Young people have the power to change the debate on migration in Europe for the better. Here’s how, writes Rania Ali.

Rania Ali is a Syrian journalist currently living in Austria. She co-founded the Living Together initiative, which seeks to share young people’s stories about migration from both migrant and host communities.

When negative perceptions on migration are prevailing in the public debate, it is important to talk about communities living together in diversity. It is important to let the voices of youth be heard.

Young people are the agents that can change the narrative on migration. But to achieve this, we need a space to voice our concerns, experiences and the challenges of ‘living together’.

This is what the Living Together initiative is trying to do.

When I first arrived in Austria in 2016, it was compulsory to take integration courses. I remember the teacher telling us not to forget where we came from, to keep our values, and then to add something important to Austrian society. She gave us the example of tea – of how tea adds value to water (we were the tea, and the water was the Austrian community). It seemed very simple.

But for me, integration was not simple due to isolation and prejudice. For almost one year all I did was learn German, but when you are isolated – as many refugees are – it is extremely difficult to integrate.

Starting your life from scratch is not easy. I didn’t know anybody when I moved to Austria, other than other refugees. It’s incredibly isolating to know that local people view you as something so different to them, just because you come from another part of the world.

I understand the concerns of local people, and their worries about the changes caused by migration. In Austria, like many other places, politicians often complain about refugees not integrating into society. But for newcomers to contribute fully, we need to be allowed to integrate.

Integration means communities living together in diversity, with all their challenges, experiences and concerns being heard to make society more inclusive. But we need a space that enables young people to play this role. This is the reason why, in collaboration with Terre des Hommes and supported by Destination Unknown, other young people and myself developed the Living Together initiative.

Living Together started in 2017 to bring together young people from migrant and host communities to tell new, positive stories about migration. We create opportunities for young people to freely express their opinions about living together with people from different origins, backgrounds and cultures.

As a young journalist, I always felt the voices of youth are dismissed from media and public debate. We can provide a different source of information by telling the real stories – the challenges and benefits of living together – rather than mere hypotheses.

Young leaders have emerged through the Living Together project and have held events and shared experiences with European youth at music and cultural festivals. We have reached over 4,000 young people, and we firmly believe that young people can change the narrative on migration in Europe.

Our young leaders are from migrant and host communities in France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UK and Syria. They take our message into their communities and empower other young people to join. Our young leaders are united by the desire to see people come together and change the perception of migration.

We have helped young leaders participate in local and global events where youth voices needed to be heard on migration and diversity. Last year we were present at the Youth Forum for Migration, a side event during the adaptation of the Global Compacts for Migration, and our young leaders continue to be involved with UN working groups focusing on migration.

Living Together’s young leaders also participate in local events within their communities, schools, universities and other settings. In France, one of our volunteers gave a speech at the Science Po university on her integration experience. With every project Living Together contributes to, we are changing the story on migration for the better.

Until now, both migrant youth and those from host communities have not been given the space to properly discuss migration. Through Living Together, we now have that platform. And with this space, young people from all backgrounds can get involved in conversations on migration and tell a positive story that will resonate across Europe and beyond.

This article is adapted from a speech by Rania Ali at the European Forum on the Rights of the Child on 3 April.

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