Last week I was invited to attend a “town twinning network for tolerance and integration of migrants” conference in Potsdam. I was one of four representatives from Lucerne, Switzerland. The others being the head of integration for the city of Lucerne, a representative for the catholic church and a representative from the refugee community centre Hello Welcome. We were meeting with the dynamic integration team from Potsdam and Ballenberg, as well as members from their twin cities in Italy, Finland, Sweden, France, Poland and, even, Zanzibar.
The event was held over 3 days and was a confirmation for me that the LiLi Centre is doing the right thing in helping immigrants from all over the world integrate in Lucerne. The programme closest to ours is being run in Jyväskylä, Finland. The community centre Gloria has been running for 10 years now and offers a multitude of programmes many of which are very similar to ours, and their demographic is also as varied as ours.
Potsdam itself has many programmes and seems like a very culturally vibrant and open city. On our first night there we were invited to the Integration Prize giving ceremony and got to see what volunteer organisations in their city are doing to help foreigners integrate, including a visit to the Ballenberg football team who had set up a football group for refugees in order to help them integrate and fight racism.
Italy was represented by Perugia and, clearly, for them the focus is the integration of asylum seekers and refugees. They are a young dynamic team who run the centre Cidis Onlus. They have come up with many creative solutions to reach out to the local population and make them aware of the plight of the refugees, who are being treated as modern day slaves, and how they could benefit from getting to know them.
Sweden had sent a union representative which may have seemed strange at first, but then showed how unions are also committed to getting foreigners to feel that they deserve the same rights and salaries as locals and also help them integrate by offering language classes and integration programmes. They pointed out that whereas 10 years ago it used to take an immigrant up to 8 years to stand on their own feet (i.e. speak Swedish, have a job and be integrated), now this time has been cut down to 4 years. That still seems a very long time.
Both Poland and France did not have much to show for their integration efforts, which seems ironic as Poland also is one the main immigrant populations in other countries and France boasts that as a former colonial country they have always welcomed foreigners. Having people living in a country by no means make them integrated.
All noticed a massive spike in 2015 of intake of refugees pushing their systems to the brim but things have returned to “normal” and now the focus is on integrating those newcomers and continuing to encourage an exchange between locals and foreigners.
It was really nice to have our mayor Beat Züsli turn up on the first day of the conference to encourage us and receive a commemorative medal from the mayor of Potsdam.
It was encouraging to see that our programmes have been proven to work elsewhere and it has given us new energy on our continued path to improve the LiLi Centre and we will continue to share with other organisations. I look forward to visiting some of the places and programmes I heard about and welcoming some of the participants at the LiLi Centre.