Rethinking refugee integration

On March 27th and 28th the “Rethink Refugees” conference  took place in The Hague. This was a two day event where participants were encouraged to think of out of the box solutions for enhanced refugee integration. The first day was filled with inspiring speakers and workshops. The event was organized by Ashoka and, among others, PwC, the municipality of The Hague and Tilburg University. The day was opened with a short presentation by Ashoka and PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC. PwC highlighted that we should use diversity as a strength and that we fail at tackling challenges because of a lack of confidence.

Integration starts from the beginning

There were two keynote speakers: Lisa Nishii and Amma Asante. Lisa Nishii highlighted the meaning of inclusion. Among others, she said that relationships need to become more personal and people need to get to know each other’s story so that someone does not become a representative of a certain group but instead becomes a person. Amma Asante’s speech particularly stood out. She mentioned that people often seem to forget that integration starts from the very beginning, from the way we receive asylum seekers. Stating that we receive them with a lack of confidence and with fear. “Refugees are an embodiment of what we are afraid of”. It comes down to a human fear of our own sentiments. Refugees are insecure, they come from a place where they had to flee and they arrive in a country where they have no idea what their future holds and whether they can even stay and be safe. They are fearful and insecure. Exactly the two characteristics we as receivers are embodying as well. If we are unable to show confidence and fearlessness while receiving people, then how can they trust us? According to Amma Asante we need to be helpful and warm-hearted when we receive refugees. We need to allow them to catch their breath, they have just gone through a long journey. In this time we can offer them healthcare, and allow them to become ‘zen’. Following this period, speed is necessary. We need to break down the period in which refugees are insecure of their future. In this long waiting period with lots of insecurity; ambitions and a feeling of power are lost. Amma stated that “When you flee from your country, it is a sign of strength, a sign of having ambition”. Nevertheless, nobody would be able to keep these ambitions up when you potentially have to wait for years before you get security. Clarity for a refugee in whether he or she is able to stay, will allow them to create new steps for their future. It gives them hope and instigates ambitions. Maybe we are just afraid of giving people clarity because we are afraid to reject but also to commit. Out of this fear we decide to leave others in the dark.

Ways to improve refugee integration

After this promising opening it was time for the workshops. The first workshop was with Sofia Appelgren from the Swedish organization “Mitt liv” (My life). Her organization mainly tried to get the “victim” image of refugees away and to connect people. They make sure refugees get in direct contact with businesses to allow them to practice the language at a professional level. Within their system they have tutors from big Swedish companies such as Volvo who try to guide the refugees. Through this, the companies are able to find the biggest talents and recruit them for their company. The organization tries to provide support where the government is unable to reach.

After lunch, it was time for the second workshop, given by Abdoulaye Fall. This workshop introduced the participants to his organization which uses the system of Self-Funded Communities (SFCs) for refugees in Europe. An SFC is a small group of people who meet monthly and try to help each other in financing and saving. Each person within the group puts in an amount of money they pay monthly and every month members are able to request a loan which is paid from the collective money. From experience it has turned out to be a very successful system to teach people to use money wisely and to bring cohesion, trust and solidarity within a group. Fall thinks that “If you really want to help people get out of poverty, rather than assisting them, give them tools to provide for themselves”. His organization is successfully able to provide these tools.

In the end, we should not forget that refugees are exactly the same as us, just born in a different place. We need to embrace every single human being’s uniqueness and enable them to develop their talents in an independent matter.

Gepubliceerd door: Véronique Sprenger

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