The aim of the second event was to show local examples of the advantages of the European Union membership, to demonstrate how a large country, one of the founders of the EU thinks about the importance of smaller countries, and to encourage what partnership can be established. Additionally, a secondary aim was to discuss the situation of the refugees, and to initiate discussion about the problems and about possible solutions related to the recent migration crisis.
The event was organized by TRATTI, the association of many young university students and citizens with the aid of their mentor, former teacher, Dr. Alessandra Modio, and her colleagues and friends. Tratti, acting on behalf of Town Velletri in this project prepared an excellent program for the 30 official participants, 15 of which were from Germany, Hungary, Malta and Poland.
Before dinner, Dr. Alessandra Modio, mentor of Tratti and former councilor, opened the conference. In her speech, she emphasized the importance of young people’s participation in public life. She also mentioned that many young participants are still working on the exhibition which would be opened next day. She underlined the importance of the international meetings where very different participants can cooperate. She recalled good memories about the beneficial former EU projects organized with Kőszeg. Afterwards, during the dinner there was a great chance for informal discussion. It is important to mention that the organizers tried to find the best places for the events (library), study visits (museum, winery), meals (pizzeria, agritourism), accommodation (agritourism): either traditional Italian, or international, or EU-supported places.
The next morning (April 13) Mr. Edoardo Menicocci, the president of TRATTI, opened the day. In his speech he greeted all the participants of the project, and he expressed his satisfaction because many people came to listen to the program, which was publicized at the newsstands. He officially introduced the delegations of the 4 other countries and the host group. He also offered thanks to Dr. Alessandra Modio for her assistance on behalf of all 4 visiting groups.
He went on to explain that the site of the event is a very important place for the town: its library. Velletri’s library is also called ‘House of Culture and Music’ because of its central role in the town’s cultural life. It was renovated with funds from the EU, so they thought it would be the perfect venue to open the event due to its symbolic status.
We started the program with a movie that we watched: The Great European Disaster Movie, produced by the Italian director Annalisa Piras. The film is about a not so distant future where Europe does not exist anymore and emphasized not only the probable reasons for this, but also the disastrous consequences that a comeback to nationalisms in Europe would create. The whole movie was very moving, and we could find the similarities between the past and the probable future. As the program had been sent weeks before the event, the participants were well able to prepare for it, but we all were very much touched by the sad stories of the movie, which were told by very different people from different countries of Europe. The organizers asked us to think about it, and be prepared for a discussion next day both formally and informally.
The conference was honored by the attendance of Mr. David Sassoli, the vice president of European Parliament. In his speech he highlighted the importance of events like EULOCAL to discuss European problems while gathering people from very different parts of Europe. He was very much impressed by the presence of the many young people among the audience, as youth is usually not interested in politics. He wished them and all participants a very fruitful conference. After his talk there was a chance for the participants to ask questions: is he optimistic about the future of the EU, does he expect other exits etc.
After the questions and answers Fausto Servadio, the mayor of the town addressed his thoughts to the audience. He expressed how happy he is that Velletri takes part in this project under the Europe for citizens, network of towns. He told he was very proud in Tratti, because they have done so much for the involvement of the youngsters in the social life of the town. He called to the stage Dr. Alessandra Modio, the mentor of the group, former councillor, and underlined the importance of her help she has been giving for the enthusiastic youngsters.
Dr. István Mátrai the coordinator of the project briefly introduced the program and its importance. He emphasized that many people are Eurosceptic and do not want to see the advantages of the existence of the EU. Also, he expressed his belief that the series of conferences and events will contribute to a better reputation of the EU. He also mentioned that the first conference was organized in Marsaskala, Malta, and it was very efficient, participants could find new points of views and facts which all highlight the necessity of the cooperation of small and large, old and young EU countries. He expressed his gratitude for the preparation of the event and wished all participants a successful conference.
