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UK campaign demanding greater public support for child refugees in the running for top EU civil society prize

The UK organisation Safe Passage has been shortlisted for the 2018 Civil Society Prize, which this year celebrates European identities, values and cultural heritage as a way of uniting Europe.

Its cultural campaign "80 years on, child refugees still need Safe Passage", commemorating the Kindertransport rescue operation from World War Two, is up against two other candidates from Germany and one each from Italy and Greece.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has selected these five inspiring projects from among 150 applications submitted by no fewer than 27 EU Member States, testifying to the huge enthusiasm of civil society from all corners of the EU to honour Europe's diverse identities, promote its rich cultural heritage and reassert core European values against growing isolationist voices and recent fear-based narratives.

The winner and the ranking of the four runners-up will be announced at the award ceremony on 13 December during the EESC plenary session in Brussels. The 50,000 EUR cash prize will be shared among the five shortlisted projects in order to further boost their community-oriented work.

Since 2015, large numbers of refugee children, many of them unaccompanied, have been arriving in Europe only to find themselves stuck in makeshift camps or forced to risk their lives by making perilous onward journeys. Safe Passage opens up safe and legal routes enabling them to reach places they can call home. It has so far helped over 1500 children reach safety via family reunification routes.

Its shortlisted campaign draws parallels between the current situation and Kindertransport, a mass rescue effort from the 1930s in which British communities took in children fleeing Nazi persecution. By sharing the stories of both Kindertransport survivors and today's youngest refugees through cultural activities organised around the country, the campaign explores issues of European identity and values in the hope of making the case for accepting more refugee children in the present.

Amid fears that the UK's imminent departure from the EU could lead to the closure of safe routes for children, Safe Passage hopes its campaign could help defend those routes and win more public support for today's refugee children, creating a permanent legacy of their protection in Europe.

The other four shortlisted applications are (in alphabetical order):

Balkans Beyond Borders short film festival (BBB-SFF), from Greece: an annual film festival featuring cross-border and international film productions involving both EU Member States and candidate countries from the Balkans. The aim is to support the latter's cultural integration with Europe and to use art as an empowering force for overcoming differences embedded in the region's history.

Eco-Museum, by the Italian social cooperative Aria Nuova: an initiative which helps mental health patients from residential units to gain new insights into art and culture. By taking them to cultural and heritage sites and later enabling them to creatively express the gained aesthetic experiences in participatory laboratories, the initiative reduces their sense of isolation and removes barriers to their social inclusion, thus asserting the universal right to culture.

SWANS, a German initiative, organises career and leadership seminars for high-potential female university students from immigrant families and for women of colour, with the aim of helping them get the job they deserve. It hopes to contribute to creating a more inclusive job market in line with Europe's diverse identities and values, and to empower this group of women who are often discriminated against.

Tastes of Danube – Bread Connects – a project by Danube Networkers for Europe from Germany uses the topic of bread as intangible cultural heritage that unites European people in their diversity. By organising bread-baking activities and festivals that are open to people of all ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds, the project hopes to raise awareness of common cultural roots in the Danube area and Europe.

The EESC President Luca Jahier made culture one of the priorities of his presidency, which started in April 2018. Commenting on the prize, he said: "Europe's cultural heritage and values have huge untapped potential as a force of unity, while the multiplicity of identities within Europe imbues us with an openness to diversity. These elements will be vital in healing our divisions and overcoming the dissatisfaction that provides fertile ground for nationalism."

“Renewed emphasis on our cultural heritage", Mr Jahier concluded, "can bring about what, in my view, Europe needs – a second Renaissance".

Both individuals and non-profit organisations are able to compete for the EESC Civil Society Prize, which in 2018, designated as the European Year of Cultural Heritage, marks its landmark 10th edition. It is awarded for "excellence in civil society initiatives" and a different theme is chosen each year, covering an important area of the EESC's work.

Previous editions were dedicated to innovative entrepreneurship championing labour market integration of disadvantaged groups, solidarity with migrants and combating poverty.