Works’ project works with men under 30, who arrived in Germany as refugees. In our workshops we provide three groups of ten refugees the opportunity to meet and discuss the cultural values ​​that are fundamental for a successful integration in Germany with a member of the SSW team. Each series of workshops is comprised of six meetings, each of which address different themes around liberal social values and are tailored to the needs of the group.

This project is coupled with a “buddy” program. The buddy program brings workshop participants together with a German or German-speaking man. The buddies are a few years older than the participants or else “father figures” between 40 and 60. The buddies are trained by Social Science Works to prepare for their role, and are supported by the team for the duration of the six month program. The buddies receive free and discounted entry to major cultural attractions. The buddies are no substitutes for social workers and do not interfere with their work. Instead they are to be role models, contacts and multipliers for the project. The buddies are there to introduce workshop participants to new areas of society, collect and exchange experiences and make significant contributions to participants’ integration. The buddy program also helps to recruit German men, who are less active volunteers than women (particularly in the case of refugee work) to civil society projects, and hence is a positive outcome for civil society as a whole too.

We build on the theories and research of pluralism and deliberation. We pursue a third way between cultural relativism and ethnocentrism. We believe that rational discussion of values​​, as well as plausible and reasonable justifications of values ​​and perspectives is both possible and necessary (see also our blog How to debate values in a diverse Europe). Additionally, we believe that values like freedom, autonomy and equality are universally recognized and acknowledged. It might be that these values in different contexts have different weights and are balanced with each other differently; the values, their clashes and the need to balance them in plausible ways are recognized universally. Related to this, democracy is also, or perhaps even above all, a learning process in which people establish their real preferences in an informed discussion with other citizens. And this is more than a utopian wish: also as a matter of fact, it is only through concrete and context-bound deliberations that people can determine their real preferences. Through open and respectful deliberation, we will not so much “explain” European and global values and perspectives but present them as a coherent, interconnected web of ideas. To do so, we make use of the extensive empirical research on deliberation.

In our workshops we discuss as equal citizens who are able to think together about the fundamental values ​​of our society. Refugees should not simply be taught or lectured the values and laws in Germany and other European countries. It is more respectful and at the same time much more meaningful to discuss und justify these values and laws intrinsically. We see our mission as complementary to the already existing integration-programs. As social and political scholars it is our strength, together with the seminar participants, to construct an argument for an equal, emancipated and free society. Only in this respectful way, one can expect that the newly arrived not only know the values and laws, but are also convinced of their meaning, and act accordingly.

As this project is a pilot, a thorough evaluation is an essential part of the project. From the evaluation, we will formulate best practices for projects looking to replicate the program. The goal is the generation of a much-needed model project which gives confidence to those working both in integration and deliberation. We aim to engage with all stakeholders to devise ways in which the project can be repeated nationwide.

More specific information about the content of the project (FAQ) can be found here.

A flyer in German, English and Arabic for younger refugees about the project can be found here.