Since Qais, like every other Saturday, is busy volunteering with the Technical Relief Organisation, I am using the opportunity to answer the question why I have decided to support his project to th best of my ability:
- More dialogue & more understanding translates into better integration: In development work, and assisting refugees constitutes no exception thereto, more often than is marked by an inherent lack of communication and dialogue between the beneficiaries and the ones that deliver the aid; too many times we develop well meant concepts, projects and ideas that we ‘impose’ on beneficiaries without properly consulting them prior to that – and yet we wonder why they don’t always achieve the desired effect/impact; Qais’s blog is the first effort of its kind offering the opportunity to learn through the perspective of a refugee himself what is most useful in regards to integration and how we can best assist their efforts
- To change the perception of viewing refugees as a challenge and make them a part of the solution instead: The beneficiaries, in this case refugees, ideally should be considered as a part of the development of a solution from the start and included in developing concepts; thereby we kill two birds with one stone: 1. We use the abundant potential refugees bring with them and also foster their self-worth (being able to solve a problem or at least help to do so makes every human being naturally feel better than just being the recipient of aid) 2. Who among us isn’t rolling our eyes occassionally from time to time when yet another refugee complains about what we tend to consider small things such as being having to live in a village instead of a city – to confront this with the question “Well what would you do if you were the government and had to house such a massive amount of newly arrived people that jus came to Germany?” is a much more useful and goal oriented approach than explaining for the tenth time why such policies actually make sense; if people like Qais through his blog are able to share their idea, knowledge and own concepts we are able to take this on board when developing solutions for challenges, instead of doing all the work ourselves.
- Foster intercultural communication: Many misunderstandings as well as absence of understanding are based on a lack of knowledge about each other’s culture, religion or what someone actually went through; websites and blogs like Qais’s provide us with the rare chance to get to know their perspective/view of the world, understanding of their culture/religion and reasons for escape and facilitate empathy and a better understanding of challenges they face as human beings; it also teaches us how they perceive our society; thereby we can identify which issues require more explanations and communication to make the integration process work smoother and more effectively
- To look at people that fled their countries not only as ‘the refugee’, but to acknowledge them as human beings again: Multiculturalism in Germany/Europe, in my eyes, didn’t fail in the past; what failed however is appropriate dialogue and communication; every refugee in the first place is just another human being, albeit one that most likely has been traumatized prior to their arrival and have lost almost everything they had in life; however, it is crucial that they are not only looked upon as refugees, but as a human being facing a tremendous challenge they seek to master and for which they occasionally and temporarily need our assistance; Facebook Groups such as “Flüchtlinge sind Menschen wie du und ich – we are all humans”, carry exactly this message: Qais, by sharing his story and way, is mostly hoping that it helps refugees to be looked upon as a new family member, a new cool friend or simply a good neighbor rather than merely the refugee
- To confront the negative trend: The initially extreme ‘Welcome Culture’ unfortunately quickly turned into a ‘Culture of Paranoia’; thereby among those criticizing chancellor Merkel’s refugee policy we find genuine racists, that are mostly a lost cause, as well as those that are genuinely fearful due to negative media reports, acts of violence/attacks committed by a minority of refugees or other fears; most of those ones primarily are driven by a ‘fear of the unknown’, that is human beings with a different cultural and religious background than our own; as human beings we are naturally afraid of what is unknown to us, due to which there is nothing wrong with that; however, it is key that we engage with their fears and to seek dialogue with people that are so fearful of refugees that they tend to turn against them, instead of disregarding their concerns; we have to remember in this regard that violent refugees remain the exception and aren’t the rule, that the number of radical right wing attacks against refugees outnumbers crimes committed by refugees by far (indeed it doubled between 2014 and 2015) and lastly that every culture has ‘black sheep’ – ours not any less than theirs; Qais with his blog offers and seeks the opportunity for dialogue to reduce prejudices
- A sign of fight against racism, xenophobia and lack of humanity: Racists’ voices often enough dominate the public’s ears more than constructive and positive voices; by supporting people like Qais in their courage to share their stories/ideas with others we inevitably display the positive sides of migration and automatically take the wind out of the sails of racists as well as depriving them of a growing number of supporters
- Influence politics/policies: We are a democracy, thereby supposed to have a say and influence in politics right? That should not stop at the votes we cast every few years! If you compare refugee policies of the 80s/90s with those today we can indeed observe a few improvements, however, we can all the same observe the repetition of the same old mistakes made again; there is still the tendency of refugees being clustered together in certain parts of a city (you might recall Hamburg wanted to develop housing complexes for refugees only for instance) rather than living amongst us; furthermore, once more tightened asylum laws; every know and than one gets to hear that the EU decided to pay Turkey large amounts of money to halt the flow of refugees rather than providing for them in our countries, out of fear of the big political parties that otherwise radical right wing parties would score even higher during the next elections; while this initially seems comprehensible it is still wrong: For one we run the risk of denying protection to those that are in need of it and second we leave the impression of at least indirectly agreeing with the argumentation of right wing parties; good political leadership should put more effort into improving communication and honest dialogue with its citizens, to reduce fear and prejudice; last but not least more openness and honesty about the reality that our own economic and foreign policies without a doubt has contributed to the misery, wars and conflicts in third countries, would not be the worst idea; I have no doubt that intelligent people like Qais and many other refugees, in the end will be an important gain for our country – human beings that we can also learn from
- Train the trainer: Who would be better suited to assist with the integration of further/newly arrived refugees and ensure that integration can work the best way possible, than human beings like Qais that have already successfully mastered this challenge? They are the most important interface between our culture and that of the newly arrived refugees; because successfully integrated refugees share the cultural background of those that just arrived while having understood and internalized for the most part our culture and moral values, they are best suited to transfer this knowledge to others in the most credible way possible; for this reason it is of utmost importance that we support examples like that of Qais, to give their voices more weight and to empower them
Having said this I am not just wishing Qais the best of success with his project, but furthermore that you all use the opportunity to engage with him, comment, share and contribute with your own ideas to make it work.