Role of youth work in addressing refugee and migrant crisis in Europe

Migration and refugee crisis is a really huge topic, with a lot of things happening within the European youth work and outside. If we check the priorities, number of projects being developed and approved, and simply using a common sense, we can clearly see that there is a need to work on it. Other question is how?

In November 2017 we run a seminar on the role of youth work in combating the current migration and refugee crisis. Besides I have treated this topic in several project proposals, other youth activities and manuals. I feel it is a time to systematize a bit what is a role of youth work, what are the main direction we should work on and a bit what not to do:)

The starting point for me for the reflection was the realization that youth work will not solve the problem, but we can have an important contribution. In the situation that we are right now I do believe that the small actions that can be implemented matters a lot. And at least for me there are a clear lines of work, what we can do. I have systematized them into 7 points, main directions. I hope it will be useful.

1) We need to work with migrants on issues based on their needs

This statement is very vague, I know, but for me has an important meaning. What I find important is to ask ourselves few questions: are we able to engage ourselves in the direct work with the refugees? Do we have enough competences to do this work? Are there any other institutions close to me, which are already providing the support needed? Do I know what actually is needed? And how do I know it?

There are different needs depending on the place where we work. I don´t really know what the needs are, sorry to admit. I talked with people who are directly involved and I got a bit into the conclusion, that we need to start from providing basic human rights, and ensuring the well being of people with whom we work. Sometimes it can be things as basic as food, and sometimes, psychological support.

Therefore I would like to ask everybody, please don´t develop complicated projects, if you don´t know what is needed. And if you don´t have competences to work directly with refugees, there are a lot of other things you can do, which are also very important. Like points 2-7 of this article:)

2) We need to work with our communities to combat racism and xenophobia

This point is already self-explanatory. We simply need to do it. Recently I got involved in several conversations about racism in Lorca and I got really altered. I have heard a lot of racism statements, mainly starting with the phrase ¨I am not racist, but…¨. If things like this happens in my local community, which I really consider very progressive, then I am asking myself what is the situation on other parts of Europe, like my home town in Poland?!?!?! That is really stressful.

OK, let´s talk about the ¨types¨ of racists people. Of course there might be a lot, and I don´t have a proper knowledge to make this scientifically correct. I want to talk about two different groups that I see a lot, and they need to have a different approach when we work with them. First one is ¨I am not a racist, but…¨, which mainly refers to the people who have a lot of fears towards foreigners, usually coming from the specific ethnic groups, and they are legitimizing they way of thinking based on the negative cases that they see on the streets, stories that media broadcast, and following what is generally acceptable in the society.

The second group is ¨I realized that I am racist…¨, for example by passing on the other side of the street, when I see people from a specific community, I feel a fear when someone entered my store, and then I realized it was stupid, but the fear was there. What is good about this group is that they are already doing a lot to fight racism on the personal level. They are aware and willing to change.

Why I specified those two groups? It is because I have a hypothesis that one of the factors that is contributing to the racism and xenophobia in the communities are people themselves. People who are sharing a lot and spreading their fears, making visible the cases which can support fears within the community. And there is lack of positive stories!

Do you know that the crime level within refugee community is very low? Do you know that if a refugee would commit a crime, they will be immediately deported? This can be as well manipulative from my side, since I talk about racism in general and I give examples of refugees right now. I don´t know the other statistics. But the fact is that we see one things and we generalize them to the whole community. This is not right. We need counter narrative, so those who are not racist, but… will not be able to externalize the blame anymore, and those who are still fearing, will feel more secure, because they should!

With those words I need to underline one more thing – we in our work, we need to find a way to address the whole community. Our families, people wit whom we work, our neighbors, the guy in the store with veggies, and the girl from the post office. So even if we are working with our group of local volunteers, we need to stress out that it is not enough to get self-aware, but we need people who can do the field work and spread the counter narrative.

3) We need to work on the topic of identity and intercultural learning

Once I read this sentence: Is it possible to develop openness towards the other and his or her otherness if one has a strong sense of one´s identity, a demand in intercultural learning programmes? (Derrida, Jacques (1999). Bemerkung zu Dekonstruction und Pragmatismus).

I read this sentence and my mind goes in so many different directions – do we really need a strong identity? Do we need national identity? What happens when our identity meets other one? Do we contribute in our work for the development of the strong national identity? And what about multiple identities?

