Migration has recently become a phenomenon of crucial importance for Europe, being it currently shaping its whole history. In fact, more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx and with integration issues. By now, the “EU response to the refugee crisis has been chaotic and divisive, characterized by squabbling over sharing responsibility, cascading border closures and finger-pointing. (...) And recent events in Paris and Brussels have interjected
fear of terrorism into the mix.” (J. Sunderland, Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division - Human Rights Watch). Historically, however, the EU has a long record of migrations and European societies have been dealing with increasing diversity for years, in such a way that we may all consider ourselves as “migrants”. Yet, with the last year trends in migration flows, opinion and political debates all over Europe have been increasingly shaped by concerns about cultural identity, social cohesion, security, access to public services, crime and employment, always largely focusing on the immigrant population as a stereotyped and generalized “whole”. To make things worse, the European Union does not require any particular integration approach. The EU Common Basic Principles (2004) define integration as “a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States”. But actual national and regional policies have too often tended toward coercive integration (such as discriminatory measures such as religious-dress bans in France, Belgium and parts of Italy and Spain).
As J. Sunderland underlines, “many of those who have risked their lives to reach Europe this year will have strong motivation to do what they can to rebuild their lives in their new homes. But integration policies that require people to shed fundamental aspects of their identity are unlikely to succeed. Sustainable integration should aim at giving migrants a real stake in their new home, encouraging participation rather than exclusion, while requiring full adherence to laws and respect for the rights of others.” This perspective is included not only in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
In this sense, guided by its principles and values, YEU International and its partners believe that the starting point of any sustainable integration policy should be the respect for migrants and refugees as individuals, with their own stories, dreams and competences. We feel that youth organizations and European youth can have a great role in addressing this gap. By meeting the refugees/migrants and collecting their stories (needs, dreams, fears, personal stories, journeys, expectations, goals, hopes, competences, skills, contributions), they can provide the host population with accurate and fair information about who refugees are and what are the benefits of welcoming them in the local community, promoting therefore an inclusive and tolerant society, able to recognize and value personal talents and to empower and integrate them.
The second exchange will take place in Thessaloniki in February 2017. The aim of this activity is to step into the refugees' shoes for a week, through different simulations/role plays. Participants will have the chance to better understand the stories they collected and how to match them with the needs and features of the local communities they live in. Through this activity, they will have the chance to work on "everyday integration" processes based on the individual and personal stories of the refugees and migrants they met and to develop specific strategies to foster the concept of "community match" in their local realities. For this purpose, during the activity participants will also work on a social campaign and will collect all the stories and experiences gathered through the project in order to produce a small handbook/publication with "Modern fairytales of inclusion" (i.e. the stories shared by refugees will be reshaped as modern tales with different possible "finales" according to different matches within the local communities) and with tools and tips to foster the concept of "community match" within youth organizations.