Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari and Lakhdar Brahimi travelled to Germany from 12-13 September, accompanied by Richard Branson, to formally launch The Elders’ new report on refugees and migration, and to hold meetings with leading German politicians, business leaders, civil society groups, and refugees themselves.
The Elders decided to make their first official visit to Germany to show support for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition government’s politically brave stance in welcoming over a million refugees since 2015.
The Elders’ report “In Challenge Lies Opportunity: How the World Must Respond to Refugees and Mass Migration”, published in English and German, sets out the four key principles which should govern the international community’s response to the growing number of displaced people around the world. The report was launched at a press briefing attended by representatives of international and German media.
Together with Richard Branson, who broke off from a month-long charity bicycle ride across Europe specifically to join the visit, the Elders met German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Their discussions focused on the refugee issue but also other geopolitical issues from Syria to Ukraine, and the importance of implementing the Iran nuclear deal.
Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi and Richard Branson meet with Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Berlin in 2016. (Credit: Michael Gottschalk / photothek.net)
Following that meeting, the Elders joined Richard Branson and other members of the B Team for a dinner with German and international business leaders to discuss how best the private sector can assist with the integration of refugees, particularly into the labour market. The difficulty many refugees face when looking for work in Germany was a topic that recurred frequently in discussions.
The Elders also wanted to hear directly from refugees themselves, and visited the Marienfelde refugee settlement centre to listen to their experiences – as well as to meet the civil society volunteers who have achieved so much in Germany since refugees started arriving en masse in summer 2015.
Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi and Martti Ahtisaari hear from refugees at the Marienfelde refugee centre. (Credit: Gordon Welters/The Elders)
The centre is home to around 700 refugees, and the Elders joined a selected group for a roundtable discussion about their experiences, hopes and ambitions for the future. The different nationalities around the table reflected the diverse nature of the refugee situation in Germany, including people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Nigeria and Roma from Serbia. They all spoke eloquently about why they left their homes and were seeking to build a new life in Germany, and told the Elders that accommodation, employment and language-learning were some of their biggest challenges.
The final aspect of the visit was a meeting with Federal President Joachim Gauck. President Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor from East Germany who opposed the Communist regime, has been an ethical leader in Germany for his five-year term, and the concepts of ethics and responsibility informed their discussion. Alongside the need for solidarity and compassion with refugees, the Elders and President Gauck also discussed Germany’s role in the world and the lessons the country had painfully learned from confronting its Nazi past.
The visit attracted good attention from German and international media.