For more than 30 years, Shelter Now has been helping refugees – when they flee their homes and when they return home.
Food being distributed to Kurdish refugee families.
The huge willingness to welcome and help refugees that we have witnessed in Germany in recent weeks is impressive.
We at Shelter Now, however, see the situation from a different perspective. From our experience of large-scale refugee movements, we have observed two effects: first the “push effect”. People are driven from their homeland or forced to escape a dangerous situation, as with the brutal militants of Islamic State, where people’s lives are in real danger. Often they have to leave suddenly, losing their home and everything they possess overnight. They try to reach an area that offers them safety, often a neighboring country. Many refugees fleeing IS, for example, have gone to northern Iraq and the autonomous province of Kurdistan. There they live in refugee camps or makeshift homes, in tents or unfinished buildings if they can get permission from the owner.
But there is also a “pull effect”: something that draws refugees to a certain area. Here it is not only the safety aspect that plays a role but also the expectation of a better life, for example.
When we visited Kurdistan in the spring, the refugees that we spoke to told us that they wanted to return to their homeland as soon as the danger had passed. Many planned to rebuild their homes which have been destroyed in the fighting. But they too have since seen the footage of Germans welcoming refugees. And now many of them want to come to Germany, because they believe they could have a better life here. This is, of course, easy to understand.
However: Who will be there to rebuild their homes and towns? Those who are left behind? The poor who were unable to pay human traffickers or the elderly who were too weak to undertake the lengthy journey to Europe? The refugees that come to Germany will certainly not return home, even if peace is later restored there.
This is what we have experienced during the 30 years that we have worked with Afghan refugees. We assisted them for many years in Pakistan. As soon as they were able, most of them returned to Afghanistan and, together with our help, have since rebuilt their homes and livelihoods. Those who made it to Europe or the United States, however, have never returned to Afghanistan.
Our approach, therefore, is to help the refugees in the region where they come from, and then help them again later on to rebuild their lives back in their homeland. Why not help us?