‘Migrant crisis’: Two worlds apart seeking cohesion between the national and local levels

Peter Wolkowinski

By Peter Wolkowinski, on May 2nd, 2016

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Credit photos: Gordon Welters/UNHCR, “How will Germany house all its refugees?”, irinnews.org

How can social innovation help in today’s Europe, which is welcoming people from Africa and the Middle East, fleeing war and poverty? How can social innovation reduce the fear of the unknown in central and east European countries, who do not have a wave of refugees, but a wave of fear? What social innovation can we invent to prevent more young people leaving Europe and its freedoms, thinking that they can get more social empowerment in places like Syria and Iraq, fighting for ISIS and even coming back to Europe, to destroy people, families and intercultural cohabitation.

The Boosting Social Innovation URBACT network will certainly have to ask itself these questions, in the coming months. As its lead expert I would like to put forward some reflections, that might even contribute to the work of the other networks, dealing with city management and of course most of all the one on migrants.

On a personal level, my father, in 1939/40 was a migrant, having to flee war in Poland, when the Soviet Union invaded from behind, after Germany invaded from the front. He was interned in Hungary (which was a welcoming country) and then got to Syria, on foot, from what I remember I was told. Many Polish persons found themselves there and were warmly welcomed, and could start to recreate the Polish armed forces in order to continue to try to free Poland from its assailants.

In 1981 I was a journalist in northern France working for a Polish language daily. Many Poles could not or did not wish to return to their country when the State of War was declared by General Jaruzelski. I thought it was my duty to help, to organise. Everyday my sitting room was full of Poles, when I got home from work. They needed everything, papers, homes, work and money. A Solidarity with Solidarność association was created and we started sending many things to Poland to help the opposition. This was normal.

 On the day after the recent terrible bombings in Brussels, the Polish Prime Minister  announced that Poland would not accept migrants, This shows how strong the wave of fear is. It does not however correspond to what several cities in Poland are doing. They are solidly preparing to receive fleeing persons. In Gdansk, over 80 associations and institutions and over 120 persons have been working out an operational plan on how to get organized in order to be able to welcome these newcomers. For over 9 months working groups have been exchanging, consulting specialists and defining the best way to work for the good of the new inhabitants. The final conference of this first stage brought together many people, from Poland and abroad. The feeling was, that we were talking real, that difficult subjects had been treated and that the city was ready.

In Rostock, the Union of Baltic Cities recently organised a conference with its members to exchange practices between these cities. Rostock ifself has lived through an immense wave of migrantion, 35,000 in a few months, most of whom were on their way to Scandinavian countries, but even so they had to be catered for locally and the city managed this, but only through the help of NGO’s and a large number of very motivated citizens. In Trelleborg (Sweden) many of these migrants settled and today the city has to deal with 4,200 children and adolescents, who came on their own, without parents! Many other cities told their stories about how they came to terms with this human wave. The conclusions of the conference were, in the present climate surprising: we want to welcome even more people. We need them and we can cope. This was the general message of these very engaged cities.

The second message was however of a different nature. It appealed to national governments and the EU to manage the whole situation differently, taking into consideration what the experiences of these cities are. As was underlined many times, it’s the cities who welcome each individual refugee, not the governments.

After the Brussels suicide bombings it’s maybe difficult to write about people running away from war and terror. I know that in the midst of these refugees, some suicidal bombers could be found. In any case, they will manage to get to Europe and sadly one must realize that new bombings can take place. However this fear, must be thwarted by the solidarity, charity and help, which we must all try to give to those who flee to us for safety, food and a good nights sleep.

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