Tag Archives: Refugees

Switzerland, Austria and Germany have changed since the 19th century started.  Not only through the Second World War. Globalization changed our way of working. When my generation went to university we wanted to be “international” but I feel that nowadays this isn’t cool anymore.

Regional identity is trendy. You can see this in political movements from Scotland to Barcelona. You see it in the written expression of dialect versus formal “high“ languages in Spain, the UK, Switzerland and Germany.

I am amused that youth enjoys “Volksmusik” (traditional music) more than rock’n’roll and that the “dirndl” had a revival over the last five years. Even I got one and while it’s ok to be conservative our inner “Heidi” needs to grow up.

Chalet in Austria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality is diverse and full of color!

Global companies deal with diversity of their clients and staff. Many diversity and inclusion initiatives are run under affirmative action legislation. In the European Union we discuss quotas for women in leadership roles. We want to avoid gender and cultural bias. We talk about age diversity and feel it’s a solution to the war for talents and lack of skilled labor if we ask our senior worker to stay a few years as consultants after their retirement.

When will we discuss diversity of cultural backgrounds and mention religious diversity in a positive sense? 

In Europe we fought for religious freedom since the enlightenment. So why should we think that religious freedom can only be given to us?

We all believe in Equality, Freedom and Brotherhood. Freedom means that you can chose your religion freely and that you can chose not to believe in anything as well.

We have to develop our collective intercultural sensitivity. We have to drop our assumption that our way to live, work and act is the only correct way in the world.

Intercultural researcher Milton Bennett calls this assumption “ethnocentric”. It comes in a development stage of denial, polarization or minimization. If you take a look at the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity by Milton Bennet you will probably notice that our current public discussion and our media are driven by the denial and polarization stage of intercultural sensitivity. The worldview of “Them” versus “Us” is enforced daily. To me this is propaganda and not very advanced.

Have we not learnt from the past I sometimes ask myself? Do we not understand that the refugees in Europe flee the same terror that we despise? How can we dare to even talk of refugees and terror in the same context?

Watch the media closely. They should know better and be more differentiated. Why would you speak of the percentage of Muslims living in a country as an indicator for the risk of terrorism? That would be like saying: “In Italy we have a high percentage of Catholics. That’s why we believe there is a higher risk for rape of our youth.”

You deduct a behavior from a very small percentage of criminals to the majority with only one common denominator called religion. Have we not learnt statistics? Have we not learnt to be differentiated in our world views?

I think we have to be very careful in our judgements. I condemn terrorism and rape too but I do not relate it to religious or cultural background. 

You might be afraid of what you don’t know and don’t understand. Your parents might have taught you not to talk to strangers and to lock the door. So yes, the first time you see someone who looks different you might be surprised, maybe even a little shocked. Once you get to know the person though did you not notice that they deserve your respect and trust?

With refugees at your doorstep it would be so easy to overcome your fear. Take a first step. Speak to a refugee. Or just speak to a person you don’t know who looks different. Smile at a “foreigner”. Be kind to a person who looks sad.

Open your mind to the endless possibilities of human interaction. Open your heart. Open your home.

Thank you to the 11th Zurich Film Festival for broadening my horizon about Iran and the Dublin process for asylum seekers

I love movies. Especially Bollywood movies. I actually count flight times in Bollywood movies = Zurich –> Delhi direct 3 B’wood movies, Zurich – NYC 2 B’wood-movies and a few TV shows).

Zurich-Film-Festival-02

Picture credit: http://www.newlyswissed.com/

It all started when I went on a project in Bangalore in 2006 where I immersed in this aspect of the Indian culture. Before Bollywood I loved Almodovar, Cohen-Brothers, Tarantino, Weinstein and a recurring themes like James Bond, Starwars, Lord of the Rings. Let’s say I can spend a whole day in a movie theatre and I love the Zurich Film Festival (#ZFF).

