As a part of the project “Optimizing volunteer services in times of refugee crisis” (PREVENT), funded under the Programme “Europe for citizens”, partners from six countries have drafted recommendations for improving the practice of volunteering in times of refugee crisis. Project coordinator was Association “MI” (Croatia).
The project “Optimizing volunteer services in times of refugee crisis” was implemented by Association “MI” (Croatia) in partnership with Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre (Serbia), Legis Skopje (Macedonia), Voluntary Action Sheffield (UK), Önkéntes Központ Alapítvány (Hungary), Croatian Network of Volunteer Centres (Croatia) and European Volunteer Centre (Belgium). The project was funded under the Programme “Europe for Citizens” (Strand 2: Democratic engagement and civic participation) and it lasted from September 2016 until November 2017. The aim of the project was to contribute to strengthening the role of volunteers during times of crisis in modern Europe and to provide evidence-based recommendations that would lead to the improvement of volunteer services at EU level.
Throughout the project, we organized three international and four national events involving 444 people from 28 European and Asian countries, while indirectly involving around 400,000 people. In January 2017 in Osijek (Croatia), we organized a workshop to exchange the experiences. In March 2017 in Novi Sad (Serbia), teams of experts from partner organizations have drafted recommendations for improving the volunteering practice. All the partner organizations, on the basis of all the findings, discussed these topics further with their stakeholders in Sheffield (UK), Budapest (Hungary), Belgrade (Serbia) and in Zagreb (Croatia). The final event was held in Vienna in October 2017 and it was organized by the European Volunteer Centre (CEV). The purpose of these events was to collect, share and discuss experiences in involving volunteers in refugee support. We discussed this subject in more detail with about 600 participants at similar gatherings in London, Berlin, Zadar, Osijek and Zagreb as well as between partner organizations through the webinars. For more information on events held throughout the project, click here.
Previously, we also collected information through the analysis of social networks and relevant websites from 17 European countries that were on refugee routes, and through a specially designed Volontheka questionnaire we directly examined the satisfaction of refugees, migrants and volunteers with the general condition as well as with volunteer services in refugee camps and reception centres. Collecting impressions was particularly demanding because of the susceptibility of the interviewee, the issue of security and trauma. Volunteer questionnaire was completed by a total of 71 volunteers in Croatia, Serbia, the UK, Hungary and Macedonia, and 126 refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Ethiopia and Libya.
Recommendations for improving volunteer services
Based on the collected knowledge, teams of experts from partner organizations and their associates have developed detailed recommendations for improving volunteering services in dealing with refugees and during the crisis. Improving conditions for crisis volunteering as well as conditions for volunteering with refugees as a particularly vulnerable group of people is a big venture with many open questions and no quick answers. The need for additional resources, additional resources and political will to improve the lives of refugees will open up many more questions, but it is unlikely that major changes in these areas will occur on international and national levels. Key recommendations therefore, primarily but not exclusively, focus on actions that can be taken without additional funding, and they are:
The reactions of international and national policies have turned the migration of refugees into an international humanitarian crisis. Campaigning, lobbying and collaboration can improve this.
Skills, time and motivation of non-governmental organizations and volunteers are often not used enough or not used at all, due to poor communication or unclear division of work between non-governmental organizations and government organizations in the field. Improvements to this plan can avoid futile efforts and significantly improve services for refugees.
It is very important to devote serious attention to the organization of volunteer work in times of crisis and to ensure fast adaptation, taking into account recommendations directly from the field:
"Refugee" is a temporary status rather than a permanent identity. Refugees often know their needs and how to satisfy them. Activities should be done together with them and enable them to be involved in the community, e.g. through volunteer activities, where they can directly assist.
Spontaneous community action enriches the community and encourages individuals to change. However, there is often tension among these volunteers and non-governmental organizations. That is why we believe that recognition, cooperation and support are necessary.
Impact of the project
In the countries on refugee routes the project has attracted the public's interest in accessing the topic responsibly and realistically, which was often in contrast to the overriding critical views in public discourse. In the United Kingdom and Belgium, countries that often fall into the desirable refugee destinations, partner organizations have attracted additional stakeholder interest and incited discussions on the topics of refugee care and volunteer involvement.
Through the work of the European Volunteer Centre (CEV), positive practices have been further promoted, shared and made available to volunteer organizers and volunteers throughout the EU.
