Peers for Integration

The refugee situation is the most important challenge E.U. faced in decades. Standard E.U. barometers place immigration as the no. 1 concern of Europeans (40 - 60 % consider it as a big threat). 61% of Belgians and 51% of Italians agree that all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped (Chatham House) and 84% of Romanians would not agree for refugees to settle in their country.

Youngsters manifest similar behaviours. A study made by OTI among more than 1000 pupils from Arad (Romania) schools,showed that more than 65% of them (aged 13 to 20) would not like a Muslim or refugee friend, even if they have never met a person belonging to these groups.

32% of young migrants from IT admit to have experienced harassment due to their ethnic or immigrant background (EU-AFR) and real numbers are estimated to be higher.

Different researches (e.g."The Uncertainty Paradox: Perceived Threat moderates the Impact of Uncertainty on Political Tolerance") indicate that the causes for these are rather emotional than rational and usually involve lack of knowledge and fear. Limited information about their culture and the misrepresentation that part of the media and of the social media have fostered activate automatic defence mechanisms in people that lead to rejection of different groups.

The negative attitudes and the exclusion associated with them are also acknowledged by young refugees and migrants as main challenges for integrating in their host countries. A research conducted by Ofensiva Tinerilor among more than 300 of them who settled in Romania,

Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Albania, Denmark, France and Spain indicated that the number 1 challenge they faced was the lack of awareness on the different cultural norms that exist in Europe and the lack of ability to deal with “cultural friction” (e.g. in Romania 52% agree with this). Learning the language of the host country and finding a house/job closely followed this.

If until now "cultural friction" was mostly seen as natural, in the current context it only adds to the tension. EU citizens have become more intolerant to cultural differences. In this context, refugees declare this as a big obstacle in their inclusion, they feel the need to better understand and deal with cultural differences, to better advocate for their inclusion and for the respect for diversity, but have almost no resources to do it. This was also acknowledged by the European Commission in its "Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals", which concludes that gaining an understanding of the culture and values of the receiving society is crucial for third country nationals and that peer learning events on intercultural awareness should be supported.

With 65 to 85% of the refugees who settled in European countries being younger than 35, but also observing that the exclusion is manifested as well among young people, this situation of increasing intolerance and exclusion also severely clashes with the common vision of the EPTO members (partners in this project) of "young people learning from each other how to embrace their differences and realize their unique potential".

Given all of the above, partners decided that we should use our expertise and resources, and increase our efforts for facilitating the inclusion of refugees in the European society. In this context we joined efforts in order to develop, test and disseminate a peer-education programme that:

o develops the capacities to integrate in the new cultural environment of young refugees who plan to move to European countries;

o schools and youth organisations can use to create an environment in which youngsters understand and embrace cultural diversity.