Europe is still willing to help refugees. Unlike the United States, there are currently no plans to ban all refugees from entering the European Union. Nevertheless, anti-immigration and anti-refugee political parties have been doing well in recent years and hope to make large gains in the upcoming French, German, and Dutch elections.
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
This week, we’re looking at Brussels, Belgium. Brussels has not always been entirely successful in its integration efforts, with some people arguing that minorities end up socially and economically marginalised. Nevertheless, Brussels is also an excellent case study as one of the most international cities in the world, with 63% of citizens having been born outside of Belgium. So, what lessons can we learn (even if those lessons are what not to do)?
We had a comment from H.Gk., who argued that people are too close-minded about refugees, and that everybody should be given a chance to integrate into their new home.
To kick things off, we thought it would be a good idea to speak to some refugees directly. So, to get a response, we spoke to Sayf Shemsuldin Hamid, an Iraqi refugee now living in Brussels. What did he think was the key to integrating?
For me, the best method of integrating refugees into a society is language. We have to focus on education [and] we have to offer positive role-models in the form of earlier refugees, to show them that integration is possible. There are also many refugees who are well-educated and really want to integrate; they want to work and to restart their lives, but they face many obstacles. For example, getting their diplomas and qualifications recognised in Europe can be difficult…
To get another response, we also spoke to Zaid Khalid Mahmood, a 27-year-old musician (and refugee) originally from Mosul in Iraq. He came to Belgium in 2015 and was living in a Red Cross camp. He’s now studying a Masters Degree in English in Brussels, and is part of the Refugees Got Talent project, a not-for-profit promoting the creative and artistic output of refugees in Belgium. What have been his own experiences of integration?
I can say that ‘Refugees Got Talent’ has been great for the integration process. When I first arrived in Belgium, I was living in a camp on the outskirts of Liege, and I wasn’t able to perform my music… With their help, I was able to find band members to do concerts, find a place to rehearse, get transport to the city, etc.
Usually, if you Google ‘refugee’ then you see very poor people fleeing from disasters, terrorism, wars, etc. It’s easy to forget that refugees have a lot of other things to show. This is what we try to do, but it’s not easy because I’m just one guy. But with ‘Refugees Got Talent’, it’s one way to show the good side of our heritage and culture. So, it’s more like spreading awareness of migration, in a very cultural and artistic way, because people tend to be very curious about art…
In my music, I try to mix traditional folk music from my country with other cultures, not just relying on one genre of music. I had the idea of mixing all sorts of music, because some of my band members come from different countries, so I had the idea of creating something global. One of my band members is Iranian, another guy Moroccan; he sings Moroccan music and sometimes French music, because of the diversity of his culture. We had another guy from Syria, one from Palestine, so we try to mix music from the Middle East with maybe Jazz or Blues…
When people see that, they remember that we are exactly the same. You and I are exactly the same, but we come from different places.
Finally, we spoke to Emmanuelle Ghislain. She is Communication Manager at DUO for a JOB, a non-profit organisation whose work includes promoting integration, and mentoring refugees and migrants in Belgium (something they call “duo coaching”). What would she say are some of the challenges facing refugees who want to integrate?
The main difficulties of refugees are discrimination in hiring, lack of solidarity networks, lack of recognition of degrees and diplomas, educational disadvantages, the complexity of structures and procedures in the host country (poverty, housing, childcare, etc.), plus some internal factors as well: lack of social and professional networks, isolation, frustration, lack of self-confidence, etc.
From our own experience, we can say that the current support offered to overcome these barriers remains insufficient…
What would she say to H.Gk‘s point? Do refugees want to integrate in Brussels?
Integration is a profoundly human issue that engages communities. To successfully integrate refugees into Belgian society, there must be cordial contacts between the newly arrived and the people of the host country. Integration must be seen as a mutual movement, from the host community to the refugees and from the community to the refugee. That’s exactly what we propose through the creation of the duos.
Refugees are incredibly resilient, motivated and determined to actively integrate the host society, among other factors through employment. It offers them the possibility to find their place their new city and integrate the social, economic and human project of the host country. It opens up new horizons for themselves and their children. Those children are the future “youth with an immigrant background”. The future “us”.
How can refugees best be integrated into society? Is language education the key to better integration? Should positive role-models be promoted? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!