I attend the ZFF every year but sometimes I just manage to see one movie and then I am annoyed with myself because we hardly ever get to see such a diversity of films. Before I started my business I made a wish that one day I will be able to afford the time and money to see 10 movies in the ZFF. This year I almost thought I’d miss the whole festival but due to clever re-prioritization and the right kind of friends I managed to watch five movies in three days.

What struck me as a movie aficionado during #ZFF2015 is how easy it is to teach culture through movies. A friend of mine was wondering why I had not responded to messages and I said that what I did there was actually work. Let’s say I did research my way. I am entrepreneur. I can do this.

When did I first notice that movies teach intercultural competence?

Even if Bollywood-movies are full of clichés and a lot of Indians despise them they teach us (Germans for example) a lot about the general mindset. Not only that: Watching Bollywood movies for almost 10 years now has taught me a basic understanding of Hindi and Urdu terms. I only realized when I went to Pakistan last year that I understood some of the conversations in my host family (the Urdu versions).

Movies have influenced our cultural upbringing and globalized our mindsets. In Germany in my generation (Gen X) we were influenced by Hollywood. When I first went to New York City in 1996 it felt rather familiar.

The first show I was allowed to watch after bedtime was “Dallas”. Later I preferred „Beverly Hills 90210“ over „Die Lindenstrasse“. We all watched French, Spanish and Italian movies in our youth. Some of us like Danish cinema. So yes, cultural learning through movies is not a new concept to me. I would love to offer a movie-based intercultural seminar. It’s another wish in my wish book.

What did these five movies teach me?

Let me summarize for you why I thought these movies were improving my intercultural competence.

Jag är Dublin” (I am Dublin)

The first one was a Swedish documentary called “I am Dublin”. I am Dublin is the story of Ahmed, a Somali stuck in the asylum process. He is real and my heart immediately feels motherly instincts. This “boy” has suffered, is traumatized but in a way also tough. He agrees to be filmed and he knows that the camera will save his ass. He gets deported and I am angry. The end of the movie (spoiler alert) is a relief but you and I know that now the real work starts. I know it from close friends. Once they are allowed to stay in Europe the real integration work starts. Improving language skills, finding a job and having a “normal” life. Being a refugee, asylum seeker and temporarily approved resident (ein “Geduldeter”) is a tough lot even in wealthy Europe. So definitely recommended. I was actually ignorant until a few weeks ago. (See other stories on #refugees)

“Un amour de jeunesse”

The second movie was French. Not everyone’s taste but I enjoyed to be able to hear the language, read English translation at the same time as it is again a good chance to practice. The content of the movie was more psychologically valid for me. The culture mix was interesting as the protagonist falls in love with a Norwegian. (I swear he spoke German with no accent). There is also an interesting scene covering Bauhaus, an important part of German architectural culture which unfortunately was overturned by the Nazi-style. (Can you speak of “style” in connection with Nazis?).

“The Risk of Acid Rain”

Then the third film and my main reason to attend the festival was “The Risk of Acid Rain”. This movie was touching and it taught me about Iran. I also noticed that Farsi is completely different from Arabic. I had expected that there would be more similarities but apart from “Salam” I did not recognize anything.

What I thought was interesting was how the main characters in the movie deal with the Sharia police. In our minds here we also probably did not expect that homosexuality would be touched as a topic. It was alluded to twice in the movie. What really was very funny was how the relationship between the three main characters evolved and dissolved again. My Bollywood driven mind wanted to see a “happy family reunion” at the end but the end (again spoiler alert) is more realistic. The movie was banned in Iran because of the homosexuality. You need to look for it and be warned as a “Westerner” to actually recognize it.

ATOMIC_HEART_01

Picture credits: https://zff.com/

“Atomic Heart”

With a break of 24 hours I continued with the Iranian theme. “Atomic Heart” starts out as the Iranian version of a road movie with two young women on a night out and their little adventures. The movie later falls into a surreal narrative where Saddam Hussein and another crazy character dominate the plot. The movie is funny and artistic. It helps in switching perspectives. What I realized there is how limited my knowledge of Teheran really is and again the images in the movie do not match my expectations. Teheran comes across a lot more modern, almost hip.

