The European Refugee crisis has just begun. Europe has opened the floodgates and it will be exceptionally difficult to close them without losing face or resolving the source conflicts, which in Syria for example looks increasingly like a stalemate. The truth is that many more refugees will come and many will stay. So how can we make sure that they can live decent lives and not fall prey to radicalization? How does integration work?
While some refugees are euphorically greeted, as at Munich Central Station, more often they are welcomed with either indifference or a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty. Increasingly, they are not welcomed at all, repelled at borders as in Hungary, or met with hate as the looting of lodgings and right wing demonstrations exemplify.
It is only natural that at some point even the greatest enthusiasm starts to weaken. The reality is that soon refugees will be a normal function of daily life. When the support of the countless volunteers starts to fade, we need to be ready with a proper system in place to guarantee basic living standards for those who are here to stay. They need firm guidance as I propose in these rules below:
1. Need for permanent and secure shelter
Today refugees live huddled together in barracks, hostels, tents or even without a roof over their head. As winter is quickly approaching this situation cannot last and needs to be addressed head on. Where possible, permanent accommodation should be provided to enable a resumption of their normal lifestyle.
2. Obligation to learn the local language
Understanding the language is absolutely essential in order to integrate into a foreign environment. Language is the most basic element of every culture and without it, one can never fully fit in. There are already many parallel societies in all European countries, which purposefully separate themselves form the rest. These people do not take part in public sphere of life and hence do not understand and respect a society’s rules and traditions. They are often the most vulnerable or dangerous. If we are to prevent such separation learning the language has to be mandatory. It does not solve the problem, but it is a first step.
3. Enabling a new workforce
If refugees are to stay, they need to be able to work and earn a decent living as fast as possible. That is not an easy task. Most of them will have to learn the language first. Some are illiterate and need to be educated from the ground up. Others are traumatized and need psychological support. The challenges are manifold and differ for each individual. However, being able to work, have a routine, a sense of purpose, is an imperative component of providing each and every person with a sense of worthiness. It gives them a feeling of belonging to the community, and reinforces the notion that they are needed and not just dispensable objects. The ability to provide for themselves and their families will be hugely beneficial to everyone, not just refugees. They are more likely to be well respected by the native population, make new friends, and raise their children in a more positive manner.
Points 1, 2, and 3 are essential, because they represent the most basic human needs. Shelter, food, and to a degree, purpose. If these conditions are met, the chances for peaceful integration into multicultural societies are realistic. Most of all, they reduce the likelihood of radicalization through some form of religious extremism or local right wing groups.
4. Beware of redistribution
It is abundantly clear to everyone that millions of refugees cause a lot of problems, which can only be answered through a collective effort, including governments, the private sector, PPPs, and the invaluable civil engagement. However, we should not make the mistake of stripping some of their belongings to give it back to others, in this case the refugees. While it may be feasible to temporarily occupy public school gymnasiums, it is wholly unacceptable to impound private property without the consent and payment toward the owner. Such behavior will stir envy, especially among the lower classes. Administrations have to find better solutions to prevent greater rifts within societies.
5. Rewarding voluntary helpers
We should not forget the countless volunteers, who dedicate a lot of their time, energy and resources toward helping the most needy. Whether it be language teachers, admission assistants, or anyone else, they all should be thanked at every opportunity by our elected officials and administrators. Every little gesture counts. They represent the warmth, sympathy and determination of a loving person. Their engagement is indispensable and we will need to rely on it for quite some time in the future.
6. Refugee shelters must not become breeding ground for extremist ideology
Nationalism has been on the rise throughout Europe for the last year as an answer to the protracted financial problems of some member states of the European Union. Many are not willing to pay the price for another nation’s failure. For different reasons, the huge influx of migrants compounds this racial problem, as most refugees are Muslims in non-Muslim states. Right-wing extremists and other rioters need to be condemned and kept away from refugees. One can already spot obscure mosque representatives and fundamentalists close to the refugee shelters, and police forces are alarmed. The refugee crisis offers a lot of meat to the political fringes and they are keen to exploit it. We must stop them! We must confront the refugees with the liberal forces of our societies and not let them be consumed by tiny minorities. It’s the responsibility of each of us to engage with the refugees and lead by example. If we want to prevent terror attacks in our neighborhoods we have to act ourselves and not wait for our governments. Alone, they are unable to cope. Let us win the hearts and minds of our new neighbors!
One possible solution is to spread refugees evenly across city districts to prevent the establishment of un-integrated districts in the first place. The key is to have a mixed social structure.
7. Don’t forget the locals
Our neighbors’ worries need to be recognized and taken serious. We cannot afford to ignore them, or we risk the welcoming culture that we have cultivated, quickly turning into one of envy, separation and disgust. The best medicine is to speak to people. Engage their fears and show them why they are wrong. Do not scold them. Fear is only natural.