On 15 May 2019 the Center for the Study of Democracy held an international conference devoted to integration of foreigners and the prevention of racism, xenophobia and intolerance within the framework of the RACCOMBAT initiative, dealing with social orientation of refugees and migrants as tool to prevent and counter acts of hatred against them. The conference gathered representatives of social services, the Employment Agency, the State Agency for Refugees with the Council of Ministers, law enforcement authorities, integration agencies and NGO service providers from Bulgaria, Romania, Belgium, Austria, Greece and Latvia.
During the conference opening Mr Mathijs le Rutte, UNHCR Representative in Bulgaria outlined the main challenges before the integration of foreigners in the educational sphere and the avoidance of acts of racism and discrimination through critical thinking and mobilisation of public effort. Dr Maria Yordanova, Senior Fellow with the Law Program of the Center, emphasized on the importance of the topic of migration and integration in the organisation’s research and its contribution to strengthening the capacity of responsible institutions. Miriana Ilcheva, Senior Analyst with the Law Program, presented the main conclusions of the RACCOMBAT initiative, the good practices it gathered and its guidelines on incorporating tolerance and mutual respect in language tuition and social orientation of foreigners.
In the conference’s first panel, devoted to the integration challenges before institutions and NGOs on central and local level, Dr Isabella Meier, Researcher at the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Graz, Austria, outlined the main particularities of the integration models, led, respectively, by the state and civil society representatives. Athena Konstantinou, Social Scientist with the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, Greece and Els de Wacker, Head of Social Orientation Department, Atlas Antwerp, Belgium described their countries’ systems of social orientation of migrants and the main difficulties both before developed integration models and those meeting huge refugee inflow and unfavourable material conditions.
The event’s second panel looked at the RACCOMBAT initative’s main topic – the prevention of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Prof Dirk Vanheule and Sanne van de Pol from the Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies, University of Antwerp, Belgium outlined how the co-existence of the host society and foreigners stands within the system of fundamental rights. Robert Bosiger, Project Manager, Weichenstellwerk Graz, Austria, Angelina Kaneva, Protection and Fundraising specialist at Caritas Sofia and Fabrice Ciaccia, Project Manager at CRI Charleroi, Belgium presented good practices in training refugees and migrants on human rights and in the capacity building of training providers.
After an introduction on the importance of integration support to foreigners by Agnese Lace, Senior Policy Analyst at PROVIDUS, Latvia, the conference’s third panel gave the word to representatives of leading integration entities from several EU Member States. Florina Dragulin, Refugee Caseworker at the Jesuit Refugee Service, Romania, Ilze Dūmiņa, Project Manager at the Society Integration Foundation Latvia and Yoana Argirova, Social Worker at the Refugee-Migrant Service, Bulgarian Red Cross outlined where integration and the overall support for migrants fall within the general context of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable social groups.
In the event’s last panel, Annie Camarioti, International Projects Co-ordinator, Center for European Constitutional Law, Greece and Gabriela Ionescu, International Projects Expert, psychologist, Pro Refugiu, Romania described the policy and psychological aspects of racism and discrimination as introduction to the presentation of some of Bulgaria’s most successful practices in the inclusion of foreigners into the host society. Milena Karakanova, Co-ordinator, Bread houses Sofia, Bulgaria, Miroslava Georgieva, Project Co-ordinator, Tulip Foundation, Bulgaria and Panayot Chafkarov, Project Co-ordinator, Multi Kulti Collective, Bulgaria tackled various aspects of intercommunal communication, fighting stereotypes and the strive to make refugees and migrants feel ‘at home’ in the country and among its people.
In the last part of the conference, Emiliya Bratanova van Harten, Integration Associate at UNHCR Bulgaria presented conclusions from the foreign and national experiences shared during the event and the recommendations of UNHCR and the integration community towards Bulgarian institutions.