Reimagining Integration

Moneer Al-Shikh arrived as a refugee in Germany 2015 - today he is pioneering a new approach to integration.

von Mark Salenga, February 1, 2017

Originally published 14. September 2016

Moneer Al-Shikh​ left Syria and arrived in Germany in 2015. In Syria, he lost his job because he refused to join the military during the civil war, which caused him to flee from his country. Once in Germany, he was anxious to get active and flung himself into integration work, eventually founding "Neue Nachbarn Arnsberg", which he now runs full-time on a completely voluntary basis, together with other refugees. 

"Neue Nachbarn Arnsberg" is an innovative integration approach, because it has created something new in two ways:

  • a self-organization of refugees
  • new form of co-production between the municipality and refugees to co-develop innovative approaches for integration, participation and urban development.

What motivated you to start Neue Nachbarn Arnsberg?

When I got to Germany, I was put in a refugee camp with a lot of depressed people, who didn’t want to do anything. There were 20 people you didn’t know in one room and the political debates between the refugees caused a lot of problems.

Personally, I didn’t want to just sit around and so I started to help the people working in the camp. One time we started a friendship campaign and went to buy flowers that we distributed in the streets to our new neighbours. Activities like this really help because they break up otherwise dull daily routines.

After the attacks in Paris, people were furious and many blamed the Muslim community for what happened. I wanted to show the world that we are not the ones to blame and organized a demonstration. That’s how I got to know the mayor of Arnsberg. He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to help integrate refugees into the German society. He thus offered us an office in the Town Hall of Arnsberg, which is really amazing.

So we started with a group of Syrian refugees and organized several events where Germans could join and learn everything about us, our country and stories. After the first events, we realized the potential of the project and opened it up to other refugees, too. We also started different groups such as women groups and so on.

What are some examples of things you've accomplished?

As I said we opened different groups that work on different topics. For example, we’ve got people working as volunteer translators, which is really important for when refugees need to go to the Rathaus and so on and so forth. We also have a monthly event called Frauen Treffen Frauen, where German women come together with women from the camp to chat and get to know each other. Also to receive the "Ausgezeichneter Ort" award from "Deutschland - Land der Ideen" was rather exciting.

What was the first big project you have worked on since your start?

Germans love football, so we decided to get involved with local sports teams and started a football team for refugees. We play against other German teams.

What response have you noticed in the Arnsberg community?

It very much depends. Many people want to help and I do believe that some have changed their mind about refugees in a positive way. Unfortunately, there are always people who are not happy with our work and tell us to go back to our country. But the only reaction we have to that is just to keep on doing even more good.

What aspect of your work is most rewarding?

I guess one of the most beautiful things is to inspire other refugees and to motivate other communities to get involved. Of course it is wonderful to see how people help each other.

What is one thing you would like people to takeaway from this initiative?

To be open-minded and to help. Those are the two most important elements nowadays.

What's next? What does Neue Nachbarn Arnsberg have planned for the future? Any plans for expansion?

We are actually planning on expanding to other cities in NRW and encouraging them to join our cause.

What can people do to help?

Our main problems are with German communication, IT and finances. So we are really open to receive experience with those things. If you are willing to help us, please contact me!