Dissolving Barriers – Intercultural Dialogue in Europe

4 May 2005 - 8 May 2005, Rieti, Italy

programme (pdf 37 kB)

press release ‘For 4 Days the Heart of Italy functioned as the Heart of Europe’

 

Report

The struggle to look for a better life has forced many people, predominantly from some African Countries and the Eastern Block, to migrate or to seek asylum in European Countries. However, the recent restrictive EU policies have caused great difficulties for the integration of these people. The UNITED Conference “Dissolving Barriers – Intercultural Dialogue in Europe” (4-8 May 2005, Rieti, Italy) was aimed at looking deeper into this issue. More than 80 participants representing NGO’s from all over Europe met in Rieti, Italy, for 4 days to exchange ideas, experiences and strategies on matters like Fortress Europe, Islamophobia, antisemitism, discrimination.
Rieti is a small Italian town located in the heart of Italy, but for 5 days it felt the very heart of Europe. The hosting organization, ARI onlus (Associazione Rieti Immigrant-Provincia), is a non-profit organization founded in Rieti in 1995 with the purpose to create a place where immigrants and Italians could live in peace, and respect each other. ARI onlus daily provides immigrants and refugees with assistance, defends their rights, and fights against any kind of racism and discrimination. Since its creation, the ARI onlus has run many projects and activities with a special attention to the situation of refugees and asylum seekers. In 2001, it even took part in a national program of the Ministry of Internal Affairs called “The National System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees”.
The UNITED Conference, as an important appointment for the construction of a peaceful future, drew the attention of the local authorities and was officially addressed by representatives of both the Municipality of Rieti (social affairs) and the local government, whose representatives welcomed the initiative and congratulated the organizers for their efforts to raise awareness in the public on sensitive topics,
so important for the civil development of Europe. The local media (newspapers, radios, websites and television) also took an active part in the conference, granting a great coverage of the event.

Breaking the ice…
The conference started with some informal “ice-breaking” activities and in particular with the drawing of “human maps”. Indeed, it was not easy to know who was from where among the 80 participants coming from 35 different countries! The Finnish IPG member Pirjo asked the participants to form groups according to the duration of their journey to reach the conference. Surprisingly, some participants had only travelled 35 minutes, while some others had even travelled two days. The participants were then asked whether they felt as belonging to the majority or to a minority group in their home-countries. Some of them didn’t consider themselves as members of neither the majority nor a minority. Some joined the “minority” group since they had been victims of discrimination, and others the “majority” group because they felt as being part of the “ruling” group. The activity took place outside in a very relaxed atmosphere and was a great success because it really allowed participants to know each other a bit more before the conference officially started.

When we make use of words, do we really mean the same things as our communication partner? Language is constantly changing and is very much connected to the socio-cultural and political background. In this sense, words can be dangerous and cause conflict. Participants were very conscious about this. Some terms that closely connected to the topics of the conference – racism, fascism, antisemitism, interculturalism, multiculturalism and refugee amongst others – were therefore pointed out by the organisers to be discussed within smaller groups.
Testimony of the reality…
Before setting the main themes of the conference within a theoretical framework, one of the participants, asylum seeker himself, offered a short introduction. Collins described his way to Europe (on a boat), his first experiences in a new country (Italy), the fortress he faced, the barriers he has to overcome every single day. Not only was his testimony touching, but it also showed the other participants that behind any asylum case there is a human being.

3.1 ASYLUM AND PROTECTION OF REFUGEES – The situation in Italy, the host country of the conference
by Renaud Cachia – Associazione Rieti Immigrant-Provincia (ARI)

The situation of refugees in Europe is particularly indicative of the difficulty faced in conceiving and constructing a future made of “integration” for all without the exclusion of certain layers of society. The general restrictive trend of policies (national and communitarian) against refugees, and more in general against migrants, is symptomatic of this. The conference therefore started with a lecture on the situation of refugees in the hosting country presented by a ARI member who works in a reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees.
The Italian situation has to be considered both in the European context, characterized by serious identity problems as a consequence of globalization, and in its local facets. The general precariousness and the socio-economical crisis have important consequences on the public approach to the phenomenon. The Italian public general opinion is that an irreversible flood of refugees threats the integrity of Italian society. A simple analysis of the figures demonstrates the contrary: according to the official statistics of the UNHCR, the countries hosting most of the world refugees are developing countries. Italy hosts one of the lowest rates of refugees in Europe (0,12 asylum claims for 1000 inhabitants, compared to an average of 0,6 for 1000 inhabitants in the rest of Europe). However, policies are getting stricter and stricter, following the communitarian trend.
Italy is the only European country lacking a specific law for the protection of refugees. The Italian Government passed the 2002 “Bossi-Fini” law, which defines the new procedure for asylum claims. However, only a few parts of it have been enforced. The actual procedure overlaps the former one, thus causing dramatic practical difficulties for asylum seekers and refugees. The conditions of reception and the procedure followed to examine asylum claims don’t guarantee the respect of human rights. The new law foresees administrative and/or preventive detention of asylum seekers. Moreover, the right to appeal to a denied asylum claim merely exists in theory: the government expels asylum seekers immediately after their claim has been rejected, even when they appeal for a review of the decision.
Some participants formulated questions on the practical application of the procedures, since the Italian situation seems to be characterised by the huge gap existing between theory and practice.
The lecturer was also inquired about the attitude of the public authorities when the violations of the national and international standards for the protection of refugees’ rights were pointed out. The Italian public authorities often do not take into consideration the international standards, since the mechanisms controlling and sanctioning violations throughout Europe proved to be very weak.

