Together Here

The word displacement, like the word migration, although descriptive fails to capture what such a situation means for those who are displaced.

In our recent Expert Meeting: The Home and Displaced People, a major theme was the “make or break” role of the communities receiving the displaced. The people for whom the new unfamiliar place for migrants is their old familiar place: their home.

The question was put, how do you help someone feel at home? Not necessarily a migrant or refugee but anyone you want to feel “at home” with you. This is a subjective and complex question, of course, but some key thoughts emerged: being treated as a permanent guest does not make a person feel at home; being left alone with only people who are also new does not promote integration; not having access to the language of the new place makes it harder to feel a part of the new place.

These three insights have clear policy implications in terms of work, housing and education, but they also prompt us to look at the simple human responses of welcome and being a neighbour.

This is certainly what motivates those who are a part of Samen Hier (Together Here) in the Netherlands. Samen Hier is a community-based programme where “Welcome Groups” of five Dutch people make a connection with a newly arrived individual or family to their neighbourhood for a year.

Five points of contact means that the newcomers have a range of expertise and experience to draw on. It also means that contact responsibility does not just rest on one set of welcomers’ shoulders.  *A policy maker notes, ““I work a lot with new Dutch people and what strikes me again and again is that every newcomer longs for contact with the Dutch, but that it is very difficult to do.”  A newcomer agrees, “It is really difficult, a new country, new information, a new language…. Social networks can be so useful. For example, I found my current job via an employee at the primary school of the daughter of my friend’s neighbour!” Samen Hier helps to make it possible.

The benefits are not all one way. Newcomers offer their own hospitality, and by being made to feel a part of the new community are quick to share their own time and skills to make more thriving and integrated neighbourhoods.

The model for matching welcomers with newcomers, which was pioneered in Canada, is seen as an initiative which can become the basis for sustainable Dutch migration and integration policy. Although the programme has big aims and a strong international academic research base, its success is built on people being there for other people. National and local governments need to provide the policy frameworks and the funding for integration, but to feel at home it needs a person – or five people – to open the door.

*Material taken from The Hague Online –see link.

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Attachment to place

Forgive me for personalising this post so much, but I find myself in a life situation that truly reflects the focus of our forthcoming book ‘Happiness and Domestic Life‘ already on sale, and one that speaks to the focus of our next Experts Meeting ‘The Home and Displaced People‘ that we will be holding in Washington in September at the Catholic University of America.
As once again, for work-related reasons, I am moving to another country.
For the past five and a half years I have been writing and working from Brussels. A very cosmopolitan city whose population is difficult to calculate as the turnover of people is extremely high and the MEPs of the 27 countries that make up the European Union come and go from Monday to Friday.
And although during these five years I have welcomed and said goodbye to many people, I never imagined the attachment I would feel for this place and for this country which despite being very different from mine, has become my home. It’s hard to leave and say goodbye, it’s hard to turn the page, and it’s hard to pack up and pick up everything I’ve lived through. It is a great physical, mental and emotional effort. These are weeks of instability and uncertainty.
At the age of 18, I left my hometown of Logroño to study and I never went back to live there again. It was my home place, which my parents tried hard to make sure met all the requirements of a home. A place for the growth and development of a person: stable, warm, friendly and happy. It is that HOME with a capital H because it is the one that will always serve as a reference point for me and because it is the one I still call “My home”. To differentiate it from the different homes that I have created and built throughout my life, I sometimes specify “my parents’ home”. But when you come and go so much and you have to create, cherish and then say goodbye to homes so many times, that first home becomes even stronger.
Well, as I said, after different homes in Spain, our stay in the UK and Belgium, we are going back to Spain. The feeling is enormously contradictory, I feel sorrow and joy at the same time. I feel that I am leaving here in Brussels a root that had germinated and was growing strongly and I feel that, once again, I have to sow again. It is a never-ending story, but one that always brings good things, despite the difficulty of the situation.
And my experience is one that is shared by many people who, wanting to improve in our professional lives and grow in our personal lives, have freely decided to take this step and assume these risks that in one way or another bring enormous instability. But it is a free decision. I can’t imagine what it means for all those who leave because of war, hunger, or obligation. Often running, leaving family members behind, separating from their children, parents, grandparents… Uprooting dramas that affect the person so fundamentally.

And now that I have to start again, and reading the book that you will soon be able to hold in your hands, the question is key: what must a home be like to be happy? what relationship exists between the home and the happiness of the person and their development? to what extent does the home form part of a larger community on whose wellbeing it also depends?

I leave you with these questions for reflection. If you have a home, value it and care for it. If you are in a delicate or difficult home situation, I give you hope because the key lies in the simplicity of daily care.

The Home and Displaced People

Like many of you who read this blog, I myself am a person who lives in a different country from the one in which I was born. In my 36 years of life I have already lived in 6 cities in 3 different countries, but I have done so seeking to grow personally and professionally and having the certainty that I can return to my country when this international experience has fulfilled its expectations. It will not be easy, because that is what those who have already returned say. I will not be the same person who left home in 2003 to study a degree, nor the same person who established her home in 2012 outside her hometown, nor the same person who packed her bags in 2015 to live in the UK, but the sum of all the new experiences, the people I have met, the difficulties and challenges, will have forged the person who freely decided to move.

Unfortunately, this is not the experience that people who migrate or move under compulsion usually have. As we are seeing with the Russian invasion, Ukrainians flee the bombs, with no prior physical or mental preparation, leaving everything behind and not knowing what life will bring. This uncertainty, this insecurity, this fear, is affecting the deepest part of the human being. We have seen Afghans, Venezuelans, Syrians fleeing and many more on our screens in recent years. We also see those fleeing poverty, risking their lives, crossing paths with mafias who blackmail them and whose only aim is to reach Europe, the land they long for, the land of the footballers who, like them, have also crossed the world to fulfill their dreams. There are those who are lucky, those who meet good people when they arrive and survive until they get papers that allow them to work. But there are those who are less lucky, who are forced to commit crime in order to put something to eat in their mouths. People who end up hating the country they arrived in because it did not give them the opportunity they had hoped for.

Movements, displacements, comings and goings, dreams fulfilled but also broken dreams. Opportunities for some, despair for others. Uprootedness in many cases that can sink a person or give them wings to achieve a better life.

Over the last months we have been working on our Experts Meeting The Home and Displaced People to be held in Washington DC in September, supported by the Social Trends Institute.  Our academic director and meeting leader, Professor Sophia Aguirre, has assembled a panel of key contributors on the issues and impact of migration. Experts who understand what it means for people to leave their homes and roots and start a new life elsewhere.
Suzan Ilcan, Professor of Sociology at the University of Waterloo, and editor of Mobilities, Knowledge, and Social Justice, will be one of the experts contributing to The Home and Displaced people. Her work with refugees underlines the precarious nature of leaving and seeking home and some of the ways in which to understand the broader picture of an increasingly mobile world. Finding a place to call home and to feel at home is key to human thriving: at the heart of the vision of HRF and all those searching for home today.