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MILE final event - ending the 2 year project on an inspiring note

On the 23rd and 24th of November 2023, New Women Connectors team was in Brussels for the final event of the two year long project MILE - Migrant Integration through Locally designed Experiences. The project MILE was about collaboration between municipalities, migrant groups, and research teams from different European countries, to promote migrants’ and refugees’ engagement in decision-making while working towards creating sustainable ecosystems of exchange between local governments and migrant groups


To end on an insightful note, MILE partners prepared a final event promoting exchange through art, testimonies and debate.


An evening to build compassion and understanding by co-performing


On thursday evening, Les Plymorphistes performed a “Forum Theater”, a play in which the audience was invited to co-develop, perform and find solutions to real-life stories of oppression. The theater troupe started by performing their play, where the audience follows Vanessa in her daily life. As a Venezuelan asylum seeker trying to get citizenship, Vanessa is dependent on her job in which she’s dealing with an abusive boss. By witnessing different scenes of Vanessa’s life - at the immigration office, at her friends place, at work - the audience sees what challenges she faces in her daily life, and how it overwhelms her.


Audience warming up, discussing and exchanging to prepare for the participatory Forum Theater organized by Les Polymorphistes


After seeing once the scenes of Vanessa’s life, the audience was invited to reflect on how they would act in the different scenes: as a colleague, a friend, a witness or even as Vanessa. Is there something they could do to support Vanessa in the different struggles she faces?


Participants from the audience that came with solutions were then invited to perform the ideas on stage, replacing one or several characters in the different scenes. A colleague that films the boss yelling at Vanessa; a person from the Venezuelan community in Brussels that reaches out to her to give her tips; someone from a an NGO that invites her to speak about her situation at the next big demonstration organized; an employee at the immigration office that has received quality training on how to best support people in Vanessa’s situation - by immersing themselves in the characters of the play, the audience realizes different ways to support Vanessa in her struggles, and what new challenges come with each new solution.

Audience performing. Photo on the left: a colleague films Vanessa's boss yelling at her. Right: a employee at the municipality has received specialised training to support people in Vanessa's situation


The evening was followed by some live music by the Makam Duo and their special guest Hilde De Clercq. They played pieces from the vast repertoire of Ottoman music and Sufi music. As for the food, We Exist gave the audience a positive food experience celebrating diversity and multiculturalism. We Exist is a catering business created and managed by Syrian people who have lived through the war in their home country and decided, when arriving to Bruseels, to help newcomers by creating job opportunities for them.


Left photo: food catered by We Exist. Right photo: Makam Duo and their special guest Hilde De Clercq.


 

A morning to exchange and learn through interactive sessions and debates


On Friday morning, partners of the MILE project and other organizations interested in learning from the project gathered to discuss what should be prioritized - both on European and the local level - to advance migrant inclusion and civic participation.


Adem Kumcu, president of UNITEE, reminded the importance of projects such as MILE in today’s Europe, as fascism is growing stronger every election. André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities brought up some of the positive outcomes of the project: creating new relationships by bringing together different new actors, and bringing migrant communities to the decision making spheres of Brussels.


The event continued with an interactive session hosted by New Women Connectors, on how local municipalities can promote inclusion of newcomers. In smaller groups, participants were asked to discuss challenges and solutions through different angles: local offers and services, sustainability, trust and engagement, communication, and EU collaboration. Together, they built up a solutions tree to promote participation and inclusion of migrants and newcomers.


Swipe to the right to discover each branch of the tree of solutions built by the groups during the interactive session


Finally, the event ended with a panel debate on the key ingredients for creating local ecosystems of changes, co-creation and migrant inclusion. The speakers, all involved in projects related to democratic participation of different communities, gave examples of positive projects of inclusion.


Safaa Charafi, Architect and Urbanist, founder of Urban Inclusion, gave examples of cities that have found innovative solutions to include different local groups. She mentioned Vienna in Austria as a feminist European city that has started an office for gender in their urban planning department. This unit is composed of women from diverse backgrounds and socio-economic spheres that work together to make the city more suitable and adapted for women. Safaa also mentioned Indonesia, where the national government introduced Musrenbang, an inclusive participatory approach where all community members of a locality are empowered to voice their opinions, influence fund distribution and budgeting, and actively participate in decision making.


When it comes to inclusion of newcomers, many projects are consultation based. Tamara Stojanovic, project manager at the city of Mechelen, used the example of Embrace, a consultation project where people with migrant backgrounds were asked questions about their sense of belonging in Mechelen. One finding that came out was that the sense of belonging is related to the school experience: many youngsters from migrant backgrounds don’t feel seen nor represented in their school books. Some of them don’t even feel seen in their own schools, as the Belgian neutrality rule forbids them to wear any religious signs, which for example prevents them from wearing the hijab. Continuing on the topic of consultation, Bryn Watkins presented the project Brussels Voices, a democratic participation platform for international Brusselers that do not have the right to vote in the regional and national elections. Thanks to the communication campaign from the region, this project had some positive impact by making the participants feel seen by the governing bodies. However, as in many deliberative participatory projects, it is not guaranteed that decision making bodies actually implement the concerns raised during the consultation process. But the question of follow-up of the consultations is very important: people’s time and energy needs to lead to something. Following the consultation of the project Embrace, the city of Mechelen is now working with different stakeholders, including leaders of the migrant communities, to implement the recommendations of the consultation into policies.


Left and right photo: audience members participating in the debate.

Photo in the middle - panelists sitting - from left to right: Safaa Charafi, Tamara Stojanovic, Astrid Begenyeza, Bryn Watkins.


The audience also raised an interesting point when it comes to consultations: newcomers that give their time and energy by providing expertise on their community's situation and needs should receive some form of compensation, either monetary or in a form that helps them in their migration procedure.


As for implementing recommendations from local consultations, the inclusion of younger generations can play an interesting role. Astrid Begenyeza, socio-cultural project officer at Brussels2030, talked about the project Youth Coalition, in which 100 Brussels inhabitants under 30 - representing the diversity of the city - gathered in the parliament to discuss solutions to concerns expressed by the local population. The Youth Coalition then presented their insights in form of policies to different public and administrative bodies of the municipality, such as the police, representatives of the government, ect. Through this initiative that mobilized youngsters and hence inspired them to contribute to politics, local decision makers received advice from a new perspective.


Participants of the MILE final event during the friday morning, representing partners and beneficiaries of the project.


With this final event, the MILE project ended on an inspiring note, with new ideas flourishing, utilizing positive existing examples, while always trying to improve. During the upcoming weeks, the partners of the project are discussing how to maintain this exchange of ideas and future collaboration between stakeholders. Stay tuned!


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