As Europe agonises over accepting millions of refugees from Syria and elsewhere, in this little corner of Bavaria, Subhas Chandra Bose’s daughter is passionately involved in helping resettle and integrate them in the local community.
Would Anita Bose Pfaff’s iconic father have approved of her work?
Reflecting the focus and commitment to a cause that the independence leader was famous for, Pfaff told Hindustan Times: “I hope so, but even if he didn’t I must say I don’t care (laughs), I would have still involved myself in helping the refugees.”
Pfaff, 73, coordinates the rehabilitation of refugees in Augsburg at various levels, from getting them registered, helping with grocery shopping and housing, and teaching them German with a band of dedicated volunteers.
“Even though I don’t agree with (German chancellor Angela) Merkel on other issues, I am in full support of her position that we should accept refugees. There is a humanitarian side, of course, but also the practical side: There is no other alternative (than to accept them),” she said.
Germany, which accepted over a million refugees last year, is an aging society with a low birth rate.
Her husband, Martin Pfaff, 76, who was a member of the Bundestag or German parliament from the Social Democratic Party, helps her in refugee-related activities. He said she is popular among refugees and their children, and often went out of her way to attend to them.
The Pfaffs are economists and held professorial positions in the University of Augsburg.
“The interesting thing is that it is changing society in several ways, including a push towards a sense of community. We are a small town here, 15,000 inhabitants, (with) about 150 helpers in the refugee work. There is a sense that we are doing something together for our community,” she said.
Pfaff said rehabilitating and integrating refugees is a “challenge and a difficult proposition”, also because of the large number of people who are culturally different.
“I find that all our refugees want to learn German, they want their children to go to school as soon as possible; they are very keen. Not all of them are qualified. We get some carpenters, painters, electricians, car mechanics and so on; they need extra qualifications that are recognised here. So it is a challenge,” she said.
European countries are “well off”, she said, but they also have a sizeable population that is poor and without jobs, and feel threatened by the large influx of refugees who will compete for jobs and low price housing.
Pfaff said: “Lot of money has to go into the refugee work. In Germany you have a history. After the World War II, you had 10 to 12 million people displaced from eastern Europe who were taken in.
“Unless Europe manages to cope with the refugee question in a positive way, that is integrate as many as possible, it is going to be much more difficult and destructive than if they don’t.”