News Stories, 26 March 2009
BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 26 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency and its partner, the International Organization for Migration, on Thursday launched an innovative educational toolkit designed to inform young people about the main migration and asylum issues in the European Union (EU).
The "Not Just Numbers" toolkit, developed by the two agencies and supported by the European Commission (EC), was unveiled at a lively event in Brussels attended by young people. It will be rolled out in other European countries in the coming weeks.
"We hope the toolkit will encourage informed discussion and debate among young people,'' said Judith Kumin, director of UNHCR's European Union Liaison Office. "The kit provides a resource for teachers and other educators to help them respond to the issues and questions they often face in the classroom."
Aimed at 12-18-year-olds in Europe, the kit will contribute to the efforts of UNHCR, the IOM and the EC to promote public understanding of the situation of asylum seekers and migrants and to combat discrimination and prejudice.
Many young people in Europe have concerns about immigration and asylum that are based on misperception and misinformation – the toolkit aims to counter this. UNHCR and IOM believe education is the key to forging a healthy relationship between host communities and immigrants.
Seventeen-year-old Yacine, a Belgian of Congolese and Moroccan origin, told participants at the launch that he often received strange reactions from children at school and people in the street because of the colour of his skin. "These reactions, which range from fear to distrust or violence, make me sad because they often they come from ignorance and incomprehension."
By means of short films and a simple teacher's manual, the toolkit provides lesson plans, learning activities and other educational resources that can be used inside and outside the classroom. The kit is currently available in English, but there will soon be versions in 20 European languages on the UNHCR and IOM websites.
The toolkit was welcomed by IOM's Brussels-based representative. "While migration to the EU is often portrayed in terms of anonymous statistics, the context and causes of migration are diverse and individual," Bernd Hemingway said. "Young people often lack the wider knowledge and the tools they need to be able to analyze and develop informed views on migration and asylum," he added.
Migration and asylum are at the top of the EU policy agenda. The reasons for migration to Europe are increasingly diversified, and so are the categories of migrants, with refugees and asylum seekers accounting for a small portion.
But public opinion in some European countries often calls for more restrictive policies and measures, without distinguishing between refugees and other categories of migrants.
Racism, xenophobia and discrimination exist in all EU member states and have an impact on refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants, who are often unfairly associated with crime and other anti-social behaviour. The situation is being exacerbated by the current economic crisis.
Against this backdrop, there is an urgent need for reliable and accessible information on migration and asylum in the EU. Critical issues such as the causes of refugee flight and economic migration, human trafficking, the particular situation of migrant and refugee children, the human rights dimension, and many other issues need to be addressed.
By Vanessa Saenen in Brussels, Belgium