3.2 ASYLUM AND PROTECTION OF REFUGEES – Another focus, similar problems…
by Pede Saya – Platform for International Co-operation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) / Stichting Mondiale Samenleving

From the specific situation of Italy, the discussion shifted to the lecture presented by Pede Saya, the representative of both PICUM – Platform for International Co-operation on Undocumented Migrants and the Dutch NGO – Global Society Foundation (SMS).
There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants in Europe today. The lecturer spotlighted the situation of The Netherlands and introduced its organisation. SMS is a national network of about 150 organisations of refugees and migrants in Holland, working for the empowerment of migrants through the support of migrant networks. Founded as an initiative of 3 organisations (Albanian, Afghani and Ethiopian) in 2002, it aims at promoting socio-economical welfare and supports the integration of refugees/migrants in The Netherlands.
The lecturer also presented the new Dutch law on immigration (new alien law, 2000), implemented in 2001, which is very restrictive and discourages refugees to come to The Netherlands. The number of asylum seekers, refugees and unaccompanied minors has been decreasing since it got very difficult to get the status of refugee. A low percentage of migrants obtain permit to stay. The law forces undocumented people to repatriate on their own responsibility, thus creating a category of undocumented migrants – “UM” – getting back to invisibility.
The second organization, PICUM, acts for promoting respect for human rights of undocumented migrants within Europe. Their activities mainly focus on gathering and distributing information on law and practice regarding the basic social rights of undocumented migrants. Another focus is to strengthen networking among organisations dealing with undocumented migrants in Europe, in order to get a broader membership platform, as well as to publish material such as books of solidarity to provide assistance and health care for undocumented migrant workers in Europe.

3.3 ANTISEMITISM AND ISLAMOPHOBIA – A time for reflection
by Bashy Quraishy – Ethnic Debate Forum (Denmark) / ENAR

Bashy Quraishy, the representative of both Ethnic Debate Forum from Denmark and ENAR, started by externalising the joy he felt being surrounded by young people with so much expertise and knowledge in the field of antiracism and antisemitism. Bashy delivered the presentation called “Antisemitism & Islamophobia – a time for reflection for Jewish and Muslim Communities in Europe”, which was followed with high interest since it brought up a very urgent topic – the increase of both phenomena in contemporary European society. Bashy Quraishy, expert in this topic from both the academic and the activist point of view, pointed out that a time has come for both Jewish and Muslim Communities to reflect and talk about peace, to help each other and to create an atmosphere of understanding. He started by defining the terms “antisemitism” and “islamophobia”, using diverse historical and theoretical connotations. Then he focused on the similarities existing between the two religions and used many examples from history to picture out the situation of the victims of both islamophobia and antisemitism. Of course, the issue of the Middle-East territorial conflict also came up, as a concrete example on how antisemitism is spread among a tiny minority of Muslims who live in Europe.
“A Muslim-Jewish dialogue is paramount” concluded Bashy, giving the positive example of the soon-to-start “Muslim-Jewish Dialogue Forum in Europe” and explaining the goals and working methods of such an initiative.

The thematic working groups were organised to give to participants a concrete opportunity to focus and discuss in depth various topics of the conference and to share their experiences. They included participants from various countries with a fair geographical distribution (East and West European countries). The working group structure followed three different stages – from “identification of the problems” to “sharing good practices” and further “developing strategies”. The participants usually engaged themselves in topics in which they were experts or which followed direction of the daily work of their organisation.
The additional working group session “Action Planning” was the concrete finalisation of the discussions and permitted the participants to effectively plan the implementation of the conclusions once back in their countries. They also represented a good platform of exchange of ideas for the annual UNITED campaigns, giving inspiration and motivation to join the activities.
The results of each working group were reported with intercultural and interactive methods to all participants during the plenary session.