“Bright Day”

Another break of 24 hours later and now with a certain expectation I saw “Bright Day”, the movie I really wanted to see. I have to say that the movie was shown very late and I was already a bit tired. It touched me emotionally but some of the dialogues were lost on me. This movie was probably the most “realistic” story. In my view it showed a typical issue in a country, where power is abused by those who own money over the poorer employed staff, where those who depend have to obey and are threatened when they want to adhere to their values.

The fight of “good” versus “evil” is exemplified in the person of a taxi driver. The theme is similar to an Indian movie (“Jolly LLP”) and is ultimately about standing up for your values. Interestingly enough looking at this movie I found again, that we Christians have more in common with Muslims than what is often suggested.

I was happy to see that in all three Iranian movies the movie theatres were rather full and the audience was very interested in how life in Iran really is. I am hoping that through entertainment and art we will find more access to each other. At least, movies offer good dinner conversation and having another narrative than the typical individualistic Western-style is worth watching out for.

So how could you set up an intercultural seminar based on movies? Which bias would you need to avoid?

By @angieweinberger

When I ask Zarah for her name we instantly connect. She laughs with me „Can we help you Madam?“. I have to laugh. Here’s a young refugee offering to help me bringing the IKEA bag with men’s shoes (in the right sizes) into the „distribution center“. Zarah wears a top that indicates she likes to go clubbing. It’s probably a donation she received in her last night’s interim camp in Serbia. Today she made it into the European Union. She’s with her husband. They beam at me.

I am going inside the white tent. She has to stay behind the table. She needs a warmer shirt size 36 I assume. Little chance that I find a fitting top right away but I find a sweater she is happy with. Later I see her again. Her English is fluent. I distribute scarves and hats at the time. I don’t ask a lot of questions but having her name helps me finding her in the crowd again. With the men it is harder. They all call me „friend“. I try to differentiate their faces. Holding up pants too big or too small, then in one box I find a pair of pregancy pants. The young man says „yes“ and laughts. It’s the first one that fits after I held up about five pairs. I pull out a sweater which looks a perfect fit for a stronger young man. „This is your style“. He smiles at me. „Thank you.“ „Pleasure“.

When I cannot find what we need and wish this place had a better structure so I could find pants and shoes in the right size I ask the volunteer woman who seems to have the supervision here.
„Men ask for shoes. Shall I go to storage. There was a delivery.“
„Yes, and can you bring women’s jackets too.“.
I need to get out of the small unorganized tent. It seems to be a waste of effort. So I become a deliverer. I walk with my torch between the storage and distribution tent.

When my IKEA bags are empty I go back to refill sleeping bags, mats, tents and blankets. The soft ones. I hand them to men. One at a time. We don’t want waste. Everyone is very grateful. A young men needs a baby sleeping bag. By the time I am back with a few of them and a bottle and a tent I don’t see him anymore. I hope his baby will be warm enough.

The interim camp in Rözke welcomes the refugees crossing the Serbian boarder. After they walk for another five kilometers they arrive and are given food, tea and a chance to rest.

Most of the refugees look tired but well groomed considering what they have been through. I am humbled. Thinking about how fast I complain on travel I do for fun or business.

It would have helped if we had more clarity on the process

"Mission One" - 11 SEPT 2015 - Action from Switzerland
“Mission One” – 11 SEPT 2015 – Action from Switzerland

On one of my deliveries two women in their early 20ies ask me about the busses. They look like Eritreans but then I cannot really tell because it is dark. Maybe they are from Syria, maybe not.

„We have heard rumors that people wait for eight hours for the bus in the heat. What happens if they keep us here for the three days? Will we be kept in a camp or arrested“. I have the impression they are alone. No husbands. „Please get onto a bus tomorrow. They will take you to a train station nearby and then you can move on.“

I understand that fingerprinting is an issue for many refugees and wish I had more current information. In their case I prioritize security. I ask them to go to the large blue and white tent so I can find them with a tent for themselves. When I get back I cannot see them. I wonder if they decided to walk to Szeged, the next town 10 km away. I did not ask for their names. I wish I had.

