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The Asylum and Migration Impact Lab: Changemakers from Eastern Europe come to Berlin

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This week-end, Eastern Europe’s trailblazers in the migration field are heading to Berlin for the Asylum and Migration Impact Lab: Supporting social change in Central Eastern Europe. Organized by the European Dialogue Forum – in the framework of the Hertie-Innovationskolleg – the event brings together a group of outstanding CEE and German professionals (activists, communicators and researchers) to network, learn and exchange together on the role of civil society actors working on migration and asylum in Germany and the CEE.

Following a day of capacity building workshops, the open Barcamp sessions in the second part of the event will feature innovative non-profit initiatives and organizations from Central Eastern Europe. Attended by German NGOs, foundations and media, the Barcamp offers participants the chance to hear first-hand accounts of developments and challenges of civil society engaged with migrants and refugees in the CEE region; to explore and discuss innovative solutions to migration and integration; as well as to directly shape the growing network of trans-European professionals in the area of migration initiated by the European Dialogue Forum.

Selected from a large pool of applicants across Central Eastern Europe, the projects featured in the Barcamp reflect the diversity and innovative potential of initiatives in the region. Some, like the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the (Czech) Association for Integration and Migration are well-established actors on the national scene, advocating for (among others) migrants and asylum seekers. Others are volunteer-based and have appeared more recently, in response to the increasing needs of local communities to understand and deal with the new challenges of migration and asylum. This is the case for the Czech Refugee Help, which offers rapid support to newcomers; or the Kuchnia Konfliktu (Conflict Kitchen) from Poland, which brings locals and refugees together over an evening of cooking. Their activities offer much-needed opportunities for connection to the asylum seeker communities, but also help locals question the increasingly negative public discourses around migration in these countries. The Multi Kulti Kollectiv in Bulgaria, and People in Need in the Czech Republic follow similar support and connectivity philosophies – while also using their long term ground experience to offer tested services and policy insights on the short- and long-term integration needs of both migrant and host communities.

Some approaches used by these initiatives are systematic and encompassing. For example, the European Solidarity Center in Gdansk has created and tested a multi-stakeholder process, meant to support the local integration and acceptance of migrants, and showing that carefully designed cross-level solutions for integration can work in communities with little experience of migration and asylum.

Other projects provide disruptive narratives. The New Minorities project from Romania uses storytelling and field research to bring the stories of newcomers across different nationalities closer to local communities and decision makers. Korporacja Ha!art from Poland, and NOUA Magazine, active across Ucraine, Moldova and Belarus, question established discourses and use alternative journalism and communication to show a different face of migrants and migration.

Last, but not least, the initiatives present are daring and ground-breaking. The Black Sea, a regional collective of journalists, bloggers and activists, has created the Eurocrimes platform to dive right into one of the thorniest and most controversial themes of migration and integration: migrants and crime. With thorough research and statistics, and compelling writing, they show just how much (or how little) of the negative stereotyping around migrants as villains is true – and offer explanations on current migration phenomena that are accessible to a wider public.

The Balkan region has been at the forefront of the refugee crisis in the summer and autumn of 2015. Eastern Europe is one of the main asylum routes to Europe. Migration and asylum are therefore likely to remain central topics across theses societies, and communities might also need to learn in an accelerated manner how to deal with newcomers. The lesson we draw in the European Dialogue Forum, in part due to the exchange with these local migration initiatives, is that in Eastern Europe innovation is rife, potential for social change is considerable – and perhaps all that is needed is a thorough and systematic support for those trailblazers already working so intensively on the ground.

If you are interested in hearing and discussing the Barcamp presentations first hand, join us in Berlin on Saturday, 28 January by registering here.

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