Interviews with Women at the Women’s Center Fall 2017 – Spring 2018


The Women’s Center is a safe space within the refugee and immigration camp at Friedland for newly-arrived women in Germany. It is the only center in all the refugee camps (Bad Fallingbostel, Bramsche, Braunschweig) in Lower Saxony devoted exclusively to women and their needs.

The center started as a joint project by Caritas Friedland and the Innere Mission to fulfill the increasing demand of both women and employees for a space in the camp dedicated to women. It has since received financial support from the European Fund for Refugees, the State of Lower Saxony and the UN Fund for Refugees. Since 2015, the Migration and Integration Fund (AMBA) has financed the center. Consequently, the center is only open to female asylum seekers: women who have applied for refuge but have not yet received refugee status. It is not open to women who have been granted refugee status and come to Friedland under the UN Refugee Resettlement program, although this may change in the future.

AMBA, a project through the State of Lower Saxony, works to “advance the integration of those who have fled to Lower Saxony because of war, terror and political persecution and look for a perspective for their future in Germany.” AMBA further aims to “ensure that the perspectives of asylum seekers and their interests are given more weight in the public debate and in the concrete design of work at reception centers.” As such, the “social, cultural and political participation of asylum seekers has to be guaranteed from the beginning” of their quest for sanctuary. The project finally works towards fulfilling the gap in the need for “qualified language support, support in the provision of education and training and in the provision of a self-determined lifestyle.”

At its core, the Women’s Center endeavors to progress the self-sufficiency and competency in language, education and everyday life of its visitors. The main goal of the center is to build the confidence and abilities of newly-arrived women in Germany. The center aims to achieve this through language acquisition, informational sessions, activities and informal counseling. It strives to advance the intercultural competence of newly-arrived women and develop individual strategies for successful integration.

To achieve its goals, the center provides daily German lessons, as well as weekly presentations on federal and state resources available to women and consultation hours with a midwife. It also offers, per request, computer courses, sports and fieldtrips. The Women’s Center functions as a meeting point for women in Friedland and as a safe space where women can seek advice and share their triumphs and struggles.

Themes discussed at the Women’s Center include but are not limited to:

  • Educational Development
  • Employment Opportunities (Agentur für Arbeit)
  • Dental Hygiene
  • Women’s Rights
  • Domestic Violence
  • Sex Education
  • Health Insurance System
  • Medical System
  • Trauma
  • Kindergarten and the German education system

Women hear about the center through daily advertisement in the cafeteria and weekly advertisement at women’s evening in youth club Kakadu, during appointments at the Caritas and Diakonie counseling offices, and by word of mouth. While flyers help promote the center, the best form of advertisement is personal contact and conversation between the employees of the center and the women.

The staff of the Women’s Center have a team mentality: not only is the staff a team, but the staff and the women are a team. The staff members are the greatest advocates for the women in Friedland. They respect every woman in her needs, knowledge, and cultural and personal background to nourish her development and help her prepare for life in Germany. This sequentially creates a welcoming, calming and tolerant atmosphere. For the coworkers at the Women’s Center to most effectively build the confidence and competence of female asylum seekers, they must have some understanding of the women and their circumstances: why they come to Germany and how they envision their futures. In this study, I focus on the women and their circumstances to give a new perspective on them and what they expect from the Women’s Center.

This Study

Through close examination of statistics and interviews with women between October 2017 and April 2018, I explore how potent the Women’s Center is in its outreach. I define outreach as the impact that the center has on the development of women, as well as the number of visitors in comparison to the total number of female asylum seekers in Friedland. To match the numbers of visitors in 2016 and 2017, the center must see an average of thirty new women per month. Equally as important, the center must also take considerable interest in the development of every woman who walks through its doors. The end goal of this study is to determine how effective the center is in its goals, as well as what it’s doing right and where there’s room for improvement.

I first analyze statistics on the center collected by its staff and on a federal level by BAMF in 2016 and 2017. I use these statistics to contextualize the landscape of asylum in Friedland, Lower Saxony and Germany, as well as the women’s collective experiences as asylum seekers in Germany. The analysis of these statistics forms the framework. After outlining methods and limitations, I focus on interviews as a medium to provide agency to the women who frequent the center and pinpoint what they wish to gain from it. I also consider how the women envision their own futures. The interviews are divided into two parts: Part 1 from October 2017 to 15 January 2018, and Part 2 from 16 January 2018 to April 2018. Part 1 includes 40 interviews with eight central questions, while Part 2 has 45 interviews with sixteen questions, including the eight original.

Success is an underlining theme in this study and is two-fold: the success of the center and of the women who visit it. On one hand, success for the Women’s Center is an extensive outreach within the community of female asylum seekers in Friedland. It’s the active participation of these women at the center. On a more micro level, success for the Women’s Center is the personal development of every woman who walks through its doors over the course of their time in Friedland. Personal growth looks and is different for every woman. For some, it could be gaining a competency in German language, learning to type or learning about German culture. And for others, it could be becoming more relaxed and confident in oneself, becoming more physically active or opening emotionally to others. It’s extremely important to the center that all female asylum seekers in Friedland know we are here for them and that we will advocate for them.