‘It’s about offering people new prospects’

'A safe place for refugees'

An interview with Arno Tomowski, GIZ

Worldwide, there are around 65 million displaced persons and refugees – the highest number since the Second World War. Why are people leaving home?

They’re doing so because they see no prospects for themselves and especially for their children. Leaving home, with all the substantial risks that this entails, is an extremely difficult decision; that’s something we should never forget. There are many underlying causes: some people are affected by war and violence, and their human rights are abused. Others have no work, and food is scarce. Water crises are on the increase. Environmental conditions are worsening as well, partly as a consequence of climate change and the loss of natural resources. One of these factors on its own – except for armed conflict and widespread violence – does not usually cause people to flee. They do so, if there are no restrictions on their mobility, because they have no prospects and have given up hope that their situation will change for the better.

And what about the countries and regions that are hosting large numbers of refugees – what do they need?

Most of these countries face tremendous challenges even without the influx of refugees. Of the 60 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide, 38 million remain within their national borders, but often these home countries cannot provide adequate services for them.

The situation is especially difficult in South Sudan, where the civil war has displaced two million people within the country. So we are working on behalf of the BMZ to provide a million people with sanitation, clean water and seeds so that they can start to become self-sufficient again, not only today but perhaps in future as well. This benefits local communities and the internally displaced persons. We must be careful, however, not to worsen the situation by providing one-sided support. GIZ always tries to strengthen communities right from the start. We don’t just provide support for refugees and internally displaced persons; we also focus on the host communities. Yes, conflicts can arise, that’s quite normal, but it’s about managing them constructively.

Take Jordan for example: it already faces very severe water scarcity, and now it’s hosting a large number of refugees from Syria. On behalf of the BMZ, GIZ is training water management specialists from Jordan and Syria. Everyone benefits: the project helps to bridge the skills gap, water losses from leaky pipes are reduced, and people gain access to jobs and prospects for the future.

More and more people are arriving in Europe as well. Every day, we hear reports about the perils these refugees face on the journey and how the transit countries are struggling to cope – and this has been going on for months.

The BMZ is assisting communities in Serbia and Macedonia to address these challenges and also to create structures that offer more than just humanitarian aid. Emergency housing for refugees is being built and existing accommodation is being winter-proofed. GIZ has been commissioned to provide flexible mobile services at the border crossings in Serbia and Macedonia. These teams include nurses and legal advisors, who provide guidance and other services to around 200 people a day; this includes handing out rainproof clothing and hygiene packs.

What is being done to address these causes of migration?

A great deal is being done, but it’s still not enough. GIZ is actively engaged in this area on behalf of the German Government and is working to improve living conditions in the countries of origin. For example, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is assisting Ethiopia, Kenya, India and other countries to increase agricultural productivity and thus improve food security.

On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we have helped to improve flood protection in Viet Nam, benefiting 40,000 people. Salt-tolerant rice varieties have been introduced and the livelihoods of 8,500 poor households that depend on agriculture have been restored. All this helps people to remain in their homes. Employment and incomes are key factors in offering people prospects for the future in their own countries. This applies in Europe too. Many people from the Western Balkans lack income-generating opportunities, among other things, in their countries of origin. Therefore, GIZ is working on behalf of the BMZ to establish a dual system of vocational education in Serbia, for example. These are structural reforms aimed at improving the labour market situation for the long term. The first cohort of 380 students has now commenced its studies and it seems very likely that they will later find employment in Serbia. As I said, it is still not nearly enough, but it is a contribution that we can build on. Kosovo has a very large number of young people chasing a very small number of jobs, which means that they have little prospect of earning an adequate income.

So again on behalf of the BMZ, GIZ runs an information office in Pristina to help people identify opportunities in Kosovo as well as legal routes for migration to Germany. We work closely with the Ministry of Labour, have promoted small and medium enterprise in rural areas, and are improving the quality of training. The aim is to revitalise the economy and create jobs. If people see that the situation in their own country is changing for the better and offering prospects for the future, they are much less likely to leave.

This is just a small cross-section of the countless initiatives that are having an impact. But when it comes to tackling the causes of migration, let’s not delude ourselves: if there is open warfare or if corrupt and illegitimate governments are in power, our opportunities are very limited.

What do people living in refugee camps need?

Whether they live in a refugee camp or elsewhere, they have very practical needs: first and foremost, accommodation with an adequate infrastructure that provides them with clean water and basic services. Decent sanitation is a must, and this – like the accommodation itself – must be winter-proof. GIZ is making a contribution in this sector in Northern Iraq, Ukraine and Kenya, for example, on behalf of the BMZ. Another very important factor, in my view, is that people in and around the camps have genuine security. For example, we are working to ensure that streets and pathways are safe for women and there are secure spaces to which they can withdraw for privacy. Psychosocial support is also important, along with basic education programmes and vocational training; otherwise, children and young people will find it impossible to integrate into a well-governed society later on. Once peace is restored in Syria and Iraq, the refugees – but also the internally displaced people and others who are able to return home – will need support with integration, as well as opportunities to earn a living. We are working very closely with the UN system, international organisations and NGOs on all these issues.

If people see that the situation in their own country is changing for the better and offering prospects for the future, they are much less likely to leave.

Can refugees help to overcome the skills shortage in Germany?

Our cooperation with the City of Hamburg is producing evidence that this can work. Building on the existing ‘Make it in Hamburg!’ project, which is supported by the European Social Fund and helps to integrate skilled workers from other countries into the German labour market, we are now targeting refugees with good prospects of remaining in Germany. The first step is to identify which specific vocational qualifications a person has to offer. With ‘Make it in Hamburg!’, GIZ is part of a 20-person team from the Employment Agency, job centres and other organisations that provide support for refugees. It’s a good example of how long-term integration of refugees in Germany can only succeed if we all work together as a team. We have very little idea at present of the type of skills that refugees from the various countries of origin have to offer. And, it may sound trivial but it really is a major challenge: knowledge of the German language is a general prerequisite for integration, especially into the labour market. Apart from this initiative, there are various programmes which aim to recruit skilled workers, such as nurses to work in elderly care, from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Viet Nam. So yes, refugees can certainly make a contribution, but I think we will still need targeted programmes to recruit professionals with the right skills and experience.

Sandra Voglreiter conducted the interview.