4.1 REFUGEES, MIGRANTS AND FORTRESS EUROPE

“We cannot host anymore refugees and migrants”: this is a typical expression pronounced by governments and policy makers in Europe. It appears clear that there is a general attempt to reduce the total number of refugees and migrants. The participants of this working group agreed on the fact that refugees and migrants generally face huge problems to get into the “Fortress Europe” and often die in dramatic circumstances even before reaching the continent. The efforts of the EU member states to harmonise legislations are limited to the struggle against “illegal immigration” and there is still no clear and harmonized policy for the asylum claims, for instance. Thus practices of receiving and managing the stay of refugees and migrants (freedom of movement or detention, for instance) vary from one country to another. The fundamental rights of refugees and migrants are daily violated in Europe. Some specific communitarian policies, as the Schengen Treaty, further deteriorate the situation of migrants and refugees, particularly because of the terrible consequences of their enforcement (freedom of movement is, for instance, a prerogative of only certain layers of society).
There is a general confusion on the different conditions of migrants and refugees, a shared worrying for, and a general “criminalisation” of both categories.

The conclusions reached by the working group were in perfect tuning with the initiative introduced by UNITED on the campaign “No more deaths on Fortress Europe”. Since 1993 UNITED has monitored the deadly results of the building of ‘Fortress Europe’ by making a list of the refugees and migrants, who had died in their attempt of entering the ‘Fortress’ or as a result of Europe’s immigration policies. More than 6200 deaths have been documented up to now. UNITED collects data on where, when and under which circumstances the refugees died.
The WG suggested, as an improvement to the list, that appendix listing “missing people” be created.

Campaigning in support of refugees
This working group, which followed the theme introduced by the WG, identified different kinds of actions it was important to take, such as taking over the stereotype about refugees and migrants, making the Death List circulate more by presenting it in schools, by creating a catchy web site for it, or by forwarding it to air companies which are involved in deportations. Of course, the most popular suggestion was to lobby local, national and European politicians and to increase the role of the media in the circulation of the Death List.

4.2 ANTIFASCIST INTERNATIONAL NETWOKING

The group started from the assumption that international networking in fighting fascism and racism is a necessity. The fascist groups are building international connections and we are losing in the field international solidarity where we should be stronger.
The participants highlighted two main tendencies in the antifascism movement, i.e. a phase of analysis and monitoring and a phase of action. Participants also felt the lack of a network that fulfills both of these goals. For instance, Eastern European organizations need to feel that they are not alone and are part of the larger antifascist movement. International cooperation gives them a sense of common legacy and solidarity. Organizations from the West look for sources of information from other countries to show that their problems are not isolated. International contacts give them a new and a fresher perspective.
One of the goals of this network could be fostering an antifascist culture, which needs to be started from scratch in the post-communist countries and has to be renewed in the West.
The Center for Interethnic Cooperation in Russia (www.interethinc.org) gave an example of a network of ethnic organizations as a means of combating racism through connections among NGOs, international organizations, ethnic communities and local authorities. Ras l’front-France (www.raslfront.org) presented a model of a decentralized activist network, which revolves around a certain set of values and principles and deals with a wide range of problems, all connected with advancement and institutionalization of fascist ideology. Independent local groups combine research and action in the field and coordinate themselves through regular conferences and a bi-monthly newspaper, without a centralized body of control or administration. Finally, Never Again Association Poland (http://free.ngo.pl/nw), a network of volunteers who conduct constant monitoring of racist accidents, publicized several highly successful campaigns such as “Music against Racism” and “Let’s Kick Racism out of the Stadiums”.

To get cooperation among various organisations, several concrete projects were proposed. Amongst the others were the publication of international antiracist and antifascist posters, the translation of websites to make them known and available for antifascists in other countries, the publications of digests/compilations of various international antifascist magazines/newspapers and the organization of Graphics/essays contests in order to give new symbols/texts to the movement.

Campaigning against fascism
Every year UNITED mobilises local groups all over Europe to organise different actions against fascism and antisemitism on November 9 – the International Day against Fascism and Antisemitism. The significance of the date was explained together with UNITED working methods for the campaign – from encouraging NGOs to take action, sending posters for wide distribution, publishing the campaign-list of activities to issuing a common (European) press-release and printing a European campaign report.
The strength of the campaign comes from the fact that the focus is changed every year (e.g. on Roma) and that the slogan and the idea for campaign poster are always the result of the network consultations. The campaigning working group is the place for brainstorming ideas regarding the needs of the movement and possible tools.
Therefore, the group concluded with some very concrete ideas for the following 9 November campaign, which were shared with the others. The proposals were accompanied also by critical remarks (regarding the implementation), which showed that participants took a responsible position towards their role.

