Integrating refugees into youth work
Every minute, 22 people are forcedly displaced. The majority of the 65 million refugees worldwide are youngsters. One of them is Abdedllbaset Alheeshan. He was a logistic team lead in Syria and in 2015 he had to flee from the Syrian war. When he arrived at the special centre in Brussels he had to wait “with nothing to do”. That’s when he decided to volunteer in a house of senior citizens to practise his Flemish. He then found the Tandem initiative that matches refugees wanting to volunteer with NGOs. After his 2 weeks voluntary experience in Tandem, he got a placement in the Tandem organisation itself. He now has an active role in promoting the integration of refugees in policies.
Indeed, a shared idea by the speakers was that refugees themselves should be the main actors of integration policies and that the top down strategy should be over. Gabriel Almeida, Legal Assistant at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles also pointed out that the poor conditions at reception centres, the detention policies and the lack of respect for fundamental rights by some EU countries, had a bad impact on the prospect of integration.
Carina Autengruber, Vice-President of the European Youth Forum stated that it was “high time for politicians and governments to ditch racist, xenophobic rhetoric and to invest in inclusive, sustainable societies”. She also highlighted the mobilisation of “youth organisations across the continent to welcome people fleeing war and persecution”.
An example of those organisations is the World Organisation of the Scout Movement represented by Andreas Tzekas. Andreas shared his experience as one of the 1500 scouts that volunteered in welcoming refugees on the greek coast. “For every young refugee that crossed the border there was a young European waiting to welcome”. The project Time to be welcome, hosted 53 volunteers that worked in 4 refugees centres in Greece. An important point for this young greek was that “European volunteers return to their homes as messengers of peace by spreading the new perspective they found helping refugees”.
Tanya Basarab from the Council of Europe-EU Youth Partnership shared the research’s findings about youth work and inclusion of young refugees. Firstly, she pointed out that it is crucial to give support to young refugees as soon as they arrive due to the stress and trauma they have experienced. A relevant aspect of refugees’ lives is the inactivity during the period that they are waiting for a legal answer, which may have an impact on their mental health. During this “waitinghood” it is crucial that youth organisations provide them a chance to be active and to be heard. She acknowledged the fact that youth workers are assuming roles of humanitarian work and this transition demands new skills, like dealing with trauma and intercultural skills.
Michalis Moschovakos, Policy Officer, DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, European Commission stressed the importance of the European Solidarity Corps initiative as a way to demonstrate solidarity towards refugees. He stated that “30 years from now we all will be judged by our stand with this migrant refugee crisis”. Steve Parry from the British Red Cross remembered that of 588.000 people arrived in Britain in 2016, only 6,5 % of them were seeking asylum. ”We should seek for facts and avoid the one-sided tabloid stories that spread negative stereotypes”. That’s why the social campaign #factsnotfear was launched.
The European Commission has released the 'EU Skills Profile Tool for Third-Country Nationals', an instrument for non-EU nationals to present their CV in an understandable way for employers. It is available in Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Sorani, Somali and Tigrainy besides the EU languages. The Head of the Council of Europe Liaison Office with the EU, Zoltan Taubner, highlighted the relevance of the Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe.
Youth organisations that want to carry out activities with young refugees can find funding in Erasmus + Program and at European Youth Foundation. Information papers can be also found in the the Journeys to a New Life website’s conference.