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UNITED Torino Conference Report: Days IV and V

Simply the Best (Part 1)

The first session of Conference Day 4 (25 April) was “Simply the Best” part 1 – a panel in which some participants are presenting their best practices in dealing with narratives on migration. The first speaker was Peter Kaergaard Andersen of Jamboy. Jamboy is an art group creating interventions, with one of their aims to help people of a migrant background integrate and interact with other local people.

He gave examples of the work Jamboy did in India in creating posters for independent street traders. He continued by describing a project Jamboy did in Italy, where they organised an intervention in an art and fashion fair, introducing posters showing the lives, communities and entrepreneurial projects of local migrant communities.

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He then spoke about a current project of the organisation in Denmark – the “Folkets Park” (People’s Park), focusing on the community of West African immigrants. They aimed to help this group integrate better into the public space, and organise projects where both the West African community and other local people could participate. They coordinated small scale events such as screenings of the African Cup of Nations, creating a short film and fostering dialogue with the municipal planning system.

He concluded by talking about Jamboy’s next project: research on refugee housing schemes, integration and urban space. Again they will seek to coordinate events where immigrants and other local people can participate together, helping integration and challenging the narrative of migration.

The next speaker was Ingi Mehus of Pocket Stories. She talked about the fact that, in modern society, while migrants are marginalised and vilified, travel is widely popular, despite the fact that both are means of crossing borders. She introduced her background as a Korean adopted and brought up in Norway, and the difficulty of finding her identity.

It was this struggle with problematic labels that led Ingi to co-found Pocket Stories, an organisation that seeks to challenge such problematic labels through storytelling. One of the projects she talked about was the “Stories & Labels” project, where they combine personal stories of migrants and travellers with statistics. Another project she introduced was “Personal Storytelling”, where they link different stories to show that migration is not a new phenomenon, but something that has always happened.

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The following pannelist was Claudio Tocchi of Trepuntozero. He talked about the Attack project, an initiative of Trepuntozero to link different social movements to share expertise from different fields. As the narrative of migration is often linked to the idea “migrants steal our jobs”, they sought to link the antiracist, migrant rights activists with those working on workers’ rights. By making these links, activists were able to see and understand different ways of framing the same issue, with the aim of developing a common frame to work and talk about rights.

“All movements have a different way of framing their problems. This is extremely effective in achieving short-term results, but it makes it different to talk about rights in general.” The idea of Attack was to bring these different groups together and help them to develop a common language to speak about rights. To achieve this they did two things: they organised focus groups with trade unionists and antiracists. They then proceeded by organising common activities, such as bringing the two groups together for the annual 21 March antiracist demonstration in Torino.

The final speaker was Iosefina Rouza Aetopoulou of Iiliaktida. Her project aims to engage with marginalised people on the Greek island of Lesbos. In recent years, this has focused most of all on helping refugees and asylum seekers on the island. She talked about how covering the basic needs of these people, from their point of view, was not enough. They wanted to respond to each person’s specific needs, eliminate the victimised refugee identity hear both refugees’ and local society’s perspective. The overall aim was to become a connecting bridge between refugees and the local community.

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They achieved this with seemingly simple and insignificant acts, such as organising birthday parties where both refugees and other local people were invited. They organised dinners where members of different communities cooked for each other. They also organised a knitting circle, where local women knitted clothes for refugee children, and also refugees joined and learned how to knit themselves. “Solidarity has to do with helping others.” To show true solidarity, the locals had to take the refugees as their own people.

She concluded by talking about the issue of unaccompanied minors in Lesbos, and the efforts of her organisation to take care of them, again with collaboration between local people and refugees.

Simply the Best (part 2)

For the final two days of the conference, participants split into 5 groups, in which they worked over two days. Firstly, the Simply the Best (Part II) workshop aimed to introduce the participants to tools that could help them with campaigning and challenging mainstream narratives, while in the following day, the Shape Your Story workshop saw participants using these tools, and the other skills and knowledge they gained over the week, to work on final outcomes that can contribute to UNITED campaign and other work of the UNITED network.