4.3 MULTIPLE DISCRIMINATION

This group focused on the sensitive problem of discrimination and its various facets.
During the introductory part, the participants identified the levels/grounds for discrimination, which actually give it a multi-faceted nature, i.e. ethnic origin, religion, language, gender, disability, political orientation, colour, age, sex, economic situation, class, qualifications, area of residence, sub-culture, left-handed, education, social status, family status, nationality, etc. The group agreed on some general definitions of different kinds of discrimination, such as multiple, compound, and intersectional. The group also agreed on the definition offered by the General Recommendation 18 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
Participants were extremely good in providing striking examples for each category.
After having defined and exemplified the concepts, time had come to share the good practices existing in different countries and being used by various organisations present around the table. Some of the best quoted practices were: establishing a network of counselling centres for migrants and refugees that provide services in various fields (Berlin Initiative); gathering data for the documentation of cases in a homogenous way; working with mainstream and community media; working towards a humanization of legal system and legal culture (NGOs, Street Law, Asylum, Slovakia); improving the portrait cases related to refugees, migrants and, more generally, of people who are subjects to discrimination with the help of media and institutions; establishing a communication network with citizens through an advocacy group; using interactive methods for Human Rights Education within school curricula (Council of Europe programs; avoiding self-victimization through empowerment.

Campaigning against racism
Every year around 21 March – the International Day for Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination – UNITED coordinates the European Wide Action Week against Racism. Hundreds of organisations join forces to raise awareness on burning issues like discrimination and racism. Always in consultation with network organisations and in answer to the network needs, UNITED proposes common slogans and poster, media-release and activities list as tools to be used by all the organisations involved in the campaign. Action-planning working groups during the UNITED conferences are the places where focus for the next year and common slogan are born.
The WG in Rieti tried and did the same effort. After explaining the significance of the date chosen to campaign around and after sharing some examples of activities run at local or national level by the participants, concrete proposals for next year campaigns were discussed. The general conclusion was that the spectrum of possible issues to be approached is so wide, that a general campaign against discrimination is needed.

4.4 ISLAMOPHOBIA AND ANTISEMITISM – BUILDING A DIALOGUE

This working group gathered 14 persons with Jewish, Muslim, Christian or non-practicing background, representing 13 different nationalities which made the discussion and the work between the participants fruitful, interesting and nuanced.
The focus of the working group was on the situation in Europe and its neighbour regions. First of all, in order to go deeper into the problem of islamophobia and antisemitism in the European today’s societies, the participants began the workshop by brainstorming, defining and discussing what the notions islamophobia and antisemitism mean and what thoughts and associations they provoked in us. The two terms are closely related to prevailing prejudices about Muslims and Jews in the West. The group discussed what these prejudices could be. Islamophobia ­ the non-logical fear of Islam ­ is fuelled by the distorted images of Islam as a homogenous block threatening the Western civilization and its society. Muslims are represented as radical terrorists and as members of a fast growing population ‘invading Europe’. Concerning antisemitism, the participants thought about the existing prejudices of Jews (‘they are rich and arrogant, they govern the media and the banks, they killed Jesus’) and also other phenomenon related to antisemitism such as skinheads, holocaust, pogroms and criticism of Israel. The participants were aware of the incorrectness of the prejudices, but they agreed that these prejudices exist and prevail in the West. The group agreed that in both the case of the fear of Islam and in the case of Judaism, the media have an enormous impact on creating and reproducing generalized, distorted images of Jews and Muslims.
In order to understand the complex situation better, one Jewish and one Muslim participant gave a short introduction about the Jewish and the Muslim Community in Europe. This helped the other group members to have a better knowledge about these two religious communities. It also gave a base for the further discussions about the measures that could be taken in decreasing religious xenophobia and in building a dialogue between different cultural and religious groups in the society. The participants shared their experiences from the work accomplished in their own organizations and they had the opportunity to listen to three presentations about concrete projects that have been accomplished, or will be done in order to stimulate dialogue between Jews, Muslims and Christians. Bashy Quraishy gave an enlightened presentation about ENAR (European Network Against Racism) and its work towards introducing a consciousness in EU policy and legislation about racism, xenophobia and antisemitism. Kemal representing Caucasus-Abkhazia Cultural Center shared his experiences of the work with Chechen refugee children and how to create a way to communicate with them with the help of joint activities, art therapy, music, etc. Finally, Ilya from Euro-Asian Jewish Congress presented a joint project between Jews and Muslims in former Soviet Union States that will be accomplished if it gets financed. All the participants agreed that it is important that organizations working for religious dialogue and mutual understanding inform each other of the efforts made for these issues.

