In my Sophomore year at Brandeis I took a class with professor Clementine Faure-Bellaiche on religion and secularism in French and francophone culture. In that class, among other classes, we discussed the living conditions of minorities and attempted to understand some of the elements that widen the gap between different groups of people.
In one of the movies we watched it was shocking to see Paris, typically thought of as a glamorous romantic city, as a city that hosts some of the worst slums and refugee projects I have ever seen. Seeing these slums of paris and studying some of the history of that region opened my eyes to the importance of integration. Ever since I have been conscious about this issue and started to notice it even more in context of my personal experience being a Palestinian in Israel.
It was evident in all the examples I witnessed inside and outside of the classroom that integration is essential to have a productive and tolerant society. In France the different waves of migration over the decades and the inability of the government to embrace the newcomers and their new culture created a society which is divided and to a certain extend broken. In Israel the situation of African migrants is tragic to say the least. It should not be the norm that migrants and refugees will always be second class citizens. Nor should it be acceptable that refugees and migrants live in projects or separate neighborhoods.And it should not be the case that simply because one person is born into a stable privileged country that they should be entitled to benefits others don’t.
It should not be a given that there is political and social stability in some parts of the world given the unfortunate fact that over 68 million of the world’s population are displaced people due to conflict, human rights violations and violence. And so it becomes the responsibility of each world citizen to help another in times of need. When governments fail to create systems that integrate and accept others as they are, people should make an effort to learn about their new neighbors and fellow citizens.
I have witnessed some of this kindness in Germany during my internship. There are systems set up for refugees to take language classes and integration courses meant to ease the transition for them. But a refugee cannot adapt to a completely new life in a matter of few months. Some of the community members here in Unkel have shown me that real connections between the two communities can start over coffee as long as people are willing to come together with the intention of learning about each other. I have seen people take much time out of their day to help with many tasks like translating documents or making doctor appointments for the newcomers. I have also been lucky to experience the generosity of refugees and their families and their true commitment to making Unkel their new home.
When refugees feel they are part of the community, can speak the language and can earn a decent living social and economic gaps begin to disappear and society becomes a more equal and tolerant one.