After a short break the participants and visitors from the town had the chance to listen the words of Mr. Abdoulaye Mbodj, who is the first son of African immigrants and who became lawyer in Milan’s court. He talked about the life of his family. His father had left his family in Senegal with a promise: to look for all of them for a better future than the native land could offer him. He has never given up, and now they work and live at the gates of Lodi. Their greatest pride is the three children whom they raised with love. Mr. Abdoulaye Mbodj stated that he has never felt discriminated against, not at school and not in his work place either. He claimed to be an example of such an Italy that welcomes and does not exclude. As his father, he feels himself a respected person, and he was grateful for the tremendous help he got from many people. Now, he feels is the time for him to repay this, so he does his best to help those ones who need it. His whole speech introduced us to the exhibition we were about to see regarding the ‘new Europeans’, sons of immigrants who have decided to stay in Italy and change their lives, always keeping in mind the terrible privations their families had to go through.
Together, we then inaugurated the exhibitions, which were open to the public. Fortunately, many students came to see the inauguration, and to listen to Abdoulaye Mbodj’s words about it. We had the chance to read about successful and less successful stories from different people like famous sportsmen who could not be part of the national team because they were refugees, scientists who could work and were recognized. As Mr. Abdoulaye Mbodj told, they all had to work hard to reach their goals. We all agreed that the program was well designed: after the exhibition we had the possibility to talk about the “new Europeans” informally, and in the afternoon, we also could talk about the situation in our countries.
After lunch we returned to the library for our workshop: the main theme was migration, as we understand the centrality of this topic in European recent history. We worked in four international groups. Each group got a statement with a question and they had to present 3 simple suggestions at the end of the workshop. The four themes were migration and integration, sustainable growth and development, defence and security, information and communication. Our conclusions were various: first of all, we underlined the difference between economic and political immigrants, and the importance of media for the perception we have of immigrants and immigration in our country and in Europe in general. We also discussed the centrality of public discussion and critical thinking when talking about themes like this. Secondly, groups talked about our need for immigrants in Europe: because of our aging population, which contributes to our need for a workforce. The question is if this is the real solution? Will refugees work? To teach and train them needs financial help. Finally, we tackled the problem of integration: most participants did this by discussing the problems of integration, problems of violence and divisions in Europe itself, and the difficulty of having people coming from a completely different environment with different rules and traditions. But is it impossible to solve the problem of integration of different cultures? Some of us tried to get to some possible solutions, for example by highlighting the importance of language barrier and education in the process of integration. Also, it turned out that a real integration cannot be expected, and it is impossible. It should be taken into consideration to help these people in the country they come from – if it is a safe country. We all agreed that refugees in real danger deserve all help, but they also have to cooperate, accept the rules and laws of their new countries. It was also mentioned that unfortunately some migrants are criminals and local people tend to put all refugees into the same box, and the attitude towards migrants is not positive at all.
After the workshop questions the delegations of the invited countries briefly talked about their own experience at home.
Bad Kötzting delegation mentioned two main points: accommodation of the refugees and job integration education. They had both positive and negative examples. They have about 160 refugees from Syria, Ethiopia, Irak, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Mali, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria. Most of them live in the former hospital, and only a few “recognized refugees” live in flats in the town. Only 60 of them have the status “recognized as having the right of asylum,” and of them, only 2 work. The children visit open full-time-school or kindergarten and meet playmates.
The key positive fact is, that there is a great refugee support network of active and dedicated volunteers, and they help to integrate refugees in a variety of activities, such as sports clubs and self-reliance training courses. Men and women receive special instruction: for male refugees– how to behave in contact with women or in the public pool; for women– language courses specializing in childcare and infant health. Another positive are the collaborative classes for both German nationals and refugees: such as collective cookery courses and knitting courses. There is even a bicycle repair workshop, run by refugees.
However, on the negative side, the state largely depends on the work of volunteers, who can be unreliable. There are housing problems for recognized refugees. A secluded life in the collective accommodation prevents some problems, but doesn’t support integration.
As for education there are 11 classes with about 180 students, distributed according to their level, and most of them are willing to learn. Punctuality was a problem in the beginning, but now the students are not less reliable than Germans.
There is a positive example: A recognized refugee from Syria (wife and 2 children) who had studied Arabian Literature got involved as an interpreter at the job agency and was employed as a social worker at the vocational school. Meanwhile he is a full-time social worker and placement officer for refugees at the county administration. He is interested in integration; also, his children speak German.
However, there are negative examples, too. A Syrian student, who showed deviant behavior and didn’t follow any rules, even dealt with drugs, had to leave school and has no future in Germany.
