Immigrant Integration Prize to Solingen
A recent competition run by the Bertelsmann foundation and the German interior ministry invited more than one hundred communities to take part in a competition called "immigrant integration - strategies for local integration policies."
In the category of medium-sized towns, first prize went to North Rhine-Westphalia's Solingen, where young people in particular have been involved in a number of projects aimed at encouraging the integration of refugees and foreigners.
Overcoming the past
Solingen's fairly modest population of 163,000 people draws from 130 different countries, lending the city a colorful, melting pot feel which is not altogether characteristic of Germany. This image of cross cultural harmony can be attributed, at least in part, to the concerted efforts of the town authorities to consign its bad reputation to the annals of time.
Back in 1993, Solingen hit the headlines when right wing extremists set fire to the house of a Turkish family, claiming five lives. It was enough to spur the townspeople into action, and they quickly set up a number of projects designed at preventing the city from being forever dubbed a hub of xenophobic activity.
One particularly successful project is a soccer tournament called "Cup without Borders," which Julia Reithmeier of the youth city council, says is for kids who play football on the streets.
"Young people, and especially refugee children rarely get the opportunity to join a soccer club, which means they end up playing on the streets. We organised this tournament in order to give such teams the chance to get a taste of success," she said.
Solingen also has a very active youth city council, which is made up of German and foreign youths who are elected by school children from the town. They work closely with the official city council, offering opportunities for meeting new people and getting out of the rut of aimless hanging out.
The young council also masterminded a project for promoting tolerance and civil courage, and awards a "silver shoe" for people who stand up to racial hatred in public.
In the name of the project school children raised funds for social events in order to give refugee kids the chance to mingle with the more established inhabitants of Solingen, and additionally, to finance a homework program for those who are struggling at school.
Julia Reithmeier believes that such programs don't only benefit refugee children, but also those who are involved in their organisation. "Through this kind of work, they can learn to deal with problems, to address serious issues and develop a sense of responsibility."
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005