Friday, 20 May 2016

New Website Helps Germans and Migrants Meet, Talk About Life

During the height of the migrant crisis in Europe last fall, Lasse Landt came to a startling realization.

Thousands of migrants were pouring into Germany every day, but the 36-year-old startup consultant from Berlin hadn't met a single one of them.

 "It was all over the media, every day on the talk shows you had people talking about the refugee crisis. I had never seen a refugee," said Landt. "I just wanted to find out if it was real."

Together with Khaled Alaswad, a 25-year-old Syrian he met at a computer coding class for migrants in Berlin, Landt started a project to help refugees and locals meet up. Called Let's integrate! , it allows users to pick a time and location and set up a "date."

 Alaswad said his friendship with Landt has helped him land on his feet in Germany.

"If the refugees never talk face to face with a local person, they will never know anything about the culture here," he said. "There is just such a big difference between our culture and the German culture."

Germany registered around 1.1 million irregular migrants in 2015, most of them refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But with the closure of the Balkans migration route from Greece to Germany, the number of migrants coming in has dropped dramatically this year. So attention has now shifted to integrating the refugees, who will most likely spend several years, if not their whole lives, in Germany.

The authorities are focusing on having migrants learn the language and get jobs. The German government has promised to introduce subsidized workplaces earmarked for refugees.

Let's integrate! was launched May 1 and so far at least a dozen meetings have taken place. More Germans have signed up than migrants, so organizers are putting up posters in refugee homes to try to even out the numbers.

The service is free but only available in Berlin, though there are plans to expand it to other German cities soon, including those where migrants have received a less-than-enthusiastic reception. Fears about migrants have been stoked by far-right and nationalist groups, who have staged hundreds of rallies near refugee homes or planned shelters.


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