The companies in the county are willing to educate and train refugees and employ them after the apprenticeship. They are especially interested in students from Afghanistan. Most of them are interested in learning and integrating. Their chances to stay are minimal, because the Federal Government considers Afghanistan a safe country, which is not undisputed in Germany. So, there is a constant fear of deportation. It even happened that a student was caught by the police right away from a class at school.
There is still a long way to integration. The procedure for granting the right of asylum or deny it takes too much time. It is difficult for recognized refugees to find a job or accommodation. The attitude of many Germans towards refugees is not positive.
The Kőszeg delegation could not give too many examples. They explained that Hungary also hosts many refugees, and they – if they deserve it – live in good circumstances. Also, in Kőszeg there are people coming from Armenia, etc. Many professionals, such as doctors, architects, and other workers come to Hungary, in County Vas, and they have really good reputation. However, not too many people would like to stay in Hungary, mostly they want to use it as a transit country, and they want to move to Germany. Definitely, one of the reasons is the higher standard of life in Germany.
Hungary does not deny help to those who live in danger, but the Hungary government requires legal entry, with an ID. Those ones who illegally would like to enter the country – and in this way access Europe – are sent back. It is also true, that the Hungarian Government strongly believes that help should be given there where they are coming from, Hungary has already sent much money to improve living conditions, to build hospitals, schools, etc.
The Chojna delegation also could talk about very different situations. As a good example they mentioned concerned a 17-year-old immigrant from Syria. Because of the constant uncertainty and fear, the family decided to move to Poland. The biggest challenge faced by refugees is learning Polish. Without this skill, it was difficult for a teenager to find new friends or to learn in high school. Another problem was the negative attitude of school youth to refugees. After three years of living in Poland, she states that her schoolmates changed their attitude towards her, but they did not change their attitude towards refugees in general. In her opinion, this is not right, because everyone deserves help from others and safe, peaceful living conditions. They plan to stay in Poland until the end of hostilities in Syria or even longer.
The procedures in Poland are complicated and last several months, and people from several countries are placed in the same center. There are a lot of people frustrated in one place because they are kept in limbo for a long, and uncertain amount of time. The cultural diversity in the refugee centers also gives rise to conflicts. In addition, less than a quarter of refugees want to learn Polish. The procedure of admitting immigrants and granting them refugee status in Poland is very long. According to the rules, it should last a maximum of six months, but in reality, it reaches even two years. During this time, foreigners are in special centers. They have a flat, food, medical help, pocket money and learn Polish. As long as they do not have permission for a legal stay, they cannot work or leave the center. Poland has big problems with integration and preparation of foreigners for independent functioning in society. Although they are applying for refugee status or have already received it, most of them are not interested in learning Polish. There are almost four thousand people in the centers. In recent years, only about 100 adults and about 500 children used language classes. There are no consequences for refusing to participate in classes. Another problem is, that there are no experienced teachers. Maybe the situation will change soon, because one company has recently been selected to be responsible for education throughout the country.
After receiving refugee status, foreigners may stay in the center for a year. After this time the help ends, and they have to become independent. A year is not enough time to recover from the mental, physcial, and emotional demands of living through a war, to learn a language, and at the same time to find a job. After leaving the center, refugees receive little or no support.
Marsaskala delegation talked about their problem: they would not exclude people coming to Malta, but the size of the island and its relatively high population causes serious problems. Because of their geographical situation many ships embark, and even if only temporarily so many refugees cannot be handled.
The evening also contributed to the success of the whole event. Dinner was served at the Agritourism hotel where we slept. We also could see the traditional dishes being prepared. We then enjoyed traditional Italian music played by a local group. Besides this, we could share our ideas informally, although the day was full of discussions and hard work.
On Saturday we had a walk in Velletri and visited the museum and a temple. At both places we had a detailed guide including the description of the archaeological work. After lunch in a restaurant where we sampled dishes that blended traditional cooking with contemporary flair, we had the pleasure to visit Velletri’s experimental winery. There the supervisor explained the centrality of these facilities in Italy not as producers of wine for profit, but as a scientific subject that interacts with producers to achieve the maximum possible from these wonderful natural sources.
We had the chance to observe how many projects were carried out with EU funds in Velletri, which gave us the opportunity to discuss about essential topics in European recent history not only during our workshop and meetings, but also in our free time!
The next meeting will be held in Bad Kötzting, Germany at the beginning of June.