A million refugees have taken refuge in Germany since 2015 under German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migration policy. Many cities and towns took in more refugees than required.
Altena, an industrial west German town, was facing an economic downturn after its ironworks closed. Jobs were lost, businesses shut down, and families abandoned their homes. The population dropped by more than 10%. The mayor was looking for a way to give the town a boost when Merkel made her appeal in 2015.
“First, we wanted to help. There was a human reason to take them,” Altena’s mayor Andreas Hollstein explained. “But the second reason was a win-win situation. We thought, ‘Okay, we need new people in Altena. …. This will help us invest in the future.'”
Altena, required to take in 300 refugees, took in in 400, and set up a program to match them with volunteer mentors that would help navigate German culture and its notoriously bureaucratic paperwork.
Bernadette Koopmann is one of the welcoming. “I have such a perfect life. I have healthy children, we live in a country that has not experienced war in a long time.
“Others are not so lucky,” she said. “They experience war, devastation, and poverty. I believe it’s not too much to ask for our help.”
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