4.5 MEDIA, COMMUNICATION AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT

This working group had as its goals an overview of the situation of media in the different countries of the participants, an analysis of the responsibility of media in diffusing stereotypes and a co-operation with the local media in order to promote the conference and its contents.
After a quick round table session on the situation in each country, it appeared clear that media usually had a heavy responsibility in promoting directly or indirectly the diffusion of stereotypes and prejudices against migrants, minorities and refugees. Indeed newspapers and television for instance are “greedy” of crime news, especially whether migrants are involved. In all countries there is few space for representatives of minorities and often the good examples of integration are ignored. In the case of Latvia some TV programs are openly racists and xenophobic.

This huge and unfortunately very often negative impact of mass media on public opinion leaded the group to a reflection on the role of mass media: media, and more particularly television, should play an educational role within the society, under the partial supervision of the Public Authorities for instance, or a greater self awareness of the media themselves.
The use of terminology is the very example of how media should pay more attention to the consequences of their actions: too often words are misused by media and get deeply within the unconsciousness of public opinion. (e.g. there are no “illegal people” but undocumented people, etc.)

The group decided to adopt original methods to report the results to the rest of the participants: the plenary room would become a press conferenceThe group was divided into journalists (written press, radios and television; some of them were real journalists working for the local press!) and antiracism activists. The journalists were questioning the experts on some of the issues that were debated during the working group sessions, giving to the whole assembly an opportunity to have an overview of the discussions in this group. This method was particularly interactive since real and “improvised” journalists were asking questions. Sergio was a famous journalist of CNN International and concluded with the live connection from Rieti, Centre of Italy!

Media campaign working group
This session was based on the concrete realisation of a “media campaign” to promote the conference, its contents and the UNITED goals. The aim of the project was to promote the goals of the UNITED conference through a media campaign, the main target of which was basically everyone at local, national and international level who did not attend the conference, with special attention on the Rieti residents. The actions planned ranged from interviews with the television, radios and newspapers, to final press releases and press conferences translated into many languages. Indeed the participants agreed on language differences being the main barriers within such a campaign. The group finally prepared a common press release to be sent by participants, once back in their countries, to the local press. It started like this: “Dissolving barriers – For 4 days the heart of Italy functioned as the heart of Europe”
(see www.unitedagainstracism.org, under ‘conferences’)

4.6 FOOTBALL AGAINST RACISM

Action planning working group
Most of the participants of this specific action planning WG were experienced activists in existing national or European campaigns in the sport-world. Nevertheless, some just intended to enlarge their knowledge in this direction and we can say that they had the perfect opportunity to do so. Voluntarily, the participants extended their working time in the WG by giving dinner up the day before, in order to follow a football match at the stadium and to collect “live” examples of discrimination and racial harassment. Then, during the WG they discussed causes, ways to react and efficiency of campaigning against racism in sport.
The group presented the results of the discussion to the rest of participants in a particularly involving and active way: the “action” took place in football stadium (the plenary room). While the players were on the pitch some uncivil supporters started with monkey chants and insults (two of the participants in the group), probably directed against a migrant player, like unfortunately it happens in many European stadiums. Anyway the chants remained isolated, while another group of football fans replied with a clear condemnation of this anti-sporty and unfair behaviour (3 others participants in the group), inviting the public to follow them: in an instant, the whole stadium (the plenary assembly) started to sing alltogether “stand up against racism, stand up against racism, stand up against racism!!!” How incredible the “group effect” is and how powerful it can be when used in a positive way!
The conclusion was clear: it is possible to act all together against racism, only in that way discrimination and intolerance can be defeated!

Successful projects supporting refugees ­ examples from East and West

5.1 SUPPORT FOR UNACCOMPANIED MINOR REFUGEES (UMRs)
by Adimka Uzozie – SAMAH – Foundation for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees Humanitas (Netherlands)

Adimka presented her organisation (SAMAH) and one specific innovative project run by the organisation. SAMAH is the foundation for unaccompanied minor refugees (UMR) that was set up in 1999. It is an independent foundation running under the auspices of the national Humanitas association. SAMAH aims at improving the position and participation of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers (AMA) and young adult unaccompanied asylum seekers up to age 21, in order to enable them to develop into balanced adults. The majority of the AMAs are independent, self-reliant youngsters, but for various reasons they need special attention and support, due to the current strict asylum policy, the procedures and the official support and housing programs. This special group demands extra assistance and support. The unaccompanied minor refugee [UMR] has to make a choice whether to return to their former home country or to look for alternatives.
SAMAH activities consist of acting as a national convergence point for issues relating to UMR’s; running a helpdesk for UMR’s and care-workers; gathering and distributing of information to third parties; raising concerns of and promoting the interests of UMR’s development; implementing projects for UMR’s.
SAMAH strongly opposes the existence of situations where UMR’S do not enjoy the same basic right as other children in the Netherlands. The association also aims at creating a positive image of UMR’S, as they are normal young people who find themselves in an abnormal situation.
The presentation was received with high interest by the participants, especially for the good practices shared, since there is often the case that organisations are working with asylum seekers or refugees, but no specific programs are adapted to the needs of UMR.

