EESC panel at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn
For the first time, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organised a panel at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (DW GMF) from 13 to 15 June in Bonn which attracts around 2000 attendees each year, amongst which 600 journalists from all over the world. The panel "Migration, a story of two worlds, featured Suhrab Balkhi and Prince Wale Soniyiki, two refugees from Afghanistan and Nigeria respectively; Mona Hemmer, a civil society representative from Finland, whose village hosted 100 refugees and Alexandra Föderl-Schmid, the chief-editor of the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Michael Meyer, former award-winning correspondent for Newsweek, communication director for Ban Ki-mon and founding dean of the AKU graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi moderated the panel on 15 June.
Luca Jahier, President of the Various Interests group, introduced the panel. He underlined the importance of civil society and citizens in the so called migration crisis, stating that "it is European civil society which saved the human face of Europe during the so called migration crisis and facilitated refugees' arrival in our communities." For the EESC, it is important in times when fears are growing to have a look on both sides – the fate of the refugees and the possibilities Europe has and to show best practice examples. "We want to contribute to a more objective approach towards migration and work on sustainable solutions. Therefore we visited 11 EU countries and Turkey to give a voice to refugees and drafted concrete recommendations for the EU institutions."
"I was already in a coffin, before I am dead", remembers Suhrab Balkhi of his escape from Afghanistan via India, Turkey, Greece, Italy and finally Austria. "At every check-point, I feared for my life as the smugglers closed the coffin, leaving me hardly enough oxygen to breath", says the 30 year old former Afghan journalist.
"They gave me a banana and called me monkey or they wouldn’t serve me in a restaurant. On my Facebook account I have been getting hate postings prompting me to leave the country. The mother of my girl-friend threatened either to kill me or her daughter, unless we ended our relationship," reported Prince Wale Soniyiki about the daily racism with which he is confronted in Croatia where he has been living for the last four years and where he founded the African organisation in Croatia trying to increase mutual understanding and acceptance. "Not all Croatians are racists; I also had many positive encounters with open-minded people, friendly foster families and tolerant media," says Prince.
Both young men had to leave their countries because their lives were in danger.
Mona Hemmer, a retired former teacher and trade unionist represented civil society on the panel. Nagu, her small village in Finland, has hosted 100 refugees despite a lot of concerns before Iraqi and Afghan refugees arrived. Mona explained Nagu's strategy: "We didn't invent an extra programme for our guests; we just included them in our daily life and the many activities we are already organising during the whole year. It is the personal contact with the people which helps and facilitates the living together." Now the refugees have had to leave the village despite strong protests of Nagu's people for them to stay.
"For a journalist it is important to find a professional position in the topic of migration. We have to report on stories like those of Prince and Suhrab but as journalists we also have to look on the 'dark' sides of migration, such issues of rape. The task of a quality newspaper is to 'translate' stories and bridge with the citizens. Checking the facts is indispensable", said Alexandra Föderl-Schmid, first Austrian woman chief-editor and co-publisher of the Austrian newspaper Der Standard.