The infrastructure of volunteering in the refugee crisis and integration processes has been further strengthened, which will contribute to better quality support and greater benefits to the people under protection. Volunteering with refugees is also an important way for civil participation in crises. It increases the capacity of communities and societies to take responsibility and respond to urgent and new needs.
The partner organizations that were involved in the project are continuously acting as support centres, as part of the volunteer infrastructure, and will continue their efforts in that direction. Developed partnerships enable further development and broader involvement.
Event 1: International conference in Osijek (Croatia)
Participation: The event involved 68 citizens on the first day of the conference and 69 citizens on the second day of the conference, including 9 participants from Serbia, 9 participants form FYRM, 37 participants from Croatia, 6 participants form UK, 3 participants from Hungary, 1 participant from Belgium, 1 participant from Germany, 1 participant from Afghanistan, 1 participant from Syria and 1 participant from Iraq.
Location / Dates: The event took place in Osijek, Croatia from 18/01/2017 to 19/01/2017 (Hotel Osijek)
Short description: The aim of the event was to make a short introduction in national policies regarding refugee protection in partner countries, as well as regarding refugee assistance in social integration in partner countries. During the second day of the conference, we presented Volontheka questionnaire and results of the research on volunteer services for migrants/refugees in partner countries. Very valuable part of the conference were the stories of the refugee in Croatia and volunteers who volunteer directly with the refugees.
Lejla Šehić Relić (representative of VCO and CEV) spoke about role of volunteerism in refugee crisis, and Mirko Schwaerzel (representative of BBE, Germany) presented the topic “Refugee/migrants in Germany – the role of civil society in the process of social integration”.
Event 2: International conference in Novi Sad (Serbia)
Participation: The event involved 51 experts, including 38 participants from Serbia, 2 participants form FYRM, 4 participants from Croatia, 2 participants form UK, 4 participants from Hungary, and 1 participant from Belgium.
Location / Dates: The event took place in Novi Sad, Serbia on 23/03/2017 (Hotel Putnik).
Short description: The aim of the event was to draft recommendations for the improvement of volunteer services in times of refugee crisis, and to exchange experiences among the organizers of volunteer work.
The conference was opened by NSHC program coordinator, Danijela Korac-Mandic, followed by the Deputy Mayor of the City of Novi Sad, Ljiljana Koković, who emphasized the importance of organizing such a meeting in Novi Sad and the importance of volunteerism, especially in crisis. After that, the participants were greeted by the coordinator of the OPENS Initiative 2019 Vukasin Grozdanović, who also stressed the importance of promoting volunteerism, especially among young people and in Novi Sad, the European Capital of Youth 2019.
After the introductory part, Tanja Tešija, representative of the Association MI from Split (Croatia), presented the project activities and research on social networks related to volunteerism and migrant crisis. Giulia Bordin, representative of European Volunteer Centre, spoke about volunteerism in general and volunteering in emergencies.
After the presentations, participants worked in groups to obtain recommendations for volunteering improvements. Group work was organized in the form of a World Café with three topics in which all the participants participated. The topics covered were: 1) challenges in organizing volunteer work in times of refugee crisis, 2) the role and importance of decision makers at national level in achieving quality of volunteer services, and 3) recommendations for improvement of volunteer services.
Event 3 – National Conference in Sheffield (UK)
Participation: The event involved 55 citizens, including 17 participants from the city of Sheffield (UK),
37 participants from the cities of , Axminster, Bath, Berkhamsted, Birmingham, Cheadle, Edale, Fordingbridge, Gravesend, Hayes, Hull, Leicester, London, Machynlleth, Malvern, Manchester, New Malden, Preesall, Rainham, St Albans, Sourport-on-severn, Swindon, and Witney. All in the UK etc.
Location / Dates: The event took place in Sheffield, UK, from 05/06/2017 to 05/06/2017
Short description: The aim of the event was review the recommendations from the previous event and look at how we can best optimise the way volunteers respond to refugees.
We wanted to specifically engage with the activist volunteers who are the largest group in the UK to look at their needs and see how their needs meet up with the needs of more established organizations.
This conference will explore how volunteers respond to the refugee crisis, the value that different groups can bring and look at how we can learn from one another to improve the support to both volunteers and refugees.
Event 4 – National Conference in Zagreb (Croatia)
Participation: The event involved 51 participants, including participants of various organizations that are working with refugees directly (Red Cross, Centre for Peace Studies, Croatian Legal Centre…). Also, the representatives of Contact point of Europe for Citizens program participated.
