German thinking is on board an Italian Piaggio Ape 50 to hit the streets of Munich. It is called ‘Lighthouse Mobil’ and it is driven by volunteers, who give assistance to refugees about how things work in the city and help them settle in. They also aim at opening a dialogue with local citizens about welcoming immigrants to Munich.
The ‘Lighthouse Mobil’ is part of the ‘Lighthouse Welcome Center®’; an info point located directly at the initial reception centre for asylum applicants in Munich. Both info points have been initiated by Lichterkette e.V. and Innere Mission München.
‘We want to be flexible and creative with our mobile info point. By placing our Piaggio in the middle of a main square in the city, we bring attention to the people, specially, youngsters. We encourage their civic engagement as well as bring down barriers and stereotypes on refugees among local citizens of all ages’, says Myriam Brock, member of the Board of Lichterkette e.V.
‘Just demanding integration doesn’t work. And a welcoming culture is not just limited to welcoming refugees at one point in time, as it was the case in Munich at the Central Station as the refugee crisis accentuated in 2015. It is more about changing public perception of immigration’, Myriam explains.
The ‘Lighthouse Mobil’ encompasses everything from helping refugees with maddening German bureaucracy, PC training, advising on accessing higher education and professional training, facilitating their access to employment or giving advice on leisure activities around the city. But, most importantly, it aims at fostering connections among German citizens and refugees by finding volunteers who want to help them.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), innovation in the humanitarian field is crucial and innovation starts with people.
Communicating with refugee communities, listening and talking to them is a fundamental part of humanitarian response. Adopting new channels of communication and challenging the status quo are of great importance to the purpose of establishing dialogue.
The ‘Lighthouse Mobil’ initiative is about nurturing a welcoming culture for a more inclusive city, where citizens acknowledge that the city’s true wealth is its people and the rich cultural diversity they represent.
It was in December 1992, after Neo-Nazis burned down some houses accommodating refugees in Germany, when a group of four friends (Gil Bachrach, Giovanni di Lorenzo, Christoph Fisser and Chris Häberlein) organized the first string of lights in the streets of Munich mobilizing, surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of people at a time when no FB, whatsapp, mobile phones or even internet existed.
The city came to a standstill and more than 400,000 people went out to the streets with candles in their hands setting an internationally recognized mark against xenophobia and right-wing radicalism.
The initiative set a precedent in the fight against xenophobia. This group of friends thought that this symbolic light chain had to be followed by action. They decided to found the association Lichterkette e.V. to develop and support projects and actions that promote a welcoming culture and a peaceful coexistence of people of different backgrounds in the city.
Since the war in Syria, a great number of citizen-led initiatives have popped up in Germany, where ordinary people are willing to contribute to helping immigrants settle.
Some time ago the journalist @KuperSimon referred in his article to a special supplement on refugees published by the German newspaper Die Zeit: ‘It presented refugees not as helpless mute victims on sinking boats but as grown-up humans with insights into their adopted country’.
His article was praising the German thinking of approaching things. The ‘Lighthouse Mobil’ is a good evidence of that.