Reinventing the refugee – redescovering ourselves. For a new paradigm in the relationship between locals and migrants
The dimension of the current migration crisis indicates that major changes in the population of Europe might be ahead of us, making current perceptions and approaches ineffective. The UNHCR, workers in the field of humanitarian aid for refugees already started to rethink the refugee camps, seeing them as potential labs for creative and truly sustainable, future oriented solutions for human settlements and collective displacement. Renewable energy, waste reduction and recycling, compost toilets, local business and participatory decisions in the development of camps are the new “trend” – even more since it becomes clear that some of these will become permanent settlements with tens or hundreds of thousands of inhabitants.
Inhabitants of Central-Eastern-European countries have not only a history of nationalism, but as well a (hidden) history of collective, rather involuntary migration (see the case of Transylvania, former Soviet Union countries, ex-Yugoslavia) – which makes us much more prepared to address the current situation of our region in a non-ideological, practical, creative, forward looking way than one may think.
What we can do, is not only…
1. make future camps more environmental friendly, human and inclusive, but
2.) even consciously upgrade them to new “CITIES OF HOPE” (and social, technological innovation),
3.) give them a special legal status similar to the free trading zones in border areas -> let’s call it “free settlement zones” and
4.) let them evolve into flourishing towns and cities that provide new opportunities not only for the newcomers but for the host population in the wider area as well.
5.) Migrants be offered 10-20 year national/EU or kind of “UN”/migrant visas that allow them to travel, work and live in all refugee places with a similar legal status in Europe/worldwide as well as in the host countries/areas.
6.) Migrants be allowed to use their own language in local public administration and be empowered to truly administer themselves
7.) Host communities and migrant communities establish their own communication, agree on the “rules of game” (in a democratic, constitutional framework)
8.) Last but not least: Migrants be kept in contact with their places of origin and helped to keep the perspective/hope of returning one day.
In 10-20 years from now the future European network of CITIES OF HOPE could become what the HANSE-network of the late middle ages has been for the Baltic region: thriving, wealthy settlements of emancipated citizens and masters of their own destinies. This scenario could help us in Europe and the West stay resilient, keep our countries and cultures essentially as they are, while adapting to inevitable demographic changes, induced partly by others, party by Europeans. It would help us as well in the Eastern part of Europe overcome structures in our societies that now stand in our way for a better life: nationalistic competition and resentment with neighbors, narrow-minded perspectives, lack of proactive involvement to improve our own lives etc.
Consciously interlinked with places like Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and countries (far) beyond, Eastern European countries would acquire a more central status in the EU of the future, as mature, responsible, dynamic societies that know their value and potential and act accordingly to it, instead of waiting and adapting to the decisions of the more powerful in the West or East. Historically speaking, there’s no clear dividing line between locals and ‘strangers’. The migrant is that what we might have been, what we have been or what we could become some day. The migrants of the past have become the locals of today. The locals of today may become the migrants of romorrow…
Hans Hedrich, eco-activist and politologist
September 25. 2015