There are a lot of things to write about, and just to let you know I still don´t have all the answers, and I am not sure if one would ever have them. But let´s start from the beginning. I see a huge need to work on the one´s identity, and in the same time it is a must to do the intercultural learning with the objective to develop the empathy, solidarity, and the possibility to develop and maintain a meaningful relationships with everybody.

The issue of identity is crucial, especially for those young people for whom the identity is not clear! Again sounds like bla bla bla for those who are living in the same country where they were born, belonging to the same ethnic group as the majority of people in their community, who are heterosexual, without any visible disability etc. But there are more and more people in Europe for whom the identity is not that clear, or better said is clear but multiple, and not fully accepted by everybody that some of the layers of the identity can go together. Giving the example being Polish and having a black skin color, this combination as still not very popular in Poland, brings a lot of resistance in the community, and the poor person who has this identity can easily enter into the identity crisis – I feel Polish, but other doesn´t think so, maybe then I am not really Polish, then who the hell I am??? This can be logic. And this happens with more and more often, since our Europe is becoming more diverse. Therefore working on identity is a must, and empower young people to accept themselves and who they are.

Second aspect is intercultural learning – and here I am not talking about learning about different cultures. Honestly I don´t care about it. I am talking about the development of the intercultural competences, like ability to manage conflict based on values, to have the empathy, to be able to accept the diversity and live and cherish it.

4) Professionalization is needed – if you want to do something which competences you have and which are you missing, and start with yourself.

When I am thinking about youth work being professional, I don´t expect everyone to go through the exam, or get some official title. I am rather saying that youth work is a huge responsibility, since we work with youngsters for whom often we are role models, and we can easily influence them (whenever we want this or not). And when I think about professional youth work, for me the first criteria is, that our actions are not bringing the negative impact.

Therefore knowing that the youth work will not save the world, and that it needs to be done well to bring a positive impact – if you don´t know how to do it, ask for help, bring up more people on board, learn, or start from something different, something personal, act by starting from yourself, because personal is political.

5) We need to invest in building strong and meaningful relationships

This task of the youth work was inspired by one of the global citizenship competence developed within Globalab project: Maintaining relations – Global citizens should be able to establish and maintain relations with people, including those from diverse backgrounds (culture, language, religion, social status, etc.). This is a pre-condition for the ability for successful communication, cooperation and conflict resolution in a multicultural environment.¨. And was further develop by a colleague of mine, by adding the description that those relationships should be strong and meaningful.

Still sounds complicated? Stating it as simply as possible – if I create a real relationship with someone (not limited to couples), I will look at this person from the perspective of our relationship, and not from the perspective of ethnicity, and/or other characteristics that we usually discriminate. It least it has happened to me, whenever I have created a meaningful relationship with someone different them me, maybe even coming from the group that I had stereotypes about, I stopped generalizing. After knowing someone, I was relating to this person, and the way of thinking it was never the same anymore.

We as youth workers can create an environment the creation of the meaningful relationships and encourage, push a bit the process. But the most important is to ensure to bring people together. This is always a first step.

6) We need to learn and be informed

Before I mentioned people who are saying ¨I am not racist, but…¨, and this ¨but¨ is usually not fully correct. I am not a racist, but migrants are stilling our jobs, I am not a racist, but migrant neighborhood is dangerous, I am not a racist, but I would never date a black person. Sounds familiar? I do believe that we need to be well informed to be able to discuss those ¨buts¨. And of some of those ¨buts¨ are reflected in reality, to be able to see why. What causes those issues? Because it is highly possible that it is a systematic problem, not really connected to the ethnicity.

And finally we need to be well informed in order not to spread inaccurate information, and not to support the development of stereotypes. The first rule is no harm please, so if we might create more harm then good, let´s stop what we are doing and let´s learn!

7) We need to keep raising awareness about the facts and myths about refugees

As the continuation of the previous point, we need to raise awareness on all of this that has been discussed on the post. And we need to outreach to the whole community. How? There are many ways, basically do whatever you can, talk, share, write, do the awareness raising campaigns. Small things matters!

In Cazalla Intercultural last year we run the awareness raising campaign – there are no buts (no hay peros). This can be one of the examples of the initiative that I can recommend.

More info:

Secondly, for the topic of refugees I have found an interesting video talking about facts, that I like to use a lot. This can be other example what to do:

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