“Volunteering was discovering myself” – migrant integration in Bristol with VALUES
EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities, has long demonstrated its commitment to integrating migrants and migrant communities in European cities, in part – since 2006 – through its Integrating Cities process. Integrating Cities is a partnership with the European Commission to promote local-level implementation of the Common Basic Principles on Integration adopted by the EU in 2004. We offered EUROCITIES a chance to show its initiative in action, through a recent example.
Here is what Richard Williams of MigrationWork wrote about the benefits and challenges of giving former users of the local-council services responsibility for the running and oversight of projects:
“Volunteering was discovering myself. If young refugees and migrants understand what volunteering gives you, they would all do it,” Mo, a young man from Eritrea told us. He is a volunteer support worker for resettled refugees. His was just one of many stories we heard on our trip to Bristol to find out how cities and volunteer organisations can work together for migrant integration.
Our cluster of cities – Toulouse, Turin, Nuremberg and Bristol – are working on a benchmark on ‘Mobilising volunteers to engage the young migrant population in community life.’ We are part of the EU-funded project VALUES, ‘Volunteering Activities to Leverage Urban and European Social integration of migrants.’ The project is led by EUROCITIES and supported by the European Volunteer Centre and my organisation, MigrationWork.
From our initial research to develop a draft benchmark, it was clear that ‘mobilising volunteers’ would be understood to include young migrants, as well as non-migrants. Consequently, one of the seven ‘Key Factors’ in our draft benchmark is, ‘The city encourages and supports young migrants to get involved as volunteers’.
It became clear at the first meeting of our cluster in Brussels that our group of cities felt that it was crucial that projects and activities should be developed and implemented in partnership with young migrants and suggested that a key factor about city plans and strategies for young people should not only take into account the needs of young migrants, but should be ‘co-produced’ by them. Following our visit Bristol, we will be looking at the extent to which the city meets this benchmark.
When we visited Bristol, the visitors were very interested in the extent to which former service users had been involved in developing services and projects, were running them and were even responsible for their oversight, all the while as volunteers.
On our first night, we visited the Station, a converted fire station, where we met people who ran a music project and youth club for young refugees and migrants. We heard that young migrants sat on their management committee. We met a young man who had attended the youth club and had come back to offer free haircuts.
We visited a Welcome Café run by Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), where we heard that BRR aimed for 50% of their volunteers to be ‘members’. The group thought that calling service users ‘members’ afforded people dignity and helped create an atmosphere of inclusion and welcome. This NGO also requires that at least one of the trustees on its board be a refugee or migrant ‘member’.
One NGO we met urgently needed to replace two staff who had recently left. The rest of their staff team lacked the necessary skills and knowledge. They thought that the solution might lie in the young people whom they were supporting. Some were on the verge of being too old to continue to be eligible for support; volunteering would be a way for them to stay on.
We learned that young migrant volunteers can help fill employment gaps and bring valuable specific knowledge (home-country culture, the trauma that refugees and migrants may have experienced and the particular challenges of arriving in a new place). They can also help services reach young people from within their own culture. They may, though, face particular barriers to volunteering – for example, having to go to school or college, or, as asylum-seekers, not having the right to work.
Young volunteers play a role in Bristol's reception of resettled refugees. Emma from Creative Youth Network reminded us that Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children the right to have a voice in all matters affecting them. This means that children and young people should have a say in the development and running of any services for children that are run by or commissioned by a local authority.
For some of our group, the visit had been an eye-opener: seeing young migrants as assets, rather than passive recipients of services was a revelation. “Until now I saw young people as targets of services," one city representative said. "Now, I see them as active people who need to be involved.”
Follow VALUES and our other integration projects at http://www.integratingcities.eu/ and @integratingCTs