“Books say welcome”: book sector launches initiative for refugees

Establishment of Reading and Learning Corners for refugees / Fundraising campaign in bookstores / Special programme for refugees at the Frankfurt Book Fair / Sponsor: Navid Kermani, winner of the 2015 Peace Prize of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association

The number of refugees in Germany continues to grow daily and many of these asylum-seeking individuals will remain in Germany for an extended period of time. In addition to essential resources such as housing and food, education and culture can play a vital role in promoting integration.

Starting at the International Literacy Day on 8 September 2015, the German Publishers & Booksellers Association, the Frankfurt Book Fair and LitCam have introduced a joint initiative for refugees with the slogan “Books say welcome”. It aims to give refugees quick and easy access to educational and reading material. At the core of the programme is the establishment, through LitCam, of Reading and Learning Corners in the immediate vicinity of refugee housing. The German Publishers & Booksellers Association is supporting the action with a call for donations, while the Frankfurt Book Fair is offering free tickets and events for refugees at the fair.

The initiative has been sponsored by the author and expert in Middle Eastern Studies Navid Kermani, who will receive this year’s Peace Prize of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association. “The number of refugees is growing around the world. And in the immediate vicinity of Europe, war, lawlessness, displacement, mass murders, systematic rape and ethnic cleansing are devastating entire countries – just as Europe experienced in its own history. We shouldn’t shut ourselves off from this – we can’t in any event. The refugees need protection, help and support”, says Navid Kermani.

Reading and Learning Corners for refugees

The Reading and Learning Corners will be set up in areas of the cities and towns where large numbers of refugees are being housed. Potential locations include education centres, language schools and other institutions situated near refugee housing. The Reading and Learning Corners will be supplied with books and educational materials – not just German textbooks, dictionaries and encyclopaedias, but also novels and non-fiction books in relevant foreign languages. Publishers will draw up lists of recommendations, and experienced literacy experts – including renowned Professor of Developmental Psychology Wassilios E. Fthenakis – will select the materials. The idea is based on the “Reading and Learning Rooms” run by LitCam in Cape Town’s Mfuleni Township.

“Refugees come to Germany with a wide range of qualifications. By providing easy access to educational and reading material, we want to enable them to adjust individually to the new challenges – by learning German, for example – but also to find a moment of distraction and diversion. Together with our team of experts and various refugee projects, we are trying to put together a selection of books that correspond to the refugees’ respective circumstances and needs”, says Karin Plötz, Director of LitCam.

The initiative is already underway thanks to the establishment of a Reading and Learning Corner in a learning centre in the Gallus district of Frankfurt am Main. Asylum applicants from nearby housing are already taking German lessons there, and some 30 unaccompanied young people without families are being sheltered in the building itself. The aim is to establish further Reading and Learning Corners throughout Germany with the help of fundraising campaigns.

Fundraising campaigns in bookstores

The German book industry is launching a nationwide call for donations to support the initiative. Beginning 19 September, customers in bookstores throughout Germany can make donations to help establish and equip Reading and Learning Corners. Donation boxes are being put out in many bookstores. Moreover, booksellers are highlighting the stories of people in flight. Under the theme “Foreign in foreign lands – 1001 life stories” they are, for example, organising readings by and for refugeesor putting special selections of books on display in their stores.

According to Alexander Skipis, CEO of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association: “When people seek refuge in our country due to suffering, oppression or persecution, we as the book industry also see ourselves as having a responsibility. Books open the door to language, knowledge and culture and enable mutual understanding. Together with bookstores and publishers, customers and readers, we would like to support the refugees in gaining a foothold in our society. At the same time, we want to send a message: We are firmly against xenophobia and exclusion and take a stand for openness and diversity.”

Find further information for book shops and promotion material on www.boersenverein.de (in German).

Offers for refugees at the Frankfurt Book Fair

This year, the Frankfurt Book Fair is offering free tickets to refugees. LitCam is supervising their distribution to interested refugees, in close cooperation with refugee projects in the Rhine-Main region. The tickets are valid for Sunday, 18 October 2015.

There will be a “Welcome Place” for refugees at the fair. Moreover, two events linguistically and thematically geared towards the largest target groups are being held. Tours for individual groups are planned, which will also allow participants to visit the stands of publishers from their respective regions. The programme will be made available to cooperating refugee projects in advance of the fair.

“The Frankfurt Book Fair is a major cultural event that, year after year, attracts hundreds of thousands of open-minded, tolerant and engaged citizens from around the world. It is far more than a business venue for content; here, in an atmosphere of openness towards the world, debates are launched, ideas and thoughts exchanged. This year, we’re inviting people who’ve been forced to flee from their homes to visit the fair and join in the discussion. This joint action is yet another way in which we’d like to open the dialogue between cultures and dissolve any potential fear of contact”, says Juergen Boos, Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Supporting the action with a donation

In addition to donating in bookstores, interested parties can also support the action by making a bank transfer to the following donation account:

LitCam gGmbH
Reference for payment: Bücher sagen Willkommen
Commerzbank AG
Account number: 95963701
Bank sort code: 500 800 00
IBAN: DE80 5008 0000 0095 9637 01
BIC: DRESDEFFXXX

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