Know your rights

Inclusive, democratic education means including refugee children too.  openDemocracy’s youth newsroom reports from a lab looking at immigration and education.

Kourosh Ziabari
9 November 2016

Kalochori refugee camp. Thanassis Stavrakis/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Kalochori refugee camp. Thanassis Stavrakis/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The 5th edition of the World Forum for Democracy wrapped up earlier today at the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. From an Anglo-American perspective, it's safe to say Brexit and the imminent possibility of Donald Trump being elected the US president have dominated the debates these past few days at the halls of Palais d'Europe and imaginably elsewhere in this vibrant, European city. The former had already been part of Europe and the UK's reality since June 23, and the latter was just added to the world's complexities this morning.

The announcement earlier today that Donald Trump will start his tenure at the Oval Office next January has caught everybody off-guard. The Council of Europe, and other institutions of the same type in Strasbourg, are places where the overarching mentality of diplomats, journalists, students, activists and visitors is internationalization, communication and building networks. In such an ambiance, a dismissive "political outsider" such as Donald Trump is understandably not favored or highly regarded. Trump has talked of his plans to erect a wall along the US border with Mexico, and stop all immigration from the Muslim world into the United States.

Immigration has been central to the World Forum for Democracy discussions, both at the opening ceremony on Monday, and during plenary sessions and workshops – as well as informal chats in the hallways. Lab 5 on Tuesday was titled "Know Your Rights", looking into the examples of human rights education for different groups and ways of establishing partnerships between NGOs and educational institutions. Violeta Terguță of Amnesty International Moldova, Shams Asadi, head of the Human Rights Office of the City of Vienna and Marit Langmyr, project manager at the Human Rights Academy addressed the workshop as panelists. The session was moderated by Torbjörn Haak, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the Council of Europe.

One of the themes raised in the workshop was teaching knowledge of human rights to the refugee children fleeing war and chaos at home. Panelists and participants exchanged ideas on how it's possible to teach the young refugee children coming from war-stricken regions to claim their rights, practice assertiveness and be informed about the legal side of their move to new homes. This is what the title of the workshop exactly denotes: "Know Your Rights". Without being sufficiently informed of what they're entitled to, citizens, including refugee children, will simply fail to identify what their rights and responsibilities are when they come to new communities to be settled and find shelter and comfort.

The ongoing Syrian crisis, which continues to claim lives and devastate cities, coupled with a number of other chronic conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, have produced a massive number of homeless people seeking asylum and protection across the globe. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC) reported that there are a total of 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 21.3 million people officially termed "refugees". By the end of 2015, Turkey alone hosted 2.5 million refugees, mostly from the neighbouring crisis-hit Syria.

The participants at the Lab 5 panel also debated democratic education, integration and generating a collaborative, cooperative academic setting for the refugee children sitting in classrooms next to home students from countries where they move to. These students might not necessarily be aware of the challenges, psychological complications and mental pains these traumatized children have endured, but through integrative processes, they come to know each other better and contribute to the academic, personal and cultural progress of their classmates.

The panel was concluded with a short movie screening. It depicted a group of young Afghan asylum-seekers at a "reception centre", receiving training about education and democracy. The movie which was a display of the Human Rights Academy's initiative on refugees worldwide was affecting and emotional, underlining the complexities of the life of the refugees looking for better, more peaceful lives away from the flames of war.

Are the societies on the receiving end of refugees, in whom these exhausted people invest their hopes and aspirations, happy about fulfilling their responsibilities? These are moral duties, which are obviously set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and so many other wordy, grandiloquent legal agreements simply translated into the words of the 13th century Persian poet, Saadi Shirazi, saying "human beings are members of a whole", who have to help each other when one of them is desperate.

The World Forum for Democracy has come to an end, and there are still questions awaiting compelling responses: how is it possible to fulfil the criteria of inclusive, democratic education? Refugee children are after peace, toys, books, and hands to give them comfort. Can we help them?

openDemocracy is at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy with a youth newsroom. More here.

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