One of the workshops aimed to plan the next UNITED campaign to challenge the narrative on refugees in Europe. The campaign, which will run from June to September 2016, is organised in partnership between UNITED and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum member organisations were invited to the conference to help engage Forum members in the planning and implementation of the campaign. The workshop session began with an overview of UNITED’s annual campaigning calendar, and the campaigns UNITED has coordinated in the past, focused on spread a positive message to fight racism (European Action Week Against Racism, around 21 March), on waking people up against antisemitism and fascism (International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism, 9 November) and on denouncing the Fatal Policies of Fortress Europe. Moreover, participants shared their experiences, impressions and skills in order to better achieve the goals of the workshop. Finally, an “ultimate guide” to plan international campaigns was presented, highlighting the key elements to take into account: the need, context, target, goals, message, feeling, and grouping. The facilitator emphasised that human rights should always be taken into account at every stage of setting up the campaign.

Another one of the groups, “Online Toolbox”, aimed to introduce different online tools that can help activists to easily create videos, memes info-graphics and other useful content for online presentation of their work. The workshop opened with a discussion about the need of having online tools with which in easy way activists and young people can present and show online their work or reactions to certain situations. The workshop continued with presenting the Storify online platform that helps to link different sources into one story, and in this way easily create a story that could deconstruct certain narratives that are promoted in the online space. For sharing stories in a fast way, the line.do platform was presented, which helps to create a timeline of an event with pictures and stories for certain events in very simple way. Furthermore participants discussed about presenting information and creating posters using CANVA, an online toolkit that, in few steps, allows users to create posters and other informative materials for events and awareness raising campaigns. And for creating interactive video material, Powtoon was presented, an online toolkit which allows users to create short video material for informing about certain issues. During the workshop it was concluded that these tools are especially useful for people that have little or no experience on creating such materials. The workshop was closed with a follow up plan for activity on how to use the new tools on UNITED campaigns and other activities that members are involved.The “Act Locally” workshop gathered participants to discuss what makes particular events local, and what can be the “global” elements in local actions. Using five examples of different actions, the participants discussed the reach of their message, and the narrative they foster. Is every “global” action successful? Do you always have a clear message, a good narrative, or it can sometimes, without intention, backlash? Participants discussed and concluded that every strategically successful local event should therefore be well prepared; we have to think well and adjust our message to whom do we talk, who gets our message directly or indirectly, and what can be our possible impact. The working group looked at and evaluated examples of local actions in the context of the European Action Week Against Racism and International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism.

In the workshop on “Human Rights PR”, participants learned about different tools that NGOs can use to engage with the public and the media, focusing particular attention on press releases. The participants were asked to read a press release of a previous campaign coordinated by UNITED – the European Action Week Against Racism 2016. They evaluated the press release, and made some constructive criticism, proposing their own ideas of what a press release should be like. Under the instructions of the facilitator, the participants found out what a press release is, its structure and purpose as well as the significance of the audience/receiver of the message communicated.

The final working group “We Need That”, looked at the problem of fundraising for NGOs, and explored different institutional funds, and shared and learned about the best way to write projects and grant applications. Some of the options for applying for funds that were discussed included Institutional funds such as the EU and Council of Europe, as well as the Open Society Foundations grant for newly established organisations. Participants also discussed CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities: companies receive a tax reduction if they allocate certain funds on supporting NGOs; opportunities vary at each company, but based on the annual report of companies it can be found out what kind of projects they tend to support. Participants went on to discuss basic rules on how to write grant applications, beginning with the project description (rationale), which is one of the fundamental element of any project application. They concluded that it is important to: read the call very carefully, focus on the key words, the described priorities, eligibility criteria; identify the problem, then phrase it according to the key words and priorities (use strong words; be precise and announce your problem – use significant data, be specific but focus on a wider scale.

Regional Realities

In the afternoon, a panel session looked at the Regional Realities of the local area with regards to the reception of refugees. Participants heard from Monica Cerutti, Regional Minister for Equal Opportunities, Civil Rights & Migration, and Monika Depretis, from Diaconia Valdese Piemonte. Ms Cerutti talked about the efforts of the regional administration to help refugees integrate into the local community. “As Europeans we must guarantee refugees and migrants their full rights,” she said.

