More than a million migrants – mostly from Syria and Iraq – fled to Germany in 2015 alone, hoping to escape conflicts back home. Last September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that her country would place "no limits" on the number of migrants it was willing to grant asylum.
But many of those who find themselves in Germany often face a frustrating reality there, including long stays in refugee camps, bureaucratic paperwork in German – a language not spoken by most migrants – and a lack of personal comforts one afforded to them back home.
"Inside the camps, there's no communication, and people need help," says Torsten Niehus, the director of the Quadriga Youth Center in Hamburg's Jenfeld district. "They'll receive letters and notices in German, but they can't understand what it means."
Not long ago, Quadriga was a typical youth center, a place for kids and young adults to play and work. But last year, Niehus says, the organization began working with people in an adjacent refugee camp. Now, on a typical afternoon there, the center is bustling with frolicking children and young people – about 500 each day – and a cramped-yet-lively kitchen at the compound serves as a sort of social outlet where adults can laugh and talk as they prepare their iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their Ramadan fasts.
For Niehus, the center is a place where migrants can find a shred of normality among the crate-like boxes in the camp where they sleep, and a way to alleviate the boredom and frustration that many refugees feel in their new homes.
"For a while, we were the only place they could go to," Niehus says. "So we offered them Internet access immediately, a kitchen. The status of the people has changed since then."
"Here, refugees cook for other refugees, and it is distributed it in the evening," he says. "It helps to give people a welcome feeling; it makes them less frustrated," adding, "Here, refugees feel safe, and they feel like they are taken seriously."
That sense of communication and cooperation, however, could be accomplishing more than simply making migrants feel at home. Niehus says he believes Quadriga's work with the camp could help people there stay away from crime and radical groups, recounting an instance when Salafist groups would come but were turned away from the camp.
"They tried to reach the people and get them on their side, but that didn't work," he says. "They used donations and food and clothes, but they realized when they went into the camps and tried to be in control that it wouldn't work."