In 2009 the German government decided to accept 2,500 Iraqi refugees for resettlement under an ad-hoc agreement with UNHCR, as part of a joint EU response to the Iraqi refugee situation.
This resettlement, the first such programme in Germany, was partly the result of the ‘ Save Me’ campaign which began in 2008. The campaign, which coincided with Munich’s 850th anniversary, aimed to persuade the city council to resettle 850 refugees. The campaign grew from a theatre play about winning a ticket to Europe. The campaigners used Facebook and set up an easy to use website with a petition for members of the public to sign, with a photo of themselves and a comment showing their solidarity with the Save Me campaign and the resettlement of refugees to Germany. Those who joined the campaign were ordinary people including students, hairdressers, businessmen and retired persons. To counter arguments from the city that there was not enough financial and/or human support for resettlement, those who signed up expressed their willingness to assist the refugees with their reception and inte-gration. On the day the 850th volunteer registered, the Green Party submitted a supporting resolution to Munich City Council, which was approved unanimously. Linked to the resolution, the City of Munich committed to provide housing and social assistance for the refugees.
In March 2009, 127 Iraqi refugees were welcomed to Munich. The campaign had attracted wide media attention, which motivated volunteers to assist with the refugees’ settlement. To date, approximately 100 volunteers have been involved in the project in Munich, 30 of which assist families who moved out of the reception centre. The city granted the Save Me campaign a part-time volunteer manager to coordinate volunteers and match them with Iraqi refugees. Volunteers assisted refugees in several ways: help in finding housing, tutoring refugee children after-school and teaching German to adults.
The campaign has been so successful in raising awareness of resettlement in the community, that it is now active in 56 different cities nationwide and over 62 groups and 1015 individual supporters signed up to the campaign.
Although refugees arrived in 2009, finding adequate housing continues to be a major challenge. The housing market in Munich is especially difficult and volunteers have had to invest considerable time in finding property owners willing to rent to refugees. As in other European countries, some of the Iraqi refugees have found adjusting to their new life difficult, coming to terms with what they have lost and their new standard of living, often below that which they were accustomed too. As a result some have refused the housing proposed to them. Being confronted with the dissatisfaction of some of the refugees has at times been difficult for the volunteers who had made great efforts. Providing refugees with realistic information about the German housing market and its limitations before they arrived might have reduced such experiences.