Changing Public Attitudes towards Migrants: Peacemakers Project

By Phyllis Livaha, March 18, 2021

International migrants make up 3.6 percent of the global population, according to the United Nations, and many of them are refugees who face challenges integrating into new countries. Turkey alone has received 4 million Syrian refugees, while Syrians also comprise a majority of the 1 million refugees who have requested asylum in the European Union.

The different states have tried to take steps to ensure sustainable integration of these migrants. The Erasmus plus Project titled "Peace Dialogue Campus Network: Fostering Positive Attitudes between Migrants and Youth in Hosting Societies" aimed to foster a more peaceful generation in Europe and in Turkey that approaches migrants with positive attitudes.

Partners from six universities (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Koc University [lead partner], Gaziantep University, Humboldt University, Bologna University and Aberta University) worked together to create effective tools to prevent and tackle discrimination, radicalism, and racism. Part of the project was to train a group of students from the partner universities as “Peace Envoys” to lead international peace dialogue campus network of university students.

The partners started by identifying the levels of prejudice and friction between migrants and natives in the partner countries. They prepared literature review and analysis of the historical and current situation of migration to the partner countries as well as policies developed over the years by authorities. The partners then conducted surveys for three different target audiences: native students, migrant students, and non-student migrants. The surveys examined the effects of the interplay between positive and negative encounters between native and migrant people across the partner countries. Different histories of migration and social policies were taken into consideration. The role of intergroup contact as a tool to reduce discrimination and promote social integration was examined through questions that tested intergroup prejudice, discrimination and acculturation. Based on the results written in the Needs Analysis and Strategy Paper, we carried out three bootcamps to train the peace envoys. They were trained to develop their problem solving, critical thinking, collaborative working and conflict resolution skills through rigorous academic preparation, experiential education and leadership development. Transdisciplinary learning was utilized where the partners explored concepts and problems that integrated the perspectives of multiple disciplines in order to connect new knowledge and deeper understanding to real life experiences.

With the knowledge and working skills gained from the boot camps, the peace envoys designed their own sustainable projects - peace dialogue students’ clubs in their home universities where they worked with local organizations and the wider community. The EUC students started a study buddy programme with SamenDoorSamen, a programme of Stichting Mano, a local organization that works with refugees. The programme teams up EUC students with refugees who are studying in the Netherlands. The pairs study together and get to know each other better. It is a programme that will keep going because the peace envoys will recruit new students to continue working with the organization. We also partnered with the EUR programme for refugees. The peace envoys also planned to work with migrant EUC students, but the pandemic hit.

Partners prepared a Best Practice Guide for university students planning to start a social inclusion project, but do not know where to start. The step-by-step approach guides them to a successful social inclusion of others and how to raise awareness in their circles and attract others to get onboard.

Partners created an online course which provides understanding in the areas where local and migrant populations are facing problems, covering topics crucial to peacebuilding e.g. intergroup contact, stereotypes and prejudices, social inclusion, inequality and social justice. The course enables people to educate themselves on prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination towards migration and migrants in Europe. 

The holistic approach that we took in the project gave the peace envoys insight into various levels of knowledge and reality, as a link between abstract and concrete dimension of experience. The trans-disciplinary methodology was used to “facilitate referral and understanding of the relationship between the laws of nature and the human ones, between the humanist and the exact sciences, between people, cultures, faiths, which emphasizes the incompatibility with the mere acquisition of knowledge, but transfers and flexibility of thinking, ease in making relevant choices and rigor in finding solutions to the problems of life…”.[1]  Through this methodology, a “human being [in this case migrants] is understood as a whole and is thus addressed consequently, without a reduction to unfavorable and unproductive fragmentation”.[2] For more information about the project, please go to https://peacemakers.ku.edu.tr/.

More information

[1] Jeder D. (2014). Transdisciplinarity - the advantage of a holistic approach to life, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 137: 127 – 131, p. 130

[2] Ibid.