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Ms Depritis told the conference about the Diaconia Valdese Piemonte initiative, which provides accommodation, sanitary and legal assistance to migrants and asylum seekers.

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Participants also heard from two refugees who are participating in the Diaconia Valdese Piemonte initiative. Participants asked the panellists about the situation of the refugees living in Italy, and the routes that they take to reach Europe. There was also a musical intervention from Bubacar Sidi Balde, a musician originally from Guinea-Bissou now living in Italy.

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to informal activities, such as a thematic tour of the local area. In the evening, participants enjoyed a movie night where they watched a documentary film by Auxilia Italia, the first documentary film shot inside expulsion centres in Italy.

Wrap it Up

The final day of the conference (Conference Day V, 26 April) opened with speeches in plenary from Michael Pivot of ENAR and Balint Josa of UNITED, between them seeking to explain how the prevalent media narrative on refugees and migrants came about, and what civil society organisations can do to challenge it.

Michael Pivot of ENAR introduced his organisation, and talked about how it complements the work of the UNITED network. He talked but the work they have been doing with narrative since 2008. He gave examples of powerful positive narratives such as Obama’s “yes we can” and the French “egality, equality fraternity”, which have a positive potential, although they can be distorted for negative populist purposes. He went on to talk about the importance of the concept of solidarity, and how this must be an ongoing, holistic engagement, and continued by linking this to the concept of human rights. “When we fight for equality and fight for human rights, we fight for happiness, and a way of achieving happiness on Earth.” This, he said, could be a positive and powerful narrative.

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He then went on to talk about ENAR’s work in collecting data on discrimination and equality: without the data, he said, it was difficult to get leverage with society and policy-makers. He concluded by countering the idea that human rights activism is idealistic or uninformed, citing a poll which shows that 75% of Europeans want more rights – “this is our constituency” – as well as the fact that despite the various crises Europe is facing, GDPs of European countries are consistently rising; the resources are there, they just need to be distributed in a just way.

Following Michael, Balint Josa of UNITED continued by looking to the future and how we in the European antiracist movement can shape the future. “Sometimes I feel I am in a time machine” he said, looking back at the history of the Weimar Republic to demonstrate the lessons that can be learned from past failures to create and propagate positive visions. We have the technology, the skills and the knowledge, he said, so we should not fail. “What I want you to do, is that you answer me the “how”. We need to counter the moral crisis in Europe, he said. And, like Michael, he ended on a positive note: “I really believe we can make it.”

Shape your Story

The final part of the conference was dedicated to continuing and completing the work that participants had begun in the Simply the Best (Part II) workshop in the day before, and producing final outcomes related to the skills and tools they had learned.

The workshop aimed at outlining the next UNITED international campaign to challenge the narrative on migration in Europe continued, focusing on the outcomes expected: need, target, goals and messages of the campaign. It all started with a free and stimulating brainstorming session about the “need” as the obstacles we as humanitarian communicators need to address through the campaign. The participants agreed on the fact that they need this campaign because young people feel disengaged and don’t feel they have a way to address their fears and lack of security, therefore they could be easily influenced by the mainstream narrative about migration. The target group was then highlighted, defined as the “Grey area”, meaning young people between 18 and 35 years old, social media users, not really informed about migration, and not having strong views on either side of the debate. Moving from a list of relevant key words such as “fear”, “indifference”, “economics”, it came out that the campaign would have three main goals: to spark interest in order to encourage longer term engagement, to introduce a new open discourse on migration and refugees, and to provoke disengaged people to dialogue with the others. Then, using a methodology provided by one of the participants, the group focused on the message: firstly, it was necessary to define ourselves as a group, them as target and also to reflect about the representation of the other. Secondly, some efforts were made to summarise the ideas in order to stress some bullets points. The workshop ended with sharing ideas about slogans, pictures and tools to be used.

