You are REALLY welcome: the experience of the Hamburg Welcome Centre
The Hamburg Welcome centre has been created in 2007 in order to facilitate the settlement of people coming from abroad who wish to live in the city. The centre’s ethos reflects the open-minded culture of a city that has a thousand years of global exchanges – first as a hanseatic port, and now as a modern industrial and commercial centre.
Hamburg is both a city and a federal state and therefore has the capacity to develop its own migrant integration and welcoming policies. The creation of the Welcome centre has been a very successful experiment in treating migrants as people with potential, who can enrich and dynamise the city, and not as intruders who need to be
"processed" through the administrative machine and helped to fit in and bled in the local culture.
The work of the Welcome centre begins with "pre-integration": people interested to come to Hamburg can put their questions by mail
(firstname.lastname@example.org) and receive a reply in 48 hours. Most questions concern housing, child care, the existence of national communities, employment conditions etc... All questions are dealt with regardless of the country of origin.
When people arrive in the city, they are given an appointment at the Welcome centre’s bright and cozy premises. An advisor receives them and helps them with procedures such as residence permits) or orients them towards the relevant administrative office for issues such as recognition of qualifications. The Centre seeks to establish a relation of confidence with newcomers, to make them feel respected and welcome to the city. Its Director, Birte Steller, believes that this is the way to ensure a sustainable integration. She says:
"The Hamburg Welcome Center, a unique federal and local one-stop-immigration office, shows with its daily routine a living vision of openness and welcome. I really enjoy being part of the HWC-team
and it is satisfying to participate in the Hamburg welcome efforts."
The welcome centre offers a personal, bureaucracy-free atmosphere. They cooperate with labor offices, federal institutions, NGOs, and other city networks to improve their efficiency and innovate.
The Centre also runs the Hamburg Welcome Club and offers mostly free of charge various get-together-events. It organises the Hamburg Welcome Days each October. Forthcoming events are an International Conference for stakeholders (Thursday, 25.10.2012) and a Newcomers Fair (Sunday 21.20.2012).
The Centre’s challenge is to raise sufficient resources to reduce waiting time which is around 5 weeks for appointments at the moment. Another challenge is to open the public opinion to the fact that migrants are not a problem but an opportunity.
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Photo: Birte Steller, Director of the Welcome centre