Get to know… Ayse Özbabacan, from the City of Stuttgart

Ayse Özbabacan is a Deputy Director at the Department for Integration Policy of the City of Stuttgart, where she is responsible for the implementation of the integration policy concept the “Stuttgart Pact for Integration” with the focus on intercultural opening of the city administration, diversity policy/staff policy, refugee integration and empowerment and the development of social cohesion campaigns. Within the FIER project, the City of Stuttgart has had two main roles: gaining experience from other cities in promoting a fast-track integration into the labour market and developing a concept of their own for the integration of third-country nationals.

Why FIER and why Stuttgart?

Stuttgart has a long tradition in integrating refugees based on the Stuttgart Model of Refugee Integration (Der Stuttgarter Weg). In the 1990s, the city received more than 10,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia. And, since 2015, Stuttgart has received about 10,000 refugees more. The reception and accommodation of refugees is seen as a humanitarian task and a responsibility.

Der Stuttgarter Weg of refugee integration is characterized by diverse and combined measures to accelerate the integration and empowerment of refugees and prevent social exclusion. We cover the whole range of integration: language acquisition, education and access to local services, such as health, cultural activities, sport, etc. However, we needed a deeper insight into fast-track methods, and we have learnt about them from other cities and regions within FIER.

In Germany, there are many regulations that prevent refugees from accessing the labour market in a fast way. First of all, great importance is given to language proficiency, since at least a B1 level (CEFR) is needed, even if a C1 level is the best option. However, German is a difficult language, and it takes time to have a good command of it, one to two or three years which is too long even for new arrivals themselves, since they are looking for a quick access to a job rather than attending language courses.

Certificates are a very important aspect also in relation to the German working culture, and in most cases, it is hard for newcomers to provide academic degrees. Many have acquired them in their home countries but do not have them anymore due to war, among other causes directly related to the flight from their home. However, a key challenge remains to help those without a degree or even without a chance in their origin countries to follow any kind of training, even within the industry. The FIER training concept allows therefore a validation of workers’ skills and facilitates the acquisition of German as a work language.

All in all, FIER was very good chance for us to learn from other partners and develop our own concept.

What keyword are you taking home from these two years?

“Empowerment.” We combined language acquisition and training as one measure and found great people in the hospitality sector with an open approach who were willing to welcome newcomers, especially young people, to work with them and empower them. This “empowerment” part was key for the fast-track integration. Not only does this approach help refugees take part in projects but also gives them the power to act.

Adnan Abdul Ghani and Bilal Almobarak from Support Group Network (FIER associate partner in Sweden) were a big inspiration for us. We have learnt a lot from them and the work they do in Gothenburg. In fact, we took their idea to Stuttgart Municipality, and Support Group Network was founded in the city. This is one of the main successes of the project: an example of the added value that FIER provided. Adnan and his team visited Stuttgart, and with the support of the mayor, an empowerment project was launched.

In 2018, a budget line of 300,000 euros for two years was approved to support empowerment projects designed by refugees for refugees and the society. Different organisations have engaged with this initiative, with a direct involvement of refugees or directly working with them. Indeed, refugees arrive with a lot of ideas, and, with this money, we support them in developing their own concept of integration measures. Language provision, children education, cultural projects (theatre, cinema), peer counselling, legal questions, administrative issues… The range of topics is very wide, and they cover the whole spectrum of integration measures. Also, we count on the help of many volunteers who provide different activities.

Up to now, we have supported more than 60 projects in 1,5 years. We held a first dissemination workshop in April 2018, and we started with the projects a month after. This allowed us to gain a lot of partners, who were also inspired by the empowerment idea, and refugees who started by themselves their own projects in the neighbourhoods where they lived. Furthermore, as bureaucracy can be a barrier sometimes, we reached out not only to refugees, but also civil society organisations and municipal offices, who supported the projects in this sense.

How did cooperation at regional level work within FIER and the empowerment initiatives?

Thankfully, we already counted on existing networks that allowed us to reach a big number of organisations, but, thanks to FIER and a strong partnership with the Baden-Württemberg region and the training centres has been established. Together, the Ministry of Culture, the Volkshochschulverband Stuttgart, PH Weingarten, companies, the Job Center Stuttgart and the Department for Integration Policy were able to reach more people and identify new valuable partners.

What do you feel most fier (proud) of looking back at the last two years?

I am proud of the great work that the whole FIER family has achieved, bringing partners from six countries together, exchanging good practices and developing new concepts for a fast-track integration. I am also proud of the many empowerment activities run by refugees for refugees and the society to promote social cohesion. To quote an African saying: “If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for one day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any official body or the FIER project itself.

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