Der Spiegel reports: The day has only just begun, but the phone in Anja Damerius’ office at the University of Siegen is already ringing off the hook. An elderly woman wants to read books to refugee children: “Yes, of course!” Damerius says into the receiver. “When are you available?” A family from the neighborhood wants to distribute food. “Come over.” Toys? “Please drop them off at the church, our garage is full.”
The masters student from North Rhine-Westphalia had actually planned on spending her semester break relaxing, sleeping in, meeting friends and doing a bit of partying. But instead, she’s been working on the campus from morning to evening, she says.
Damerius, 33, coordinates the program for 50 to 60 refugee children at the University of Siegen. She is one of a dozen volunteers at the university who are working with asylum seekers, known here as “guests.”
The regional government has placed approximately 200 asylum seekers in the university gymnasium. Initially, it was seen as a temporary solution, meant to provide shelter for a few days until space in the reception center opened up again. But by now, refugees have been living on the campus for almost a month — and nobody at the university is seriously expecting that the asylum seekers will be housed anywhere else by the time the semester starts in mid-October, despite official promises to the contrary. In fact, 17 additional refugees arrived just last week.
But hardly anyone in Siegen is complaining. The student union is organizing meals through the cafeteria; a student initiative has launched daily language courses, and almost 90 interpreters have been recruited; and, with the help of students, the city is organizing primary medical care.
Siegen University rector Holger Burckhart, who is also vice-president of the German Rectors’ Conference, says that given their status as public institutions, universities have a responsibility to help. “We are part of social life and can give something back to society here.” According to Burckhart, the students are getting a clearer sense of the scale of the world’s crises. [Continue reading…]