5.2 UNIVERSAL EMBASSY: EXAMPLE OF A PROJECT SUPPORTING UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANTS IN BELGIUM
by Caroline Noel – Universal Embassy (Belgium)

Universal Embassy can be seen as a successful as well as an un-successful project, from which everybody can learn the positive aspects and also how to avoid the negative ones. It has been a very positive experience and its existence itself was an act of resistance (against limitative legislation regarding migrants). Anyway, at this point the limits of the project were reached and a transformation process will probably follow. Universal Embassy provides support to undocumented migrants in Belgium; it started in 2001 when a group of undocumented people decided to squat the building of the former Somali Embassy in Brussels. A group of volunteers, with different educational backgrounds (legal advisor, social assistant, students, artists, people working in NGO sector, researchers) are in charge with the administration of the project. Very few financial means are available and they are based mostly on private donations. The activities of the Embassy are related to every day life and in support to the inhabitants. They also include fundraising, political and artistic activities.
The operation is based on participative methods and on a process of collective decisions. The goal is to directly involve the undocumented migrants and to encourage their self-organization. However, relevant difficulties rose up recently, due mainly to the probable return and re-appropriation of the building by the Somali authorities and a crisis within the project.
On the base of the experience of Universal Embassy, its representative, Caroline Noel, listed some limits of such a project from which others can learn and improve their work. That is the lack of: existence of a common aim, use of appropriate methods and professional expertise, clear and strict administrative arrangements, material and financial means ­ amongst the most important. Possible solutions were also proposed, leaving, of course, space for comments and adaptation from case to case.
The participants appreciated a lot to hear from Universal Embassy’s experience, both its pick and its fall since a lot can be learned and applied in their own work.

5.3 ADDING A NEW DIMENSION TO THE ASYLUM SYSTEM: PROFESSIONALIZATION
by Andreea Badilica – Romanian National Council for Refugees (Romania)

The third project presented in this plenary session was an example of a successful activity developed by the National Refugee Council in the frame of preparation the accession to the EU of new countries in this case ­ Romania).
The target groups of the project were both asylum-seekers and refugees in Romania, as well as public authorities dealing with refugees’ issues (Ministry of Administration and Interior and Ministry of Justice). The activities consisted in ensuring that persons in need of international protection benefit from all procedural safeguards, such as qualified interpretation services and specialized legal aid during the Refugee Status Determination (RDS) Procedure.

The results of the project listed:
-55 asylum seekers assisted by lawyers
-150 asylum seekers assisted by interpreters
-25 interpreters/translators trained
-7 training sessions for border police
-100 border police representatives trained
-300 medical consultations / year

The representative of the Romanian National Council for Refugees was proud to share with the participants the positive experience of this project and especially the long-lasting effects over the work the Council is doing on a daily basis.

Antiracist co-operation East-West

6.1 EAST-WEST COOPERATION IN ANTIFASCIST AND ANTIRACIST WORK OF YOUTH HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT (YHRM)
by Anastasia Nikitina – Youth Human Rights Movement (Russia)

YHRM has been developing since spring 1998 under the support of Moscow Helsinki Group and other well-known human rights activists. In May 2005 YHRM unites more then 700 Members from about 15 Countries, with the aim of providing mutual support; promoting cooperative activities of network’s participants; developing the community of professional Human Rights defenders; providing succession of generations in Human Rights movement; developing new methods to advocate Human Rights in youth groups; involving youth into wide human rights activism, social and volunteering activities; raising effectiveness and prestige of Human Rights movement and NGO sector as a whole; and educating youth in theoretical and practical aspects of Human Rights.
The representative of YHRM explained why East-West cooperation is important for their work. Exchanging experience, creating common space for action, helping each other in times of trouble, feeling a part of a larger movement were amongts the reasons provided.
Further on, the current activities, campaigns and action groups were presented, as well as the modalities for joining, benefiting and contributing to the movement.
A great positive experience of good co-operation East-West which everybody can learn from and can apply in their organisations’ regular work!

