Frankfurt, 20 Oct 2015
In Steinbach, a town of 10,000 people just outside of Frankfurt, live a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have arrived in Europe over the past year.
Germany continues to be the most popular destination for refugees from the Middle East and Africa with nearly a million asylum seekers registered in 2015 – more than four times the number that arrived in 2014.
More than 40 refugees call Steinbach home, the majority of whom are young single men. They were allocated to Steinbach by the German government upon arriving in the country, and have been welcomed warmly by the local community.
Christian Breitsprecher, who has worked at Macquarie since 2010 and lives in Steinbach, has led a local fundraising campaign to support refugees living in his home town.
As part of ‘Arbeitskreis Flüchtlinge’, a working group for refugees, Breitsprecher and other members of two local churches run ‘Cafe International’ which brings residents and refugees together on a monthly basis to provide emotional and practical support. The funds raised will be used in the Cafe International program.
“When you’re a refugee, things are always up in the air,” says Breitsprecher. “It takes a long time to get your refugee status sorted and during that time the government is focused on providing shelter first and foremost so not a lot of other services are accessible. We help provide the types of opportunities and practical items refugees vitally need and the money we’ve raised will go towards that.”
Herbert Lüdkte is the pastor of Breitsprecher’s church, Evangelische St Georgsgemeinde Steinbach. He established the current refugee working group two years ago as the number of refugees in Steinbach started to increase.
“We have young refugees in Steinbach who have had very bad experiences,” he said. “They may have witnessed their parents being killed or they may have been wounded or tortured themselves and need medical and psychological help to deal with that. They dream of being a cook, nurse, barber or driver. They dream of a better life.”
The recent funds raised can’t come soon enough for the Steinbach refugee working group. “The main challenge for us is to show the refugees that they are welcome,” Lüdkte says. “The next challenge is to teach them our language, organise jobs and provide apartments for them to live in. At the moment many refugees are accommodated in hotels, sports centres, empty shops and old factories or hospitals.
“We try to help them integrate into our community. We give them German lessons which is key to getting a job and earning money. We also help them navigate the government’s processes, provide funds for health treatment and psychological support. We organise flats, furniture, bikes and computers. We advocate for refugees and support them.”
The complexities, magnitude and challenges of the refugee influx across Europe and locally are top of mind for Breitsprecher: “Some of the refugees in our community arrived from Afghanistan and Eritrea over two years ago and they are still waiting to find out their fate. More recently Syrian refugees are making their way to Germany and the number of refugees in our community is expected to increase to 80 people by the end of the year and more than 200 next year. It’s not a static number but it is only increasing and we all have to work out how to deal with the refugee situation locally and nationally, which has so many moving parts.”
For now, Breitsprecher is concentrating on his local community: “I can’t solve the global refugee problem but I can make a difference in my own community and that’s where I am focusing my energies.”
As part of the fundraising campaign led by Breitsprecher in the Frankfurt office, more than €21,000 was raised including Macquarie Group Foundation matching.
Image caption: Steinbach residents and refugees meeting as part of ‘Cafe International’.