The subject of immigration is a very thorny one in most countries. One only has to see the tenor of the debates still in 2022 to understand that camps with diametrically opposed ideas are clashing. On the one hand, there are those who want to help those who seek refuge in their lands at almost any cost. On the other side, those who refuse, who think that the borders have been opened too much, that the migrants do not integrate, that the homeland must be protected. Despite the tense context, it seems essential to talk about welcoming migrant students. Especially since not everyone understands the different terms "refugees," "migrants," or "asylum seekers."
Because while opponents of immigration denounce the incompatibility of foreign populations, a question immediately arises: have they at least been given time to grow roots? A plant that has been uprooted from its land to survive will have to get used to the new land that welcomes it. However, if the latter is already saturated with roots and offers no nutrients, it will be difficult for it to grow.
Is school a vehicle for racism? On the surface, no. Most schools have codes that prohibit hateful speech and actions that would harm people of different backgrounds, disabilities, LGBTQIAA+ diversity, etc. Yet, as this document reminds us, the school system drags with it traces of the 19th century where it was established. A period during which, Westerners made themselves believe an almost biological superiority over indigenous or foreign peoples in general. If academic writings describing Canadian First Nations as savages still exist, it would not be surprising if pedagogical sociology kept in mind the erroneous idea that little Blacks, Arabs, Asians or Latinos are possibly less gifted than the average.
Add to this a tense context where French policies rather wish to put obstacles in the wheels of migrants than to welcome them and thus appear unjust situations. In Paris, minors isolated from their parents, and therefore not recognized by the state, have to go through a voluntary initiative. "L'École des Sans-Écoles" is the only place where these teenagers who have survived a difficult migration process can attend school in French, math, etc. A breath of fresh air for these young people who absolutely want to become French and who must live in social hotels while waiting for their regularization, if it comes.
The importance of mutual understanding
What if, at the core, the question of rooting for newcomers was about understanding the issues that led these people, young or not so young, to leave their homeland. Indeed, for the person with little interest, these asylum seekers or refugees are seen as "freeloaders", wanting a bit of society's hard earned benefits. The reality is often quite different and lies mainly in a question of survival. Mostly, migrants leave because life in their home country has become unbearable due to armed conflicts, natural disasters or famines.
That is why the issue of awareness seems to be openness so that the host country's inhabitants will be less fearful and snarky about newcomers. Doing so in school seems even more productive since these citizens of tomorrow will potentially be more open and understanding of global migratory movements. Thus, initiatives for migrants and students to meet are as much in France as in Senegal. It should not be assumed that hostility to immigration is only Western. Other African, Middle Eastern, Asian and other countries also cringe when people from elsewhere arrive.
Where to start?
There are several publications, comics, novels and the like that tell the stories of migrants' journeys. Amnesty International has built a comprehensive educational package on the topic with activities ranging from ages 7 to 12+. They explain the reasons for the waves and in some cases place the student in the shoes of a young person from elsewhere.
In the same vein in Belgium, a serious game has been created for ages 15+ by two associations. "Walk in my shoes" offers interactive stories where young people from different African countries must go into exile. Their choices will lead them, ideally, to finally reach a peaceful land or fail. Thus, before choosing, Internet users will be invited to read short articles explaining current situations and testimonies in order to make the best possible decision.
These various awareness-raising tools could lead to school work. This one, for example, was done by students tracing the journey of a young migrant from Mali. They had to talk with this person in order to get his story, to be interested in the country of origin, the reasons for leaving, the often difficult journey, etc. They thus learned about the making of a book and about the story of a newcomer to whom, in addition, they offered the book they had made.
This does not mean that activities are not also needed in order for migrants to integrate. On the contrary, sports and leisure approaches are excellent for ensuring integration done under the sign of fun (and the universal language of soccer). Theater has proven to be a very good approach to not only include new students from elsewhere but address issues of resilience, strong emotions experienced in these college students' recent past, etc. Again, the stage can be a meeting point between those who have had to travel a long way in order to find refuge.
Illustration : Anthony Shkraba on Pexels
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