In Röszke giving a smile to a refugee or making them laugh by talking Arabic could be worth as much as a fleece blanket. I try to multitask. It works. We work on from 11 pm to 2 am. It feels like an hour. I can see that the number of men looking for pants or shoes is reduced and many refugees sleep in tents or outside. We speak to other volunteers. We build relationships to UNHCR staff from Hungary.

The morning already seems days away. We left from our hotel in Kecskemet where Gabor, the manager wishes us luck and tells us that he’ll pray for our mission. We are six volunteers today. The men have medical supplies, mats and blankets. The van I rented has 200 sleeping bags and lots of other donations. The backpacks we loaded last are well received and gone right after we are allowed to pass the police stop at the entrance.

We waited there for about an hour, giving out „snickers“ to the young officers who seem to be tired. They liked our van. I drive the van to the blue and white tent. We unloaded only what the tent required: Shoes for men, shampoo and toilet packs and a few sleeping bags. The first woman I meet with a child asks for cream. I cannot find it but she is happy for the toilet kit.

We unloaded all other donations go in the newly built storage tent. We help build up the storage tent in an organized way. Normally this field is used to grow plants. The storage tent is made in a field. We managed to keep sleeping bags, clothes clean and dry. Trucks from mainly German-speaking countries unloaded their donations during the day. A UNHCR staff from South America coordinates income and orders. I like her calm and structured approach. The warm weather helps to keep the donations dry but is also a threat to the refugees when they have to queue to get on to a bus.

Our four men Thomas, Balz, Edi and Patric left us to do other tasks. I feel they have more stamina. I am careful not to overwhelm myself. I take breaks when I need them. In a moment of frustration about not finding everything in the distribution tent I leave that space. There seem to be enough tired volunteers so I start to do the runs between the two tents.

The volunteer experience shows me that our support can be very useful if we keep certain measures and have contacts we can trust on the ground. If you consider volunteering I’d advise you have a conversation with Gabrielle or myself first. We need Arabic, Farsi, Urdu speakers and drivers. If you’d like to come on a “mission” to Eastern Europe, you should commit to at least four days as you probably need a day to rest once you return.

If you would like to understand how you can support ACTION FROM SWITZERLAND please join the Facebook Group of Action from Switzerland.

Here is also a nice summary of our support by watson.ch.

 

war-953246_960_720This year the refugee „crisis“ has been dominating German-speaking media. Now there are signs that we are taking a new spin to the topic. There is support from volunteers, there are positive conversations about the refugees. I support giving refugees language education and a work permit as soon as possible. Mainly because in Germany and Switzerland we have more work than people who are willing to do the work. We have more than enough space, housing and we can actually help raise children.

We need to consider what we all can contribute to support and I think we can start with small acts of kindness. In Iceland people offered room to leave and now the government says they would like to take in more refugees.

What I thought about as I discussed the idea of support was that in such situations we tend to give the responsibility to governments, official volunteer organizations and even the police. The policemen I know (probably with one exception) hardly ever speak as many languages as I do. My even small vocabulary and skill in Arabic could come in handy when we speak to and listen to Syrians.

I have friends who are native speakers in Arabic, Farsi and Urdu and remember that once I listened to a Beduin women in Egypt and even though I did not fully understand her she told me her story of how she lost her daughter. I gave her my scarve. She could not walk anymore. The pain of losing her child had made her sick. If we could listen and speak to the refugees who come to Europe we could help them learn German and French and integrate.

We could probably also help them with their traumas and grief. My friend S. said he cried when he saw the pictures of the refugees. Me too. I had shed a lot of tears last week. I don’t have a TV but even the stories on social media, stories of support and stories of hope against the negative neo-nazi operations …even those stories made me cry. At the moment I don’t feel like crying anymore. I want to support, but as often I feel numbed and overwhelmed. Not sure where to start so I started with a tweet.

If you are a #refugee and have come to #Zurich we can help you with administrative and language problems.

From that tweet a lot more actions evolved. We already have a project group. Keep tuned and let me know if you want to know more.