Location/dates: The conference took place in Zagreb, Croatia (Hotel International), June 27 2017
Short description: The aim of the conference was to present project activities and recommendations for optimizing volunteer services in times of (refugee) crisis, as well as to present the results of research “Refugees in eyes of social elites”. In the second part of the conference, the web page www.irh.hr was presented (integration in Republic of Croatia). We also held the panel discussion on role of civil society and volunteerism in refugee integration.
Event 5 – National Conference in Belgrade (Serbia)
Participation: The event involved 58 citizens from Serbia.
Location / Dates: The event took place in Hotel Palace, Belgrade, on 29/06/2017.
Short description: The aim of the event was to present and discuss the recommendations from the previous project events, to give an overview of current situation for the refugees in Serbia and their future prospects, and look at how we can best optimize the way assistance is provided to refugees. Two panels were organized to facilitate further discussion: one focusing on refugees accommodated in Serbian reception centres, and the other focusing on refugees “outside the system”. The first panel was attended by CARE International/Serbia, SOS Children Villages, Danish Refugee Council/Serbia, Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, and Psychosocial Innovation Network. The second panel was attended by international and national NGOs active in outreach work and provision of assistance to refugees outside the reception centres: Save the Children/Serbia, Info Park, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre. This conference explored how entire civil society sector has been responding to the refugee crisis in Serbia, the value that volunteers can bring and look at how we can improve the support to both volunteers and refugees.
Event 6 – National Conference in Budapest (Hungary)
Participation: The event involved 51 participants, including participants of various organizations that are working with refugees directly (Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants, MigSzol Szeged, International Organization for Migration, UNHCR) Representatives of the research sector and several voluntary organization were represented.
Location/dates: The event took place in Budapest, Hungary in the building of the Representation of the European Commission to Hungary (Europa Pont) on the 26th of September 2017
Short description: The initial aim of the conference was to present project activities and recommendations for optimizing volunteer services in times of (refugee) crisis. Volunteering Hungary used the event to gather experts from the area of refugee support and crisis intervention. The program started with presentations of studies related to the refugee crisis in Hungary and volunteering in times of crisis (Ms. Anikó Bernát, researcher at TÁRKI and Ms. Edit Kovács from Association of Community Development were presenting).
It was followed by a panel discussion on the experiences gained in Hungary concerning the involvement of volunteers, originations and institutions in the refugee crisis and more particular the events during the month of June – September of 2015 (Mr. Ernő Simon, Spokesperson at UNHCR Hungary, Ms. Katalin Bognár Program leader of Menedék Association and Mr. Márk Kékesi cofounder of MigSzol Szeged). In the final part of the program all participants could ask questions and give comments to the participants of the panel. Program was chaired by Mr. András F. Tóth, Executive Director of Volunteering Hungary.
Event 7 - Final Conference in Vienna (Austria)
The event was attended by 125 participants in total
from 25 countries: 38 from Croatia, 9 from Slovenia, 5 from Austria, 1 from Greece, 1 from Slovakia, 8 from UK, 7 from Spain, 3 from Portugal, 4 from Hungary, 1 from Estonia, 6 from Denmark, 3 from Romania, 4 from France, 4 from Serbia, 7 from Belgium, 3 from Finland, 4 from Italy, 1 from Sweden, 7 from Germany, 1 from Netherlands, 1 from Czech republic, 4 from Ireland, 1 from Switzerland, 2 from Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Location/Dates: Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, Stubenring 1, 1010 Vienna (1. Floor), on Wednesday, 4 October 2017 at 15:30–17:00
As part of the CEV Autumn Volunteering Congress organized by CEV in cooperation with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection , the project 'PREVENT: Optimizing Volunteer Services in Times of Refugee Crisis', was presented through the workshop.
This workshop has highlighted the role of volunteering in times of crisis in modern Europe and has presented evidence-based recommendations for the improvement of the volunteering at EU level.
The project was elaborated in partnership with Association “MI“ – Split (Croatia), Croatian Volunteers Centre Network (Croatia), Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre (Serbia), Legis Skopje (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), Voluntary Action Sheffield (United Kingdom), Önkéntes Központ Alapítvány (Hungary) and the European Volunteer Centre (Belgium). The presenter was Ms. Nives Ivelja, the director of the Association MI – Split, Croatia. Representatives of other partners have co-moderated discussions.
(tri mjesečne stipendije) i razvoj civilnog društva , ugovor s Nacionalnom zakladom za financijsku potporu udrugama i inicijativama u regiji