In 2015, the migrant and refugee crisis shook the world. Public discourse on the topic has remained charged ever since.
Refugee host countries seem divided. Discussions remain emotional and binary – two camps, two stances on the issue: #RefugeesWelcome or #RefugeesGoHome. There is little room for constructive debate – everyone talks, only a few listen.
Caught in the middle are young refugees and migrants who bear the brunt of this heated public debate. They rarely get a chance to make their voices heard, becoming sheer subjects of discussion. Grappling with their new lives in new cultural environments, they are often victimized by discrimination, xenophobia and stigma.
Constructive dialogue is possible. But there is no constructive dialogue without clear rules, a set of guidelines that allow for an inclusive and respectful conversation to emerge – a conversation where people can safely share ideas, listen and try to seek mutual understanding. If we’re serious about the wellbeing of our societies, it’s cardinal that we create spaces where these conversations can happen.
Write 2 Unite, a UNICEF initiative that will be piloted in the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain over the coming months, aims to do exactly that.
Bringing together young refugees, migrants and locals for an intercultural dialogue, the aim of Write 2 Unite is to foster mutual understanding among the participants and share their stories with the public.
In a kick-off workshop, participants will be teamed up and trained in intercultural communication, teamwork and blogging. Over the course of eight weeks, teams will then engage in dialogue and capture it in the form of blog posts. UNICEF will publish the blog posts and promote them via social media channels and partnerships, engaging the broader public in the conversation. Coordinating the initiative, my role is to train colleagues from the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain on how to facilitate these dialogues and support them during the implementation phase.
“This will never work,” the man sitting next to me observed after asking what I will be doing in Europe. I was on a plane to Slovenia and about to implement the first training. “Why?” I inquired, disheartened. “Because people don’t listen,” he replied with a shrug.
Was he right? Do people not listen? The question was consuming my mind. Eventually, it was my interactions with UNICEF colleagues during the following weeks, the experiences we shared, the fierce discussions we had, which led me to conclude: I don’t agree.
I think people do listen. We listen when we know that we are being taken seriously, that our opposite listens too. We listen when we feel comfortable enough to express our opinions, fears and hopes openly, without fear of being insulted or judged.
It seems to me that there are thousands, if not millions of people, from all walks of life, who are interested in having a constructive dialogue, but the spaces are lacking where such dialogue can take place.
Let’s create these spaces. Write 2 Unite is one of them. We need many more.
Mischa Liatowitsch is a Youth Engagement Coordinator at UNICEF HQ.