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International Human Rights Day - Refugees Welcome

Humboldt-Universität is active for refugees and integration

Wir sind Humboldt

2015 will see more refugees arrive in Germany than ever before in one year. This has sparked a wide-ranging debate on immigration. In recent months, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) has launched a number of initiatives enabling refugees to access the university. Academics at the HU are looking at the topic of exodus in various projects and initiatives.

On the occasion of Human Rights Day on 10 December 2015, HU will be providing insights into the manifold ways its employees are active for refugees.


Jan-Hendrik Olbertz

‘As of this winter semester, Humboldt-Universität is offering a guest-student option to refugees that gives them access to study options and academic life via further programmes. Many HU academics, students and employees are involved in a range of projects dealing with issues related to exodus and refugees. In addition to obtaining scientific findings, they want to suggest solutions to help refugees with the integration process.’

Prof. Dr. Jan-Hendrik Olbertz
President of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


Reading and networking on 10 December 2015

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (KSBF) is hosting an event at which the Nigerian academic and writer Sule E. Egya will read from his book ‘Sterile Sky’ (6-8 p.m., HU main building, Unter den Linden 6, lecture theatre 2094).

Afterwards, students, employees and professors of the faculty will present six projects and ideas.

Martin Meier

‘100 Sekunden Mensch’ (A human for 100 seconds) is the title of the video series that Martin Meier started this winter semester with the members of a film and editing seminar. The 25 bachelor’s students have the task of filming interviews with refugees in teams of two and editing them to a length of precisely 1 minute and 40 seconds. A documentary filmmaker and an interpreter are supporting them. The aim is to reveal interesting details about the interviewees. They could be memories of the exodus, impressions of Berlin or recollections of home: whatever the person would most like to talk about in front of the camera. ‘We want to show the interviews on a special website and YouTube,’ said Meier, who is planning a total of 100 portraits.

Martin Meier
The head of the video studios and video archive at the Department of Music and Media Studies


Aleksandra Lakic

Aleksandra Lakic, is currently working through the bachelor’s and master’s students’ final dissertations and the PhD theses. They all have one thing in common: they deal with issues relating to exodus, asylum or the reaction to the refugee crisis. The texts are to be published in an e-book by the coming summer semester. The project was initiated by Prof. Gokce Yurdakul and also involves academics from the HU’s Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (BIM) and the Department of European Ethnology. ‘Many of the dissertations and theses deal with asylum policy in Germany and Europe, but not exclusively,’ said the student who is publishing the e-book. ‘They also look at Morocco, Senegal and Syria. The book will provide a global, trans-national view of the socio-political events relating to issues of exodus and expulsion.’

Aleksandra Lakic
Master’s student at the Department of Social Sciences


Regular programme

In recent months, HU has launched a number of initiatives to provide refugees with easier access to the university. It supports the ‘Weltoffene Hochschulen – gegen Fremdenfeindlichkeit’ (Universities open to the world – against xenophobia) initiative of the German Rectors’ Conference and currently offers refugees the following support measures:

Guest-student initiative

As of this winter semester, refugees may join HU as guest students at no charge and attend standard lectures and teaching sessions. As part of this guest-student initiative for refugees, the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (BIM) is offering two of its own courses in social sciences, which are held in English/Farsi or English/Arabic.


Mohsen Kakarash

‘As a political journalist, I had to flee from the Iranian territory of Kurdistan. I’ve been in Germany for three years. My escape was illegal and took seven months. It’s important not to make things more difficult at the borders for people fleeing their homelands. There should be safer options. I want to work as a journalist in Germany in the long run, so I need to improve my German quickly. Although I can’t study here officially yet, I’m attending a seminar for refugees at the HU in Farsi and English. Regular students at the HU are also participating. It’s great because it leads to plenty of exchange.’

Mohsen Kakarash


Orientation event 'Studying and academic life in Berlin'

Since the beginning of November, Berliner Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft (BWG) has been offering a weekly multidisciplinary lecture series, among other things as an orientation aid for refugees, in collaboration with the Berlin universities. This involves university lecturers providing information about the academic programmes at the Berlin universities, divided into the three subject groups of Life Sciences/Medicine, MINT subjects and humanities, cultural and social sciences. The lectures are held in German and English.  


