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At a European Day of Action for Refugees the aim is to stop the abuse of refugees and show the importance of respect, solidarity and human dignity
A group of students and professors from the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) have started to organise themselves with other committed citizens to express their solidarity with the victims of the recent refugee crisis.
It will culminate 12 September with a ‘European Day of Action for Refugees’. Participants hope to help stop the abuse of refugees and show the importance of respect, solidarity and human dignity.
The University Post turned up at the event last Saturday in Café Castro, Nørrebro. There were both UCPH students and teaching staff at the event.
After discussing and sharing ideas to prepare the events, a UCPH geography student, Johanne Rübner Hansen, and one professor from the Faculty of Humanities kindly accepted to answer my questions. The professor spoke to the University Post under condition of anonymity, due, he says. “to the polarised atmosphere surrounding this issue, my fears for the freedom of speech at this university, and due to the fact that I have received numerous threatening comments on social media.”
The Copenhagen part of the event that goes under the name of #EuropeSaysWelcome will be part of the wider, Europe-wide manifestation.
University Post: This coming Saturday 12 September, a major event will take place all over Europe called ‘Europe says Welcome: European Day of Action for Refugees’. Why this event ? Who is it for?
Johanne: “We are doing this event to inform our fellow Danes about what’s going on in Europe right now. Why this event in Denmark? Because the rhetoric about refugees and the people coming here has been for a long time quite racist and not inclusive in Denmark. That’s the reason why we want to give them a better welcoming and say that we – almost half of the population I guess – actually want them to be here and be positively included into our society.”
“It’s also an event we do in order to align with the European event. We are a part of this European Action Day and want to say that Copenhagen is also welcoming people here, locally. Danish people have actually already shown that they can help people in their daily lives. We have seen that last week for instance, with a collection of clothes in the whole of Copenhagen, which was massive – I think it was eight containers and three trucks to Greece. The people organized themselves under the name ‘Venligboerne’, the friendly neighbours’ or ‘the friendly citizens’.
Students, professors and others from Danish civil society got together Saturday to plan the Danish side of the European event
“So it’s a group of people who actually started in the north of Jutland. They are playing a bit with the word because there is a local group living there called ‘Vendelbo’. More than a thousand people have been involved during the last week, they either gave away some of their clothes or organize everything and put items into bags and containers to be sent to Greece.”
“I think this is a good example of the shift that is happening right now in Europe. Right now there is a shift – perhaps a paradigm shift – in European civil societies where we are able to maybe build a bridge between traditional activists, the minority of people who used to be the ones very active, and the broader society which has opened its eyes to this issue – an issue that has literally arrived at people’s doorsteps, so they cannot look the other way anymore.”
“like the rest of the population, [students] feel apathetic because they see all these horrible things everyday in the media and are confronted with all the misery of the world”
“I hope that this event and other initiatives will be able to build the bridge, because we really need to get people involved in, if not in political, then let’s say in social activism. So, to answer your question, the event is, first of all, for welcoming the refugees that are coming here, but also for sending a signal that will counter the very isolationist and xenophobic image that Denmark has abroad. It’s a mixture of local concerns and global concerns obviously, like any other good piece of activism.”
University Post: What about students? Do you think they should come? How can they participate to the event(s) or be more active?
“I think that students right now in Denmark have very little time. Compared to my generation, when I studied in the late nineties, we were driven by interests and curiosity. We also had much more time on our hands, and less anxious concerns about our future because work was plentiful and we did not have the problems about unemployment, and we did not have the austerity or economic crisis looming on the horizon either.”
“I think students today have much less time, that’s one problem. The other problem is that, like the rest of the population, they feel apathetic because they see all these horrible things everyday in the media and are confronted with all the misery of the world, yet it’s so overwhelming that it makes you think ‘I can’t make a difference’. But then, when students see initiatives like the Venligboerne one for example, when they see that people are actually doing something, that they are collecting foodstuff, and clothing and diapers and sending them to Greece, that others are doing a manifestation of solidarity with refugees, then I hope it can inspire them and make them believe they can also do something.”
“It doesn’t have to be a revolution, they can do something small, just everyday acts of kindness, or it can be small organisations on the local scale, it can be community building, it can be outreach to newly-arrived refugees.”
“It is important to be active on social media, but it’s also important to participate physically to the event.”
“It’s very important, because it’s part of Europe. It should actually be part of our civic education I think, to do something good for the local community, whether it be already existing social problems like alcoholism or integration in the local community or bigger issues like the refugee crisis.”
Johanne Rübner Hansen: Rhetoric about refugees has so far been racist and not inclusive. But this must change
“Yes! Students should definitely come. I think it’s important for the students, both to know about this event and to come on Saturday, because in a crisis situation like this one, we need to stand together. Of course, if they want to come they should, either because they agree with the idea that refugees are welcome or because that want to be challenged in their values. They can come to this event and see if they meet people they like, and might be pleasantly surprised about which kinds of people will be participating, among which are the refugees themselves. It is important for all of us to spread the word. It is important to be active on social media, but it’s also important to participate physically to the event. I guess it’s related to this idea of agency, to know that it’s actually possible to have a say in society and maybe make a change.”
University Post: Could you tell us more about this coming event on Saturday? Where should we go if we want to participate ? Or who should we contact?
“There are guidelines and inspiration on the Facebook page ‘Europe Says Welcome’, where everybody can go, read about it and get inspired and inspirational, but I think it’s up to each one of us to decide how we want to manifest our solidarity and our concerns on that day. Anyone who is interested in doing any kind of action, should just go ahead and do it.”
“everybody can do politics, you don’t have to be part of an organisation, and you don’t have to have any training”
“All have been quite spontaneous and I think this is important to underline because it shows something about the new politics in civil societies in Europe: it’s not dominated or monopolized by existing organisations anymore, it’s horizontal, there are no leaders, no spokespersons who have been appointed to represent the whole movement. It’s a lot of actions going on in different corners, in different places, and in that sense we are, I guess, part of a political movement that originated with the Occupy movement, but also goes way beyond that, and is connected to a lot of global movements that are horizontal and non-hierarchical.”
“These loosely organised networks of people are getting together and convinced they have to make a change. So the message here is that everybody can do politics, you don’t have to be part of an organisation, and you don’t have to have any training, everyday acts are political and the sooner we realised that, the sooner we can affect real change in society.”
“If you want to join us for the preparations of the event, if you want to give a hand during the installation of things or if you just want to participate or know more about the various actions that will take place this week (a flashmob will take place on Friday), you can check the Facebook page of the event or contact me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org”
“In a crisis situation like this one, we need to stand together.”
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