6.2 CHECHEN-IRISH COOPERATION
by Eoin Pattison – Front Line-International Foundation for Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Ireland)

The second project presented in this plenary session referred to a very concrete example of direct co-operation between an Irish organization and a Chechen one.
Front Line was founded in Dublin in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting Human Rights Defenders, people who work non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Front Line’s main focus is on those human rights defenders at risk, either temporarily or permanently because of their work on behalf of their fellow citizens. Front Line runs a small grants program to provide for the security needs of defenders and mobilizes campaigning and lobbying on behalf of defenders at immediate risk.

The project presented to the conference participants was meant to liaise with human rights activists in Russia and Chechnya in response to growing harassment and intimidation leveled against them by the Russian authorities. On January 20th 2005 agents of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) conducted a raid on the office of the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship (SRCF), one of the few intercultural, partnership based organisations seeking peace and respect for human rights in Chechnya. Following the raid, the FSB has launched a criminal case against the SRCF, a case which is completely arbitrary and unjust. The level of support which the SRCF need from organisations such as Front Line is apparent in the fact that since its beginning, four members of the SRCF have been assassinated in the course of their human rights work. Hence Front Line helped issue Urgent Actions to the relevant heads of state and international human rights bodies. At this point, it continues to monitor the discrimination and targeting of legitimate intercultural human rights organisations such as the Society for Russian Chechen Friendship.

The project presentation was followed by the participants with high interest. Moreover, it was recalled that representatives of the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship participated before in UNITED conferences (2003-2004), and UNITED itself has been involved in campaigning around the death of one of their representatives, getting solidarity responses from the entire network!

The opportunity of open forum session is used by the participants to bring-up views or opinions related to the conference topics or to share information about their activities and organisations.
The time was shared between several participants:
Collins, “the spokesperson” of refugees in Europe (refugee himself), made a statement talking about how refugees are pouring into Europe and how the governments don’t listen to their complains, as well as about EU laws that made things more difficult for NGO’s working for this cause. He gave some examples on how some European countries sponsor sport activities in African countries, while when a displaced person comes running to seek asylum in Europe, he or she is been called big name like refugee, asylum seekers, migrant, alien, and so on. In conclusion, he mentioned that what a refugee wants is just a better life and a place to belong, as well as a chance to live like normal people again.

A second intervention was made by Susie Green, the representative of Diversity Program of the EU YOUTH Programme. SALTO-YOUTH, which stands for ‘Support and Actions for Learning and Training Opportunities within the European YOUTH Programme’ refers to eight Resource Centres in different countries working on different European priority topics such as Social Inclusion, EuroMed Cooperation, Cultural Diversity, Antiracism, South-East Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States, Training & Cooperation and Youth Initiatives. SALTO runs support activities to enhance the quality of YOUTH mobility projects and gathers resources for youth work and training in Europe and beyond.
Inviting the participants to explore the website resources and training opportunities offered by SALTO (www.salto-youth.net/diversity), Susie closed her intervention by mentioning also the funding possibilities in the frame of YOUTH programme.

Last but not least, the Media working group presented to the participants the up-dated version of the common press-release of the conference (elaborated in their WG), asking for feed-back and corrections. After collecting these, they proceeded to finalising and distributing it to all the participants for further use back home, as immediate implementation of recommendations issued by the media campaign working group
(see text of press release at www.unitedagainstracism.org, under ‘confernces’)

The conference working-activities were greatly complemented by the social program offered in the afternoons and evenings. Interculturality was the key-word of all the evening happenings, since the large variety of cultures represented at the meeting had the right place to manifest themselves!

The info market was an excellent opportunity for participants to introduce their own organization to one-another and to develop the links existing between the anti-racists ONG’s. Many participants had brought material from their organization in order to “illustrate” their work and activities. The info market was a great success and permitted to have an overview of the different actions that were taken by the participating organizations in the different countries. It also permitted to reinforce the connections already existing and to feel “united”!
During the info market we received a special visit from the “peace messenger” Karoliina Lallukka a Finish (former) EVS volunteer who was travelling in Europe in a European Peace Tour with the “Colours of the Peace, the flags of the rainbow”. She collected addresses of antiracist NGOs from the UNITED Address Book, printed 1000 flags, visited different anti-racist events and organisations. During the info market at the UNITED conferences she shared the concept of her project with the other participants and distributed some flags.
After the material-exchange, the intercultural snacks followed. Any participant brought some typical food (or drinks) from his/her own country and made the others try it! The “mix” of cultures played a big role in encouraging people to know each others and to exchange gastronomic traditions!
Alternatively, two activities were proposed to the participants on Friday evening: antiracist sport and video presentation.
The football game (chosen by the sporty-ones!) brought the spark out of the participants. Football, as generally agreed, is a game that can unite people. At the football match played at the Sport Centre in Rieti, fourteen participants took part and it showed how sport can play an important role in the Antiracism campaign.
Video presentation “Death on the Silk Road”, prepared by Dolkun Isa, the representative of World Uyghur Congress was also watched with interest and commented upon afterwards.
Trip to Rieti was a part of the program which no one would want to miss, especially since a guided tour was provided, in the little center of Rieti (and the center of Italy)! Historical and architectural information was given and secret Roman passages have been open to the eyes of the participants who didn’t miss the chance of getting to know the local culture later on during the “dinner out” in an Italian Pizzeria.
Intercultural evening and Farewell party
“It was like this conference should not end” – this was the statement made by one of the participants in the Rieti conference. The intercultural party was a wonderful occasion to listen to music and enjoy the dance from different cultures. Relaxed and friendly atmosphere dominated the evening and strengthen the newly based relations among the participants, being a good premise and guarantee for further cooperation.

