An EPIC story..., by Juliane Van Butsel

Context

"When working on the integration of refugees, we are not doing
charity (...) we are in a purely logical perspective. It is quite logical to welcome people the best way we can, when they do not have others choices to come and live in your country where they will spend the next ten years, because these people are going to be able to contribute the maximum in our society. And today, we really need it." -
Nathanael Molle, co-founder of the organization SINGA

A refugee - in the sense of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 relating to the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons - is a person who is outside their home country because they have suffered (or feared) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion; because they are a member of a persecuted social category of persons; or because they are fleeing a war. Such a person may be called an "asylum seeker" until recognized by the state where they make a claim. After obtaining the refugee status, the route is not finished yet. This is of course a good news and a relief but it may be also, for the refugee, a very hard time to move on, from an identity point of view, because he can no longer return to his home country at risk of losing its status. It is also from this point that begins the true integration phase. This integration can be done by socio-professional level, housing, but also socially.

But only few associations help the refugees during this stage of their lives, further accentuating their isolation. Hence it is important to facilitate their social integration into French society.
EPIC have therefore chosen to take an interest in social integration, which strengthens social ties. It is the process that binds individual to the social groups and society, which allows him to socialize, integrate into society and learn the elements of its identity. Social integration can be a trigger for better employability and even finding housing.

We started from two observations to create the association EPIC :
• Refugees are very isolated in French society but really want to be integrated. • Many students are looking to share moments while mobilizing around a cause.

The common results from interviews with refugees are the limited relationships they have with French citizens. The main meeting opportunities are workplace, schools, places of worship and in regard to younger refugees, friends, bars or public transport. However, few respondents reported French friends. For some of them, this is a sign that they are not yet fully integrated in France.

Nathanael Molle explains that there are significant problems in France in the way of welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. In the past 30 years we have witnessed a hyper professionalization of coaching phénomère and hospitality of these people at the expense of linking with society.

"Since I am in France I never felt I was a stranger, except at the prefecture." -Abbas, Afghan refugee.

Indeed, a refugee knows an average of three French people:

• The agent of the Prefecture
• The social worker
• The person of Pôle Emploi

The director of SINGA also points to the small allocation for the integration of refugees in France compared to the overall budget of asylum.
Following our various interviews, we can raise the issue of learning French language and socio-cultural codes. The hundreds of hours provided by the OFII are actually not sufficient to acquire an appropriate level of French. Once they arrive in the host countries, refugees also face great difficulties to start or continue studies. Several reasons: a lack of information, lack of access to scholarships and non-equivalence of certain diplomas in some countries.

"And it is also to the detriment of French society" says Nathanael. "Isolation is not good for anyone, neither to the State, because it creates people who will remain socially excluded and whose willingness to integrate will decrease, nor for the refugee who will see its precarious situation be prolonged".

 

EPIC

"When many small people in many small places change a multitude of little things, they can change the face of the world." -Nietzche

Our objectives are multiple but all converge towards reducing the isolation of refugees by creating social ties between them and the host society.

EPIC aims to sensitize civil society, and particularly the students of the UPEC, to the issue of asylum and refugees. Through tutoring, cultural and sports workshops, EPIC creates exchanges between them. Moreover, it strengthens and promotes the commitment of UPEC students.

Our approach is that every member of the community EPIC can propose cultural and sports workshops and share his passions with others. Similarly, tutoring sessions are based on the exchange of skills, knowledge and always respect the needs of the refugee.

We do not want to be in a dynamic "volunteers / beneficiaries" but rather in a process of constitution of a community of people living and interacting together. We wish that every member can give as much as he receives, and he or she does not feel, as can sometimes happen in an "assisted" or "victim" position.

 

TUTORING

After obtaining the status, the biggest challenge remains the language. Learn the language of the host country is the first key to social integration but also

professional. Most associations offer French courses in groups of more or less homogeneous levels, which does not facilitate the progress of the participants. Private lessons therefore have certain advantages. Indeed, a particular course will be more responsive to the expectations and more adapted to the needs of refugees. In addition, the individual course creates a social bond more quickly. That is why we wanted to, based on the model of SINGA, set up weekly tutoring sessions, 1h30 between a student of the UPEC and a refugee. These sessions are based on the exchange of skills as a French-Arabic language exchange, for example.

 

 

SPORT

"The physical and sports activities are an important part of education, culture, integration and social life. They contribute significantly to the fight against school failure and to reduce social and cultural inequalities, as well as health. The promotion and development of sport and physical activity for all, including for disabled people, are of general interest " (Article L. 100-1 of the Sports Code)

Sport is a universal language. It allows everyone to express themselves and to meet. Sport is unifying, promotes exchanges and brings together people around the same passion. It enables participants to understand the wealth of otherness and to place at the forefront the fundamental values of sport: respect, tolerance, exchange, solidarity and friendliness.

EPIC sets up once a week and according to the demands of members of EPIC collective sports sessions. For example, Hoopdance sessions will take place every Sunday from June. (temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
We participate and / or organize sports events such as football tournaments, a raft race, basketball games, pétanque tournaments and hike-roller.

 

 

CULTURE

The culture here means all the values, norms and practices shared by a plurality of individuals. The culture seems to have a dual function in society. It first helps to define the identity of each person and then allows any individual to identify with a group and shares the values and standards.

Paris region is full of History and cultural activities. EPIC therefore aims to encourage the discovering of French culture but also the culture of all members of the EPIC community. This will include the references of everyday life and all socio-cultural codes.

It will take the form of trips to the museum, cinema, exhibitions, participatory workshops as a workshop world cuisine, a disco-soup or an introduction to the creation of a vegetable garden. (temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic) Everyone can therefore offer activities according to their passions, their desires or their skills.

Note that each workshop will begin with an icebreaker game. These games are designed to involve everyone and to trust each participant. Indeed, it is not always easy to create a group dynamic, especially if the participants do not know each others. To break the ice, nothing like small very active and short games.

 

-Juliane Van Butsel

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