Society

Refugees Need Acceptance, Not Mandated Integration

Strict integration protocols can have the opposite effect on asylum seekers, compounding their sense of otherness, a Syrian man now living in Austria argues.

Girl in a headscarf in Stuttgart, Germany
Tamim Nashed

-Essay-

VIENNA — I left Syria in August 2012, as there was no other choice. I had friends in Austria and that is why I ended up in Vienna. At the time, I had no idea what the words "refugee," "asylum" and "integration" meant.

During the first year after getting asylum, I was busy learning the German language and looking for a job. But I had zero intention of integrating myself in the new society I was living in, and frequently asked myself why I would even need to integrate.

After 18 months of hard work invested in learning the language, making new friends and exploring a new country, journalists started contacting me. They wanted to hear more about the Syrian revolution and the factors that had helped me integrate in Austria. That was my first concrete exposure to the world of "integration." Before that, I thought I already was part of the society, as my friends never asked me to integrate. We were simply all equals living in the same place, yet sharing different experiences.

For me, "joining" the world of integration felt like a burden, something that was enforced by governments, NGOs, public institutions and other key players. I say enforced because it felt like I was sent from one place to another with the argument that certain projects or programs were designed for people like me — people who are refugees — because refugees have special needs.

We live in a time where integration has become a burden on refugees instead of being a solution.

Those are the moments when you realize that you belong to a minority and are treated differently than any other individual who simply wants to learn a new language, start a new job and settle down in a new country. It's almost like you are meant to stay behind and enjoy the assistance offered by the superiors. I still struggle with this myself, while policymakers and NGOs might consider me a success story.

For these reasons, I believe that refugees should seek advice from friends, service providers, language institutes or any other relevant sources that could help them settle down in a new country, as many civil society actors are making great efforts to support newcomers. But exclusive programs or integration courses designed just for refugees lead to segregation instead of inclusion, and can neglect to address the different backgrounds of newcomers, including the fact that those fleeing wars may need additional support to overcome trauma and health issues.

Refugees frequently find themselves obliged to follow certain paths or make certain choices imposed by governments, and this leads to the creation of a new second-class society. We live in a time where integration has become a burden on refugees instead of being a solution.

In order to create inclusive societies, governments have to embrace diversity and integrate it into the human rights discourse. This can happen through education and fighting discrimination. We need education systems that teach diversity and emphasize equal opportunities for all, and for this reason policymakers should think strategically and modify the current education systems. At the moment, political agendas are polarizing European societies, and steps in the right direction can be very quickly overturned when there is a change in government.

Refugees sit in a language class for refugee students at Berlin's Freie Universität — Photo: Gregor Fischer/DPA/ZUMA

Once diversity is seen as an essential part of a society, we will see future generations take diversity for granted. These new generations will not discriminate because of nationality, race, color or for any other reason. Future teachers, policymakers and workers in public agencies will not practice discrimination because they have grown up in a country that embraces difference, and they will put together policies that affect everybody in the country, not only refugees. This might sound like a dream, but for refugees, this is the dream: not being referred to as someone who needs specific care.

My advice to refugees is to fight for changing the narrative and the way people think about "refugees' and "integration," because these two expressions have become misleading. Integration in its current form will lead to segregation instead of inclusion. We have to fight stigmatization, and with the current terminology, this is not possible because it highlights the fact that we belong to a minority and are not part of the society we live in.

I have learned that a refugee should never feel incapable of pursuing his or her dreams. And this is the message I will keep fighting for.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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