”Refugees Integration vs. Discrimination”

“Refugees Integration vs. Discrimination”

Elitsa Todorova

(Bulgarian Youth Forum)

Having the opportunity to participate in this event was one of the best things that happened to me in 2017. The learning experience, the people, the atmosphere, the food and so on. Where do I even begin?

The first day we had a cultural evening where people from each represented country shared something with the others. There were pub quizzes, traditional dances, drinks and, of course, a wide variety of traditional food, some even home-made. People were very creative in preparing for the cultural night. It was also nice to see that the enthusiasm to share more about ourselves, our backgrounds, professional and personal experiences was sustained throughout the project. This definitely contributed to the quality of the group discussions of our topics.

During the day our programme usually started with a fun energizer and continued to other activities, mostly interactive and in groups. The schedule was full but included plenty of pleasant and creative activities while we were learning more from each other about the topic.

Although our participation in the project already presupposed a certain degree of awareness and agreement as for the need for refugee integration, we had diverging opinions on many issues. We were often quite passionate about the subject, and yet, that was channeled into a productive discussion by the facilitators which enhanced the learning experience.

In the evenings we would always play some sport together, dance, go for a short walk or just chill in our multi-national group and continue the conversations of the day. The venue was very suitable for all of this as we were located outside of the centre and away from neighbours we could potentially disturb.

Nevertheless, we also had contact with the locals. We met local-level decision-makers who informed us about their perceptions of the refugee flow and integration in the Belogradchik municipality and the Vidin region. There we could personally ask our questions and get a better idea of the situation. We also had a cultural evening with the local youth which was a nice chance to share our impressions and of course, have a game of volleyball and traditional dances together. Moreover, we also went on a trip to the beautiful Belogradchik rocks and saw the famous cave paintings at the Magurata cave.

One of the best inspiring parts of the project for me was the last day when, combining everything we had learned so far, we were brainstorming about alternative ways to improve the process of refugee integration in Europe. These ideas were later compiled into a document and sent to the EU’s European Commission. I found the discussions around the whole idea-generating process very inspiring and I can definitely say that I have learned a lot about out-of-the-box refugee integration activities in other European countries, especially from NGOs which successfully connect refugees with the local community.

Lastly, but not least, the food was fantastic! As I only eat plant-based food, initially, I was slightly concerned about how the staff would manage the different dietary requirements of the participants. Yet I must say this was handled perfectly and I am extremely grateful for this. Even though the meals were not the most important part of the experience, I felt that the care and love with which the tasty food was prepared for us everyday by the amazing staff and volunteers perfectly represented the overall experience.

It was a pleasure to be part of this project and the wonderful experience which will always stay with me.