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Let’s talk about: Missing Link's integration debates in Austria

In early April, Social Innovation Europe hosted "A Brighter Future for Europe: Integration, innovation and the migrant crisis" where we brought together 9 innovative case studies on integration from across Europe. One of these cases was Missing Link's ZusammenReden in Austria. We interviewed Mary Kreutzer from the team to share more about their projects.

Can you tell us about Missing Link and its projects? How did the need for it come about?

When Caritas Vienna started to advise asylum seekers living in privately organized hostels in the province of Lower Austria (around Vienna) in 2004, we soon realised that we need to do more than focusing on supporting refugees. So we started different projects targeting the society in its entirety, which means in the case of those small communities in the countryside: the mayors and their local governments, the various associations (Austria is a country where nearly everyone is active in different associations), the schools, the religious institutions, the youth clubs, etc.

In 2008/2009, we got some small funding for a project called Neuland ("Uncharted waters"). It was about bringing refugees and Austrian locals together and organize a framework for monthly programmes for them. Then we started ZusammenReden ("Let's talk about it") – which has been running since 2009 thanks to the support of the Regional Government of Lower Austria and their office for Integration Service.

Through ZusammenReden, and in coordination with our donors, we developed workshops for vocational schools, and transcultural trainings for the associations active in the region. We opened an afternoon "coffeehouse" for women-only: asylum seekers, refugees, migrant women, local women, Caritas female staff – we all goy together to talk about our issues, and spend a nice time together. We also pened four "Lerncafés" in Lower Austria, which are places open three days a week to support pupils from lower income families to perform better in school.

Two years ago, the girls’ center Peppa was integrated into Missing Link and last year we started two new projects:

  • KOMPA – which deals with conflicts and their prevention or mediation in places where asylum seekers are being accommodated, as well as counselling regarding the organisation and structure of citizens´initiative or voluntary groups
  • Commit! - which aims to prepare and accompany 200 Austrian families to take care of unaccompanied refugee minors

Please note all website links provide information in German.

One of the aims of ZusammenReden (Let's talk about it) is to improve the general public's perception of migration. How successful has this project been in achieving that so far? What are you plans for it moving forward?

Our team has been quite open towards the issue of perception and transparency in general. We try to incorporate as many players as possible in the activities and make them participate, even donors and journalists. Part of our goal is to make their hearts beat for a common cause, to be convinced that we all have the same goal: to have a good life, all of us.

Migration is and has always been a fact. People do move, forcibly or voluntarily, temporarly or permanently. Refugees are neither saints nor criminals. And yes: we do have problems concerning violence against women, security issues, nationalist movilisations, politiziced religion, segregation - that’s why we need to talk about those topics fearlessly, and find out solutions.

In terms of impact, we have have had countless articles featured in the regional media about our debates. These debates have seen thousands of people in those eight years. Next year, we are planning to qualify and incorporate young refugees directly into the workshops for pupils by a new module in ZusammenReden: "Train the Trainer". It will not only be the Caritas team who will teach about migration and asylum, but also newly arrived refugees.

Hopefully this year integration projects have a chance again. Although the financing is only for 1 year each time, we have succeeded in surviving for 8 years. Last year was very difficult because our Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not fund us any more (they focused on German lessons, which is not part of our project) but fortunately Caritas and the Regional Government of Lower Austria supported us, so we could continue. We hope that 2017 and 2018 will be better years again and that we will get funding by AMIF and the Austrian Foreign Ministry again.  I talk a lot about finances because it’s just the hardest part of all. We don’t lack the best team, the passionate ideas, the hundreds of partners...part of the success is the professionality and diversity of our team. Every year we incorporate new ideas and activities and partners, and the project keeps on transforming as needs of society keep on changing.

In carrying out the work of Missing Link, what is the biggest lesson you have learned in regards migration and integration?

Fear is the worst motivator, as we all know in theory. We don’t need to be afraid of admitting that things are not white nor black. We can play an important role in supporting refugees and migrants, in supporting integration as much as we can, and if we do this, at the end we will be stronger.

Last week we were at the edge of getting an Austrian president who himself as well as his right extremist party is anti-European and anti-migrants. We must stay aware and keep on debating with all parts of society, so that the arguments of those rabble-rousers, who agitate and want to divide us, will fade, so that a more democratic, more stronger and better Europe may emerge and be a good place to live for all of us.