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Civil Society 4.0 – Refugees and Digital Self Organization

Eleven Recommendations to Organize Change

Since the summer of migration in 2015, self-organization has prevented Germany from entering into a humanitarian crisis. The last few months have shown how empowerment and digital tools are essential to keep self-organization going. From March 3 to 5 2016, experts, activists, and supporters gathered in Berlin at the Congress “Civil Society 4.0.—Refugees and Digital Self-organization.” Together, they have developed the following Eleven Recommendations to Organize Change.

1. Let’s Fight Isolation
There is not any dignity in living in massive shelters that are poorly connected with urban life as well as often being located in the midst of hostile neighborhoods. Many shelter-operators restrain access to the Internet and some even prohibit printed-material message boards. Connectivity is crucial for both agency and self-organization. Connectivity means contact with people, access to information, an Internet connection, and access to computers. The more distant the city center, the more urgent the need for connectivity becomes. Net-neutrality and free access are critical. Residency in shelters should be time-limited and lead to self-determined permanent housing.

2. It is Time to Learn Together
Managing the emergency is over but now it is time to organize the ongoing transformation. The learning process includes newcomers and supporters, neighbors and state officials. Refugees need to be heard as much as supporters need time for self-reflection. The situation for newcomers will be improved only by activating their skills and experiences. Non-refugees need support to learn from their experiences and to cope with the challenges. Let’s create spaces for working together.

3. Better than Tea and Cookies: Information on Asylum Laws
While they are facing the uncertainties of their arrival situation, newcomers are in urgent need of information. Under changing laws, understanding the process of status clearance becomes crucial. Let’s organize knowledge transfer, ranging from legal issues to insights into public services in Germany’s cities. Face-to-face and peer-to-peer-encounters are more effective than apps and online tools: every case is singular and different.

4. Government must take Responsibility for the Quality of Life in Shelters.
Huge budgets are transferred to facility operators. Nevertheless, there is an increase in reports about shortcomings in service quality as well as all sorts of abusive situations toward refugees. For example, women are not being granted safe rooms; and staff and security, many of whom are sub-contractors, are often not aware of the basic standards of respect. Public procurement procedures need to include standard requirements on staff quality and training. Close public scrutiny must ensure adequate quality of accommodation and interaction.

5. Language Skills and Digital Literacy are Priorities
Access to language courses is essential and should not be dependent on status clearance. Digital literacy is crucial for participating in social life and developing language skills. New online tools cannot replace the effect of social interaction, but digital literacy is very useful to help improve specific skills. Not-for-profit teachers require training opportunities to improve teaching methods and in order to promote access to digital tools.

6. The Housing Crisis Effects the Whole of Society
The need for housing is urgent: the solution to the challenge lies in innovative concepts aimed at avoiding social segregation. Today, cities can choose between building ghettos for refugees and improving housing for everyone. International experiences show the positive impact of successfully fostering the practical involvement of future residents. Political and practical imaginations are needed in order to bring about improvements for both refugees and non-refugees.

7. Improved Health with Improved Knowledge and Social Interaction
Access to health is a human right. Research shows that health literacy and the quality of social-interaction tools have a positive impact on personal health. To grant refugee’s access to health, a digital documentation system for medical records needs implementing. Open-source solutions linking data with an email-address are available, but require implementation.

8. Access to Labor is the Key to Living a Life in Dignity
Legal regulations and bureaucracy limit access to labor. Professional certification (Anerkennung) regulations need updating. Companies and organizations need to be assessed, in order to understand how to promote traineeships as a means to activate skills and potential. To foster social interaction, “one-euro-jobs” should be offered somewhere other than in shelters. An online platform to connect supply and demand is required.

9. Refugee Women, Children, and Unaccompanied Minors Require Special Attention
Safe spaces in the massive shelters will improve the situation of women. Training in digital skills will improve women’s chances of achieving self-determination. Education, social interaction, time for play, and sufficient space for children and young people to experience childhood and youth are essential. This is true for accompanied as well as unaccompanied minors. Digital literacy is an essential part of equal opportunities among non-refugee children and young people.

10. Social Life Requires Space and Shared Experiences
The obligation to wait in passivity is a humiliating condition. Refugees need spaces for encounters, and opportunities to establish connections to fellows and neighbors. Access to public spaces such as libraries, free access to cultural events, books, and films are the key. Opportunities to achieve (digital) storytelling skills are essential to alleviating isolation and promoting cultural exchange. A calendar of events is required that details free admission or specific events that may be of interest to refugees. Mapping projects and devices are an effective way to understand the place in which one lives.

11. We Are All Born Free / My Right is Your Right
What we are experiencing in Germany is not a crisis, more it is the beginning of political mobilization. Refugees and supporters are part of the same struggle for the right to stay and the right to living a life in dignity. Let’s choose the right words and images to create awareness and solidarity. Translation is the key to reaching out. Narrations can become bridges. Let’s use our skills as amplifiers.
Berlin, March 2016

Individuals and Organizations
Bino Byansi Byakuleka, We Are Born Free! Empowerment Radio
Katharina Dermühl, Migration Hub, Kiron University
Anke Domscheidt-Berg, Aktivistin, Unternehmerin, Publizistin
Campus Cosmopolis e.V.
Lutz Engels, Chaos Computer Club Berlin e.V.
Silvia Fehrmann, Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Leila Haghighat, Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Nanna Heidenreich, Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig
Chaghaf Howayek, Center for Metropolitan Studies
Diana McCarty, reboot.fm
metroZones, Center for Urban Affairs
Duscha Rosen, FrauenComputerZentrumBerlin e.V.
Eva Stein, Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Samee Ulah, Refugee Club Impulse / My Right is Your Right