During the height of the migrant crisis in Europe last autumn, Lasse Landt came to a startling realisation.
Thousands of migrants were pouring into Germany every day, but the 36-year-old startup consultant from Berlin hadn’t met any.
“It was all over the media, every day on the talk shows you had people talking about the refugee crisis. I had never seen a refugee,” said Landt. “I just wanted to find out if it was real.”
His experience is typical for most Germans, and many have volunteered with charitable groups in part to meet the migrants they’re hearing so much about. But Landt went further — and the result is a kind of dating website for Germans and migrants, albeit without the romantic aspect.
Together with Khaled Alaswad, a 25-year-old Syrian he met at a computer coding class for migrants in Berlin, Landt started a project to help refugees and locals meet up. Called Let’s Integrate!, it allows users to pick a time and location and set up a “date.”
The idea is to set as low a hurdle as possible for the meeting. People just need to show up and hopefully have a good conversation. Or if the language barrier is too high, have a conversation with hand signals.
Alaswad said his friendship with Landt has helped him in Germany.
“If the refugees never talk face to face with a local person, they will never know anything about the culture here,” he said. “There is just such a big difference between our culture and the German culture.”
Germany registered around 1.1m irregular migrants in 2015, most of them refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But with the closure of the Balkans migration route from Greece to Germany, the number of migrants coming in has dropped dramatically this year. So attention has now shifted to integrating the refugees.
The authorities are focusing on having migrants learn the language and get jobs. The German government has promised to introduce subsidised workplaces earmarked for refugees.
“In Germany, we have a very technocratic view of integration,” said Landt. “It is basically, you do a language class, you get a job and then you are integrated. But really, it is very much about social contact. Something you can achieve before you wait six months for your language class and another year before you are somewhat fluent.”
Let’s integrate! was launched on May 1 and so far at least a dozen meetings have taken place.
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