Camps 2 Cities Project


Berlin represents the ‘open door’ response of Germany towards political refugees in particular, when Vice Chancellor Angela Merkel famously said ‘Wir Schafen das’ in 2015, ‘we can do this’, and encouraged Germay to take in over 500,000 refugees. It is one of the main destination countries for Syrian refugees in particular, and refugees are embedded in wider welfare regimes in Germany that both accomodate recent arrivals in terms of language training, housing, and various apprenticeship schemes, but also perpetuates particular forms of survivalism and welfare precarity. As those granted asylum take on ‘mini jobs’ and 1 Euro jobs in exchange for an assortment of welfare provision, Berlin might be described as a workfare city, where one’s economic contribution and agency is tied to the promise of ‘papers’. 

As ‘new Berliners’ and second generation migrants explained, “In Berlin you can say you are anything. Especially an artist. Everyone is an artist here, and no one will burst your bubble. In other places ,you could never do that… Here there is a place for you. So for social integration or new comers, it is one of the best places, you are accepted and you can make a place for yourself. But if you need to find work, and send money home, don’t come to Berlin. This is one of the worst places to come.”

In order to understand the relationship between humanitarian emergency welfare and state welfare, our research has focused on the diverse forms of ‘social work’ taking place in Berlin under various institutional and legal registers. Tatiana has observed and encountered different avenues for social workers and their role in humanitarian and welfare provision. For example, one of the social workers interviewed had worked within refugee camps and spent two years managing daily operations for an organisation called Tamaja, who set up and ran the emergency camp set up in Tempelhof in 2015. Other social workers interviewed have helped refugees who have received asylum navigate local bureaucratic systems and access housing, language training, and work opportunities.

One of the social workers interviewed works for one of the largest public sector charities organising social work in Germany, while another social worker is a self-employed Peruvian labour lawyer who advises Spanish speaking migrants on how to navigate the system. Some of the teachers specializing in ‘welcome classes’ for refugee children were trained as social workers. Yet another social worker Tatiana interviewed is a Syrian refugee who has been in Berlin since 2013, and focuses on helping migrant minors “stay out of trouble” and access the welfare system.