Refugees Welcome? Reflections during Refugee Week 2016

Rachel Pidgeon is senior communications executive at Matter&Co, a partner to the European Social Innovation Competition.

A citizen-led movement is our chance to help encourage refugee integration.

Refugee Week takes place every year across the world in the week following World Refugee Day on the 20 June. This year’s theme is Welcome, and the week aims to encourage events, showcase the talent and expertise that many refugees bring, and explore new and creative ways of addressing the issues that refugees face.

More than one million refugees and migrants have fled their homes to Europe in the past year.

With harrowing news of Mediterranean crossings, to recent opposition of plans to admit stranded refugee children into the UK, the crisis has been a bleak awakening for many in Europe and beyond.

It’s a situation that can’t be ignored or solved on the surface. There is need for solutions that can practically help both refugees who have already left their homes, and those in transit.

Immigration is a complicated issue, with cross-border disagreements and policy conflicts leaving us seemingly far from any widespread, uniform solution. Yet, in the face of adversity, many citizens and organisations have begun to take things into their own hands.

This bottom up approach takes many forms, from online platforms such as Takecarebnb, which offers refugees in Holland a temporary home. Language apps like Yallah Deutschland, helping foster cultural integration and community between German citizens and refugees, to practical skills like visa, work and study advice from Migreat, and everything in between. As these ideas, projects and movements continue to grow in profile and scope, we become a little bit closer to creating a system where refugees and migrants can be empowered to be part of new communities that welcome the skills, expertise, experience and culture they bring.

Integrated Futures is the 2016 edition of The European Social Innovation Competition, a challenge prize seeking out the most innovative approaches to integration for refugees and migrants by supporting ideas of entrepreneurs, designers, academics, refugees, migrants and citizens from all walks of life.

The Competition has just named its 30 semi-finalists– organisations, groups and individuals shortlisted from over 1,000 applications from 36 countries across Europe. They have come up with inspiring projects and ideas that will help facilitate integration within Europe, and act as exciting examples of the types of approaches that we need to harness, support and amplify during this year’s Refugee Week and beyond.

The semi-finalists will come together in Berlin, on 4-6 July, for three days of one-on-one coaching and mentoring, workshops, networking and site visits of German charities and social organisations already taking action around the city. The academy is an opportunity for learning and developing or refining business plans but also for collaboration. It will be a chance for people to be inspired by what’s already happening around us in Berlin and beyond, but also by one another.

And if you’re not sure how you can get involved in helping address this unprecedented challenge, you can start by following @EUSocialInnov, where you can keep up to date with the competition and its semi-finalists, as well as hear about relevant events and projects currently happening all over Europe and around the world.

Beyond that, you can get involved and support Refugee Week online, using the #RefugeeWeek hashtag. Finally, it’s worth searching your local area for charities and organisations to see how you can help.

While the broader political situation can seem daunting and there’s definitely still work to be done, the innovation and spirit of those supporting refugees and migrants in their local communities and finding their own ways of helping is encouraging. And it’s these citizen-led, collaborative approaches making a real difference on the ground that we can be proud of and inspired by.

Meet the 30 semi-finalists

Learn more about the EU Social Innovation Competition

Photo: Montecruz Foto/ Flickr Pro-refugee demonstration in Berlin. “Refugees welcome”