Civil society has played an important role in meeting the challenges of refugee migration in recent years. This commentary documents the importance of civic engagement for the integration of refugees by linking individual survey data on refugees to a regional measure of civic engagement in Germany. Using the density of newly established civic associations at the county level as a measure of civic engagement, we exploit regional differences in civic engagement in order to estimate its association with refugee integration outcomes. We find that in regions with particularly high levels of civic engagement, refugees have significantly more frequent contact to Germans, higher life satisfaction, and better German language skills. This correlation is robust to regional contextual factors such as the local population structure, economic strength, and the state of the labor market. In terms of language acquisition, women and refugees with a low level of education benefit the most from high civic engagement. Moreover, refugees with university degrees find significantly better-paying jobs in areas with higher civic engagement. However, no direct correlation could be established between civic engagement and the likelihood that refugees are employed. Nonetheless, the results suggest that support from civil society translates into improved access to government benefits. Our findings highlight that local civic engagement is an important complement to public assistance services and policy makers should give a high priority to partnering with the civil society to improve refugees’ integration outcomes.

DOI: 10.1515/npf-2022-0015
ISSN: 2154-3348