Refugees in Europe – How to prevent unfair stereotyping by Citizenship Education?


The refugee crisis is the most challenging problem of today's world – and at this crucial point Europe seems to be incapable of acting, or at least unwilling to cope with the crisis in a half-decent way. So much for the opinion of Karl Kopp from PRO ASYL, a refugee relief organization based in Frankfurt, Germany. But in workshop 2.1. "Refugees in Europe – How to prevent unfair stereotyping by Citizenship Education?" the question was not the refugee crisis itself, but rather the question of how to prevent stereotypes about refugees coming to Europe.

While there is still no common framework to accommodate and distribute refugees in Europe and organizations like PRO ASYL are engaging in establishing legal ways for refugees to stay in Europe, Kopp lamented that "so far only civil society is functioning in terms of taking care of refugees, holding up human rights and the values of the idea of Europe."

How to counter stereotypes about refugees?

Bogdan Krasić (Belgrade Centre for Human Rights) estimated that 3,500 to 8,500 refugees enter Serbia daily – with no durable solution in sight. Having interviewed 100 to 150 refugees on a daily basis, ill-treatment, physical and psychological abuse, arbitrary detentions in police stations and in so-called preventive detention stations are documented. Inhumane perceptions seem to be driving these actions.

Concerning such underlying perceptions, Veszna Wessenauer from the Hungarian Tom Lantos Institute reports on her country: Derogatory concepts of refugees are deeply connected with education: "People just have little understanding of the situation of refugees in general, and only superficial knowledge about human rights." Moreover, diversity as such is not very present in Hungarian society. At least civil society is quite strong; still citizens are not able to handle the situation in the long term – there is just no interaction or any sort of dialogue with the government at all.

Nevertheless, as Spyros Rizakos from the Greek non-governmental organization AITIMA pointed out, state policy can either promote integration or impose an Us-Them-Thinking, can either make out scapegoats or take care of the weak and vulnerable.

Ultimately, in order to prevent unfair stereotyping of refugees, Dimitris Christopoulos, professor of the Panteion University of Athens, pointed out the necessity of deconstructing such stereotypes. For instance the assumed correlation of migration and poverty: In fact, the connection is rather counterintuitive, because the poor stay home, while people from at least the middle-class come to Europe – those who can afford it. Or another example he stated: "In every European country, public opinion follows the same narrative: 'All migrants are coming to us. We have to take the biggest number of migrants!' and so on. But the opposite is true: in general, directly neighboring countries take in the highest numbers of refugees: like Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan."

And in practical terms?

In the end, several ideas are being collected, such as a virtual network for refugees or a radio for & by refugees. Another workshop participant encouraged others to network with his "Migrants Assisting Organizations in the Czech Republic" (http://www.konsorcium-nno.cz/).

One participant found a pamphlet for refugees on her way to the NECE conference venue, a guide giving refugees instructions on which bus and what route to take, where to get legal assistance etc:

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Topic: 
Citizenship Education
Category: 
Articles
Conference Day: 
Saturday

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