The Chancellor and the jury praised the small town, which they described as exemplary in the way it has pooled the many different instruments it uses to integrate refugees.
Some 17 million people with a migration background live in Germany today. Almost half of them are German citizens. Some are relative newcomers, and others have lived here for longer. "It must be our political concern to ensure that all of them are able to participate in our society," said Chancellor Angela Merkel in her speech at the presentation of the National Integration Award. Integration, she said, is a long-term task and involves a lot of hard work. But inward migration can make Germany stronger, if integration succeeds, she continued.
A lot depends on personal contacts and role models. "We are convinced that integration works best when people are open to one another," said Angela Merkel. Personal contacts and encounters are a driver of integration. The Chancellor thanked the many volunteers who had come to Berlin. "You are serving our country in a very special way."
Personal contacts are the focus of this year’s award winner, the town of Altena in the Sauerland region. Their aim is to make refugees into fellow citizens. "You have to get to grips with the people," stressed Altena’s Mayor, Andreas Hollstein.
Only a few steps away from his office in the Town Hall an integration office was established. It is an important first point of contact for refugees, but it is not the only contact point. Volunteers too are ready to assist the newcomers. Their engagement is existentially important, stressed Angela Merkel.
A five-person jury headed by Frank-Jürgen Weise selected Altena from the 33 civil society institutions nominated. The engagement of the award winner was ideally to be sustainable, transferrable and innovative. And the results achieved were also important of course.
Altena is exemplary in the way it has sought to integrate migrants. The town pools a number of highly effective instruments, said the jury. "Here we can see a society that can cope with diversity. They are quite simply doing a good job," said Frank-Jürgen Weise, chairman of the jury. Altena was nominated by the German Association of Towns and Municipalities.
The 2017 jury comprised the integration scientist Naika Foroutan, the author Ahmad Mansour, the actor Elyas M’Barek and Frankfurt’s former Lord Mayor Petra Roth. Frank-Jürgen Weise is chair. The Chancellor appointed the jury for a three-year term.
"We want to demonstrate our appreciation of exemplary engagement, not somewhere in a quite back room, but in the public eye. Because we believe that exemplary approaches should become role models that others can follow," said Angela Merkel at the award ceremony.
In May 2016 at a Cabinet retreat the "Meseberg Declaration on Integration" was adopted and the National Integration Award born. The prize comes with 10,000 euros and is presented at the Federal Chancellery.