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The “Online Toolbox” group also worked on ideas for the upcoming UNITED campaign, focusing more on identifying online tools that could be used to promote the campaign, and innovative ways of engaging the campaign’s target group in an online campaign, as well as brainstorming and elaborating on potential slogans and visual identities for the campaign. Taking inspiration from the speech by Nour Ibrahim the day before, participants took on the phrase “life-seekers” as a slogan/hashtag for the campaign, considering it to be a bridge between Europeans looking for a more fulfilling life, and asylum seekers fleeing to Europe from war and oppression. They came up with the idea of an online campaign using online maps to show the people all over Europe identifying as “life-seekers”, where participants would be able to plot the different journeys they had taken. The outcomes of the two workshops focusing on the upcoming UNITED campaign will be used by staff at the UNITED secretariat and partners in the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum to plan an international online campaign that will run from June to September 2016.

Participants in the “Act Locally” group continued looking at and discussing the important aspects of successful local actions, and began to plan potential local actions that could be organised in the frame of UNITED campaigns. They came up with local campaign activities with themes such as challenging the international arms trade (“EU arms business profits from war”/”No one should ever become a refugee”), promoting diversity (“Diversity is not a threat”/”You don’t know your neighbour until you do”) and challenging the negative perception of migrants and refugees (“Open your suitcase and share experiences”). They discussed a great range of different practices and tools, including festivals, food-sharing initiatives, human libraries and intercultural workshops, and considered how these should be carefully chosen and adapted depending on the intended target group for the campaign.

In the “Human Rights PR” group, the participants continued working on press releases, deciding what a press release’s structure should be, finding the tools to do so and applying these tools by formulating an actual press release for the current conference. First of all they agreed upon a definition of a press release: a press release is a brief text which encloses all the necessary information, articulated in a clear and structured way. After this, they pointed out the so-called “5W’s”: who, when, where, what and why. Who is the receiver of the press release? When do you send it? Where do you send it? (e-mail etc.) Which information you must enclose to it? What is the purpose of the press release? After consideration they all agreed that the most important thing is to know your audience. That is to say that there are differences between a press release directed to the media and a press release sent to the NGOs of the network you’re working with. Nevertheless, a press release must be brief (maximum an A4 page) and to the point and it must also follow the logic of a pyramid. That means that you can start by pointing out a specific point/event that is somehow linked to the news in a catchy way and then move on to the general information. The title must be short and you can also highlight some points by putting them in a box or by simply highlighting them. You must avoid repetition and also make sure that you speak the same language with your receivers. The press release must have quality. An interesting design along with photos/infographics/videos etc. might come in handy and don’t forget to mention a contact number or an e-mail address of someone from the press office. At the end, the participants implemented all the above rules and actually wrote their own press release for the current UNITED conference, as well as coming up with a clear set of recommendations for effective press release writing.

Participants in the “We Need That” group continued to look at best strategies for funding applications, with the idea of creating a simple step-by-step guide. They began by looking at the importance of setting objectives, starting with the overall objective: describe the project’s wider aim by using the call’s priorities, and moving on to the specific objective: how does the project change the problematic (general) situation? Participants discussed and agreed that it is essential to concretely express the expected results or outcomes: what ‘stays’ after the project has been implemented? In grant applications it is also important to set out the details of the project’s activities, keeping in mind that they need to: match the overall / specific objectives; be realistic; be eligible according to the call and match your budget; be concrete: material produced/ translated/ events/organized/estimated outreach, etc. The group also discussed the importance of considering external factors that can influence the project but are not within the power of the organiser. Finally, participants discussed and agreed on the key points concerning budgeting a project.

Each group presented the outcomes of their work in the form of “corner presentations”, whereby every participant had the opportunity to present the work of their group, and see the presentations of every other group.

The conference concluded with closing remarks from IPG coordinator Athena Constantinou and UNITED programme coordinator Balint Josa. There was also an open space for participants to give feedback and share their thoughts and feelings on the conference. The evening saw the final action of the conference, with an intercultural party organised by the participants. Participants left the conference on 27 April, carrying with them new tools, ideas, knowledge and partnerships – ready to do more to challenge the narrative of migration!


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The UNITED network conference “Moving Stories: Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe” is taking place from 22-27 April near Torino, Italy. Follow all the news on the conference on Twitter, Facebook and the UNITED website.


This event has been made possible with support of the Council of Europe (European Youth Foundation), the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and Compagnia di San Paolo.

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