Prof. Dr. Martin Heger

‘Our idea is that all refugees who are interested in studying lose no time, can get an overview during the summer semester and then register in the coming winter semester,’ said coordinator Martin Heger. The professor of criminal law at HU and deputy chair of the BWG initiated the project. The practical side: Even if the refugees have to move elsewhere, this knowledge helps them on their way to becoming a student anywhere in Germany. The difficulty: ‘It’s not so easy to approach the target group. We mobilise the largest numbers of people if we go directly into the refugee camps.’ This is time-consuming and labour-intensive, he reports. A student of Arabic Studies has been now brought in to help with communication.

Prof. Dr. Martin Heger
Professor of criminal law at HU and deputy chair of the BW


Study Advisory Service

Both Academic Affairs and the International Office provide advice to refugees on options for commencing or continuing a regular study programme. Since September 2015, weekly multilingual advice sessions have been held in German, English, Arabic and Farsi for refugees interested in studying.    


 ‘My name is Sharareh, I come from Iran and I’m a refugee here. I came to Germany alone and lived in refugee hostels. I was often scared because I was the only woman among men. My living situation has now improved. My aim is to learn German as quickly as possible because my dream is to be able to study here. But that’s a long way off and there are a lot of bureaucratic hurdles. In Iran I studied film and would like to finish my degree here. There, unfortunately, I couldn’t make the kind of films I wanted to. I have made two films since I’ve been in Germany. It’s not easy for me to come by equipment here, but I’ve managed to do it. I attend a seminar at the HU that is also open to refugees. I am glad that I found a program like this.’

Sharareh S.

Psychological counselling

The Intercultural Center for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (ZIPP) at Charité offers a range of group therapies, discussion groups and advisory sessions. Additionally, a Berlin-wide network for strengthening psycho-social support for asylum seekers and refugees is being set up.

Peer-to-peer training sessions for psycho-social prevention for refugees and a supervision concept for volunteers and professionals are also being developed at the hospital.

Library use

The University Library is issuing temporary user cards: refugees who have submitted an application for asylum in Berlin are given a user card on presentation of their temporary ‘residence permit for the duration of the asylum procedure’.

Voluntary support

There are also a range of voluntary support initiatives from HU members. Departments of Humboldt-Universität – such as the Department of Philosophy and European Ethnology – recognise voluntary activity by students for the benefit of refugees as practical training.


Jelena Jovicic

‘In my Master’s dissertation I looked at how refugees from Serbia, a “safe” country of origin, fare when they apply for asylum in Germany. They find it difficult because they are excluded by the administrative system. However, you don’t take the decision to leave your home country overnight. It’s a lengthy and painful process. To leave everything behind and launch yourself into the unknown, you have to be in a dire situation. For me the idea of solidarity is all encompassing; you can’t just apply it to certain groups. I myself am Serbian. In 1999 my family and I fled the NATO airstrikes. I can empathise with the situation of refugees from Syria and other war zones. People who are looking for protection here are people like you and me.’

Jelena Jovicic
Social Sciences student


Frédérique Lang

‘In my master’s dissertation, I looked at why many refugees consciously apply for asylum in Germany and not other EU countries. After that, I decided to get involved with refugee work. I regularly help out at LaGeSo in Moabit and in the refugee hostel at Tempelhofer Feld. Sometimes I work in the kitchen; sometimes I distribute everyday items or answer questions about life here. I meet interesting people. I’ve already made a few friends. Many of them suffer because they will not be allowed to work for a long time and they seek contact with people from Berlin. There are many useful initiatives and opportunities to get involved – schedules in the refugee hostels that you can sign up to as a helper (even as a one-off), buddy schemes, an invitation to dinner at your home. These are encounters that enrich both sides.’ 

Frédérique Lang
Graduate of the Euromasters programme


Asylum advice from the Refugee Law Clinic

A one-year training course on issues of asylum and alien law has been held since 2014; the first 30 student advisors started work at the end of October. The free, multi-lingual legal advice takes place directly in refugee accommodations. The Refugee Law Clinic Berlin is an initiative by HU students and PhD candidates from a range of departments. In winter semester 2015/16, the Refugee Law Clinic is organising a lecture on German and European asylum law.

Additional information

Press contact

Hans-Christoph Keller
Spokesman of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Head of Press and Public Relations Office
Tel.: +49 (0)30 2093-2946


Jochen O. Ley
Head of Counselling and Information
Tel.: +49 (0)30 2093-70257

Do you work on a project at HU that deals with refugees and/or related topics? Then please contact:

Inse Böhmig
International Strategy Office
Main contact HU initiatives "Refugees Welcome"
Tel.: +49 (0)30 2093-20092