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5 inspiring ways Germans are supporting refugees

Syrian refugees  at the border town of Idomeni, northern Greece, waiting to cross into Macedonia, on Aug. 26. (Santi Palacios/AP)

Much has been written about the dark side of how Europe is dealing with the influx of refugees. But in Germany, individuals are finding innovative ways to welcome those who have fled their countries.

1. Germans are cooking with refugees

One reason for the tensions in eastern Germany is that many people "know only a few or no foreigners; they are scared because they have no idea what to expect from the influx of refugees," political scientist Werner Patzelt explained to The Washington Post, referring to anti-refugee and anti-Islam protests in the eastern part of the country.

One Berlin-based group wants to help Germans and foreigners learn about each other through cooking. The group has compiled a book with more than 30 recipes published alongside stories of refugees who explain why they fled their countries.

"The cooks in this book came to Germany as refugees or asylum-seekers to find a new home. In this cookbook, they share not only exceptional delicacies from around the world but also fascinating stories about their homeland and their culture," the group says on its Web site.

2. Welcoming refugees goes viral

Social media has played an ambiguous role in how Germans have dealt with the refugees in recent months: Platforms such as Facebook have been used to organize pro-refugee events, but some people have used the relative anonymity of the Internet to stir up hatred. Media outlets have been flooded with comments that often crossed the line between criticism and hate speech, which is a serious crime in Germany. Several commentators had their accounts deleted or have been sued and even fined as a consequence.

However, there has also been an opposing trend: Using the Hashtag #WelcomeChallenge, people have organized mass donations. In online videos, Germans have taken to social networks to explain what they have done for refugees and to urge their friends to do the same. "We all can do something," German movie director Michael Simon de Normier was quoted as saying by the German newspaper Der Westen in a video. "What's important is to send a signal. It's all about (creating) a welcoming culture."

In a Facebook group that has 10,000 members, Germans try to match up requests for donations and services with volunteers. This campaign and others appear to have been a success so far: Many reception centers and groups say they are receiving so many donations that they cannot accept all of them.

In some villages and cities, refugees have been welcomed by residents who awaited them at reception centers. For instance, in the city of Hof, as many as 3,000 people greeted new arrivals last week.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, refugees were welcomed with flowers.

#Danke_Deutschland الالمان يستقبلون السورين بالورود شكرا من القلب لكل الشعب الالماني والحكومة المانية التي فتحت ابوابها بالابتاسامة والورود والمحبة بعكس كثير من دول العربية وشكرا من القلب للشعب الالمانيDie Deutschen begrüßen das syrische Volk mit Blumen. Dafür danken wir dem deutschen Volk und der Regierung von ganzem Herzen, dass sie ihre Türen für uns öffnen im Gegensatz zu den arabischen Ländern.

Posted by Talal Abk on Tuesday, August 25, 2015

3. Some Germans are accepting refugees as their roommates 

Although they could earn money by renting their spare room on Airbnb or other platforms, some Germans are inviting refugees to stay in their homes for free. On a Web site that's similar to standard accommodation Web sites, those interested in participating share their offerings.

One of those who benefited from this idea is a 19-year-old Syrian named Salah, who found shared accommodations in the western German city of Darmstadt within days. His roommates made the decision to host him because they wanted to help refugees but also wanted to learn more about a different culture. "At the latest, when we got to know him, we were sure that we'd feel comfortable with him," one of the hosts, Lukas, told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Hosting refugees privately has become more popular as officials become increasingly unable to provide adequate apartment or reception center spots. Many refugees are still housed in tent camps, despite the fact that it is unclear whether alternative housing can be provided before the typically cold German winter arrives.

In Dresden, in eastern Germany, doctors warned that the situation in a large reception center had become so disastrous this summer that it resembled a "humanitarian emergency."

4. Young entrepreneurs created a smartphone app that welcomes refugees

Dresden has seen a wave of anti-immigration protests and has been the center of the so-called Pegida movement, which attracted as many as 20,000 weekly protesters this year but has since shrunk.

After months of negative headlines coming out of the city and neighboring villages, arson attacks on refugee housing projects and violence between police officers and right-wing extremists, a group of young entrepreneurs decided to show that there are many people who support the refugees.

They created an app that allows refugees to access crucial local services and information. The app answers basic questions such as: What's the address of the local authority responsible for immigration matters? How does one submit in the necessary paperwork?

5. Refugees are allowed to take college courses for free

About 60 German colleges, including elite institutions such as the University of Munich, are allowing refugees to attend courses as guest students for free. The schools are even paying for transportation and offering scholarships for books, as WorldViews reported earlier.

Migrants are unable to earn degrees while their asylum applications are being processed. But by attending lectures, they might be able to learn German more quickly and assimilate.

"Migration is a task for all of society, and universities must do their part,” the president of the University of Hildesheim, Wolfgang-Uwe Friedrich, told Handelsblatt.

Meanwhile, a Berlin-based student has founded an online university specifically dedicated to refugees interested in pursuing their studies. Many young Syrians, in particular, were forced to interrupt their education and are looking for ways to pursue their studies in Germany. The university advertises its programs with the slogan: "Internationally accredited degrees. For everyone. Anytime. Everywhere. For free," and is being financed by private sponsors.

"So what is the catch? There is no catch," the organizers wrote on their Web site. "Then why are we doing this ? We are doing this because the time has come for us as humans to realize that the only way for us to live peacefully and prosper is by aiding each other to find our own ways in life."

Also read: 

Europe’s current anti-migrant rhetoric carries echoes of 1930s anti-Semitism

Europe had a dream of a land without borders. Now that dream may be turning to dust.

In Germany, tabloids welcome refugees. In Britain, they propose sending the army to keep them out.