Anna (Cyprus): “Very interesting topic, gained a lot. I think that the participants were very resourceful and committed people. UNITED people and local partners’ efforts are more than appreciated. Well done!”

Maria (Slovakia): “I came to this conference without any expectation and have to say that it was a great pleasure to meet all this beautiful people and discussed the most important issues of the time. Thank you.”

Djermana (Bosnia and Herzegovina): “I have to say that I gained a lot and learnt many new things. Even learnt how to be more tolerant, though I thought earlier that I was quite open-minded. I learnt how to understand others better and work together with them. What we had here is a presentation of a perfect world. Perfect society. People of different background working together for a better future.”

Dragomir (Croatia): “I am very satisfied with people and topics of the conference. I learnt how to understand some problems from different countries, from different cultures This conference is my first international conference, where I met a lot of interesting and very pleasant people. See you!!!”

Adimka (Netherlands): “First time to act within UNITED program. Challenging and motivating and gained new energy for fighting for refugees on a national and international level.”

James (Norway): For me, the networking contacts have been truly invaluable!”

Maria (Slovakia): “It was a great experience for me to live the fact that so diverse people can live, work and have fun together without any difficulties. We all know about it, but to experience it is very powerful.”

Sabine (Austria): “MANY THANKS!!!! – the conference was a great experience! Very stimulating and motivating!”

Elgun (Azerbaijan): “There was a really intercultural environment during the conference meetings and all other time. Each participant made other one richer! Many thanks to the organizers and to each participant for contribution in the conference!”

As all the intercultural events organised by UNITED, this conference was the result of a collective effort. It would not have been possible without the involvement and support of numerous individuals and organisations. First of all, we want to thank all the participants for their active participation, commitment and seriousness during the conference.
Special thanks to the International Preparatory Group, who designed, prepared and implemented the program – representatives of Associazione Rieti Immigrant-Provincia – Italy, Red Cross Finland, Universal Embassy (Belgium), World Uyghur Congress (Germany), Youth Human Rights Movement (Russia).
Many thanks to our sponsors: European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe, Municipality of Rieti, Studio Semplice di Eastwood Edo Ihaza – Rieti, Heinrich Böll Foundation (with support from the budget of the European Comission for the project ‘Participation and regional self determination’).
We owe a great deal to the volunteers from ARI and from UNITED who technically supported the conference.

Thanks to everybody who contributed to the success of the conference and in particular to our wonderful Italian hosts!

UNITED for Intercultural Action
European network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support
of migrants and refugees

Racism, nationalism, fascism, discrimination, asylum policies… all of them have a European dimension even though they often look like pure national issues. Reports from all over Europe demonstrate the increasing dangers facing migrants, refugees and ethnic minorities. Often these dangers are increased by undemocratic intergovernmental
decisions like the Schengen Treaty. Strangely enough, racist and fascist organisations have strong European links from Portugal to Russia, from Sweden to Italy. Fortress Europe needs to be fought at local, regional and European levels – it cannot be fought on one level alone.
Linked through UNITED, hundreds of organisations from a wide variety of backgrounds, from all European countries, work together on a voluntary basis. They base their cooperation on common actions and shared activities on a mutual respect.
UNITED is and will remain independent from all political parties, organisations and states, but seeks an active co-operation with other anti-racist initiatives in Europe.
Through the UNITED network organisations meet each other, work on common actions and share information. Europe-wide action weeks, campaigns and such are planned and discussed on UNITED conferences.
Like-minded organisations find each other on such conferences and work together on specific projects on specific topics. The workers in the secretariat are in constant contact with the network organisations, ensuring that information and proposals for action are transmitted rapidly. Information is received from more than 2300 organisations and mailings are sent out to about 2500 groups in Europe.
If you want to get involved… Discuss the ideas and aims of the UNITED network within your organisation. Let us know that you would like to join or receive information. And add us to your mailing list!

More information you can find at www.unitedagainstracism.org or write to info@unitedagainstracism.org