How the Foundation works

Unfortunately, countries with authoritarian or even dictatorial governments outnumber democratic states that respect freedom and the freedom of speech. But in all unfree countries – especially in those! – there are people, who dare to advocate human rights, the freedom of speech, and the rule of law, also in public. This usually means danger, intimidation, and threats. It often provokes torture, imprisonment, and at worst also affects their families. The Hamburg Foundation offers a few of them a safe haven for one year. Almost always, it is a matter of life and death. Here in Hamburg, they are adequately taken care of and accommodated in the comfort and privacy of their own home. Here, they can work in peace: read and write journalistic articles and books, paint and take photographs. Often, they bring their families, partners, and children who attend school here. They become a part of our society.

The Foundation’s guests come from many different countries: Algeria, Tunisia, Nigeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan, Mexico, Colombia and many more. Unfortunately, the Foundation cannot help as many as it would like to and as would be necessary. The number of applicants always far exceeds the number of available fellowships. The Foundation receives recommendations from many nodes of a growing network that has been established in 25 years of working for a mutual cause. Recommendations come from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the PEN center, Amnesty International, from German and also foreign diplomatic missions, from organizations such as “Reporters Without Borders”, “Journalists Help Journalists”, the Foundation of the Hamburg Press, from representations abroad of major political foundations (Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Friedrich Naumann Foundation) and many more. Occasionally, former guests of the Foundation, who are well aware of what is going on in their own country, also nominate people in need of protection.

It is usually like a jigsaw puzzle to gather relevant information on each of the applicants. In many cases, genuine documents and information cannot be obtained from their home countries. The respective authorities must not be alarmed. Thus, the available information often remains insufficient to gain insight into the circumstances and the danger, threats, or persecution these people are faced with. However, gathering this information is a necessary step, since the limited amount of fellowships forces us to prioritize. Those who live in grave danger, who face the threat of being killed, need our help first! Inquiries need to be made with the Federal Foreign Office, with our embassies and the institutions mentioned above, which know the respective country and its people. On many occasions, the board members of the Foundation make use of their personal contacts. It is particularly important to ascertain whether the applicants can safely leave their country and – above all – whether they will be able to return following the end of the fellowship. It is not the Foundation’s intention to facilitate the opportunity for a person to go into exile. During the processing of each application, it is also necessary to determine whether the applicant’s family left behind will be in danger for the duration of the fellowship. Finally, a committee discusses all applications at length and makes a selection decision. Urgent matters arising in the course of the one-year fellowship are dealt with by way of a circulation procedure or by telephone. Such cases occur frequently: a Foundation’s guest has to abridge his or her stay; he or she needs to return to his country for a certain period of time; the family arrives with more or less persons than expected etc.

The Foundation’s executive manager personally welcomes the guests at the airport. She takes them to their new home and acts as first contact during the initial period that may be challenging. She helps them select language courses, organizes invitations by private hosts, and suggests work possibilities. Thanks to our extensive network, organizations and publishers dedicated to politics, arts, and journalism support the Foundation’s guests in their efforts to inform the general public of their political work. On the occasion of the US-American attack on Iraq, for example, two Arab guests of the Foundation discussed the war, its “marketing”, and its consequences with about 200 invited guests within the scope of the panel discussion “Embedded Journalism?”, taking place in the headquarters of Hamburg publishing house Gruner + Jahr. In addition, the Foundation regularly arranges conferences and information events on topics such as “Racism and Intercultural Skills in Europe”, “Algeria Between Democracy and Theocratic State”, or “Africa: Freedom of Press and Freedom of Speech”. It hosts photo exhibitions and readings and participates in the organization of film screenings and charity concerts. The media increasingly take notice of the Foundation and its inspiring guests. Thus, the Foundation’s work also entails the setting up of interviews and statements as well as the awarding of prizes and similar honors.

Following their one-year stay in Hamburg, the Foundation’s guests return to their home countries. But out of sight does not mean out of mind: The connections with former guests continue through transnational co-operations, intercultural exchange of information, or personal contact between friends.

The Foundation’s guests are important fighters and disseminators for the democratization of their home countries. To save their lives, to support their work, to provide them with space and time as well as recognition for their political commitment – this is the Foundation’s principal mission. If we succeed in making them feel comfortable, in giving them some freedom and the opportunity to finish a significant piece of work, it will ultimately resonate with their compatriots. This also makes them “secret ambassadors” for our city as well as for our country.