On the occasion of the International Day for Tolerance celebrated on 16 November, representatives of bottom-up initiatives for assistance to refugees from five EU states were invited by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum to Berlin. The guests participated in the Discussion “Refugees Welcome: European Citizens on Watch” at the Literaturwerkstatt (Kulturbrauerei) as well as visited related authorities and a registration site for incoming refugees.
‘This was one of the first meetings by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum specifically organised with representatives of the EU countries only,’ says Ralph du Long, member of the Forum’s Steering Committee, lawyer, spokesperson at UNITED for Intercultural Action (Netherlands). ‘The visit was very fruitful for networking and definitely contributed to further shaping of the new Forum’s Working Group on migration. It was also very important to support our colleagues from the countries, which are less friendly to the refugees than Germany: Unfortunately, now these are not only refugees, who are endangered in entering the EU, but also civil society activists, who provide assistance to those.’
The discussion on 16 November was opened by Anna Sevortian, Executive Director of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, with a moment of silence for victims of terrorist attacks in Ankara, over the Sinai Peninsula, in Beirut, and in Paris.
Afterwards, Paul-René Nkamani, a refugee from Cameroon, told a striking story of his 4-year trip to Germany through the Western Mediterranean way. Further participants shared their experiences of the assistance to refugees ranging from delivering food and clothes or translating leaflets to legal support, education, and providing a shelter to refugee families. Along with representatives of Berlin initiatives, NGOs, and foundations, main speakers included Julia Eriksson Pogorzelska, Law Clerk, Litigation Department, Swedish Migration Agency (Sweden); Nora Hauptmann, NGO Relations Coordinator, Kiron University for Refugees (Germany); Julija Kranjec, Director, Centre for Peace Studies, Coordinator of the “Welcome“ Initiative (Croatia); Zsuzsanna Zsohár, Media Officer, Migration Aid (Hungary).On the next day, 17 November 2015, guests were welcomed at the Office of Ombudsperson for Integration and Migration at the Senate of Berlin as well as went to the Authority of the Land of Berlin for Healthcare and Social Issues, where the refugees have to register upon their arrival in the German capital.
The visit ended with a common discussion on further cooperation steps and the allocation of the migration topic within the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
‘The trip to Berlin was encouraging for our initiative and the Centre for Peace Studies in general,’ concludes Julija Kranjec. ‘We could face good practices of dealing with refugees, which may be also implemented in Croatia, especially if transit countries can turn final destinations in the future. Besides, I was convinced again that telling a personal story of a refugee increases empathy in the society, which we unfortunately often lack in our country.’
The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was established in 2011 by non-governmental organisations as a permanent common platform. At the moment, 150 NGOs from Russia and the European Union are member of the Forum. It aims at development of cooperation of civil society organisations from Russia and EU and greater participation of NGOs in the EU- Russia dialogue. The Forum has been actively involved, inter alia, in the questions of facilitation of visa regime, development of civic participation, protection of the environment and human rights, dealing with history, and civic education.
This press release was originally published on the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum website [link]