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Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations- und Migrationsforschung

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations- und Migrationsforschung | 5. Pioneers of the "Welcome Culture". Structures and motives of the engagement for refugees

5. Pioneers of the "Welcome Culture". Structures and motives of the engagement for refugees

The "long summer of migration" revealed a civil society in Germany that was willing to support arriving refugees without hesitation or complication. Since then, the impressive, spontaneous help has settled into specialised and highly professional structures that offer more than assistance. They are an important component of social cohesion within communes. But how have the support and the supporters changed? Which motivation drives the voluntary support of refugees and which experiences have volunteers had in the past months?

To date, the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (BIM) and the IMIS in Osnabrück have collaborated on two research projects (Karakayali/Kleist 2015 and 2016). These projects answered questions concerning the demographics of volunteers working with refugees, their motivations, and the formal conditions under which the volunteering took place in 2014 (EFA 1) and 2015 (EFA 2). Furthermore, we were able to discern which structures for refugees grew out of the volunteer work (Hamann et al. 2016).

As a next step, it is important to understand the effects this support for the refugee population has, as well as the extent to which gender relations can explain difference in the level of support, and how processes and goals change over time within volunteer initiatives. Which attitudes, feelings and self-concepts dominate with volunteers supporting refugees today, now that the welcome wave in the summer of 2015 has passed?


Our present project questioned volunteer initiatives in different sized communities in Saxony, Brandenburg and Berlin about these aspects of their work. Focus groups were used to provide volunteers working with refugees with an opportunity to talk with each other. Through these discussions, we were able to observe how opinions are formed, arguments are exchanged as well as to analyse possible controversies. In addition, half-structured individual interviews were conducted to examine personal motives, attitudes and perceptions volunteers hold toward their work.

The conversations are being analysed with regard to how volunteers themselves perceive and distinguish between the different dimensions of volunteer work with refugees – from emergency response, to political activism, to building a society. Here, both understanding the description of their own activities, as well as the societal, personal and emotional factors that can foster long-term support are of interest.