Stefanie Kaygusuz needs to take a deep breath first. “It was an emotional farewell,” says the head of the department for education and integration in the city of Cottbus. She just had to say goodbye to a colleague whose position will expire at the end of the year. The woman from Iran was a language teacher for refugees in a literacy program that was financed with European project funds. The follow-up application has been submitted but not yet approved.
Kaygusuz wonders how she’s going to keep up the standard without her colleague. Standards can become a problem when working with refugees. Those who want to comply with them will reach their limits in these times. Again and again, municipalities appeal to the federal and state governments that things cannot go on like this. The municipalities, it is said, are overburdened. But what does that actually mean in concrete terms?
Cottbus is a good place to pursue this question. Anyone who walks between the prefab buildings in the Neu-Schmellwitz district, visits a school and a doctor’s office and speaks to those responsible in politics and administration learns: In all of these places there are people who are reaching their limits and still have plans for their city, too when the situation is complicated. As early as autumn, the then Mayor Holger Kelch (CDU) wrote in a letter: “We can’t do it anymore.”
His successor Tobias Schick (SPD) puts it this way: “Whether we can or not – the people of Cottbus, of course we are all helpful.” He wanted to anticipate that. “We know that people have experienced great suffering and of course we want to help them too.” He also says that as a Christian. “Unfortunately, we’ve been at the capacity limit for quite a while now.” This primarily affects the areas of daycare, school and after-school care, but also the health and counseling system. “Our supply infrastructure has reached its limit.”
In 2011, the proportion of citizens without a German passport in the city population was 3.4 percent, now it is 11.4 percent. 11,353 people without a German passport now live in Cottbus, 5,197 of them receive social benefits. That’s not much on its own, but the rapid increase makes it a daunting task of integration.
“What we’re doing here is just sticking band-aids”
In the hallway of the Department for Education and Integration, Stefanie Kaygusuz heads for her office and takes a seat in front of a sea of sticky notes. “What we do here, all together, is just sticking plasters,” says the 43-year-old social worker with the colorful clothes and a little glitter on her face. She is one of those who still have plans for Cottbus. In 2016 she started alone as an asylum coordinator, which was a newly created staff position – a reaction to the refugee crisis. With her, the threads from all possible offices came together for asylum issues. She quickly realized that she couldn’t do it alone, so she landed project funds. She knows how it works, after all she has been involved in civil society work with refugees for a long time.
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