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Network for Dialogue Retreat Injects New Energy into Work with Refugees and Migrants

10 May 2023

If you want to effect policy change for refugees and migrants in Europe, you have to bring hard work and bold ideas – or so say members of the KAICIID-supported Network for Dialogue who attended a three-day retreat in Caux, Switzerland this past weekend.

With colourful post-it notes papering vision boards, and flip charts filled with SWOT analyses, 19 participants from across Europe shared best practices and new solutions for improving integration.

The retreat was the latest in the Network’s series of biannual meetings which convene members and partners from 25 well-established refugee aid and dialogue organizations. Those include ADRA, Arigatou International, Jesuit Refugee Service, HIAS Europe, Islamic Relief, and The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), among others.

While Network meetings have traditionally focused on capacity-building workshops on topics such as grant writing and drafting policy papers, Johannes Langer, Senior Programme Manager for KAICIID’s Europe Programme, says this retreat pushed participants to expand their understanding of dialogue.

Dialogue Helps Navigate Critical Integration Challenges

During daily sessions, KAICIID Senior Consultant Prof. Patrice Brodeur invited participants to use dialogue to address the challenges that many refugees and migrants face in their host communities. Dialogue can help comfortably navigate multiple identities – for example, identifying as both Arab and European – and help confront structural biases based on intersectionality – such as being Muslim and a woman.

“Dialogue is essential in the current world as it can address the many challenges that we are facing,” said Haythem Kamel Badawy, Director of the Training and Awareness Association in Luxembourg (Formation et Sensibilisation de Luxembourg–FSL).

Without it, refugees can feel lost in the culture and social environment of their new host communities, which leads to disenfranchisement, and in extreme cases lays the groundwork for radicalisation.

Jon Rasmussen, Better World Framework Consultant for the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), said that workshop topics help Network members identify the strengths of their work with refugees, and where they need external support.

"This past weekend we were challenged and guided by KAICIID to incorporate dialogue in all aspects of our work. This makes us individually better, but also makes the Network stronger and more cohesive,” he said.  


Going Beyond Dialogue as “Theory”

Over the course of the three days, participants had lots of opportunities to go beyond “theory” and classroom discussions and experience the joys of building relationships.

Guided nature walks and intercultural cooking sessions not only brought Network members closer together but served as practical examples of dialogue initiatives that can be directly implemented in communities.

A film screening of The Swimmers, based on the inspiring story of two sisters who fled war in Syria and survived a dangerous sea crossing to make it to the Olympics, allowed for a time of reflection. Dinnerware made at a pottery workshop will be donated to two organizations in Switzerland that provide refugee families with household items and other support.  

“Caux was the perfect place for a retreat. Network members connected with nature, explored their creativity, and got energized for their work with and for refugees and migrants in their communities,” Langer said.

And while the activities brought a moment of fun and relaxation, guided dialogue instruction throughout helped Network members delve into deep conversations and explore potential areas for collaboration.

“It's really amazing to feel closer to other Network members. Each time I feel more at home as we create personal and professional relationships,” said Isabel Tootill, Co-Founder and Process Manager at MEERU | Abrir Caminho, a Portugal-based humanitarian organization that works with migrants and refugees.

Langer says the community atmosphere during the retreat was palpable as participants stayed long after meeting sessions were concluded to continue their discussions. He was also pleased to see the two newest members of the Network welcomed seamlessly into the group.

peaceloveleigh The retreat was the latest in the Network for Dialogue series of biannual meetings which convene members and partners from 25 well-established refugee aid and dialogue organizations (LeighAnn Shafiq/KAICIID)

Next Steps for the Network

The relationships built during the Network meetings ultimately have a strategic purpose, as Langer and his colleague Aleksandra Djurić Milovanović, Project Manager of the Network for Dialogue, will support members to collaborate on joint projects throughout the year.

Ahead of this meeting, he says, the Network issued a new call for applications for its microgrant projects. These initiatives must build on the recommendations from policy briefs that Network members produce following each annual European Policy Dialogue Forum. Topics range from improving education to strengthening community cohesion and building multi-stakeholder partnerships, etc.

Langer said that already during the retreat several members identified potential areas of collaboration and were excited to discuss joint grant proposals.

Network members will also convene again for an online capacity-building workshop in November that will take place on the sidelines of the European Policy Dialogue Forum in Rotterdam.

“This dialogue retreat allowed our members to experience deep learning and share new insights with one another, as well as plan the next steps of the Network,” said Djurić Milovanović. “I’m proud to see how the Network continues to grow thanks to our regular meetings.”