Monday, March 26, 2007

Another blogger

If you are interested in getting a different perspective of the same trip, visit Her blog has pictures, including pictures and commentary on the food.

Natasha and I have been traveling together to all the same cities, except she went to Lisbon and I went to Rome. In fact I'm borrowing her laptop while she grabs a nap before our 8pm dinner with media representatives in Belgrade. I'll be grabbing an energy drink. If the past two weeks have been any indication, the meal will start at 8:30pm and end at 12am. Consistently our day starts at 9am with meetings, then a lunch meeting, then more meetings, a 90 minute break, then dinner meetings.

Now I know why I'm behind in my blogging. Too many notes, not enough time to digest the information.

Last notes on Denmark

Immigration has been one of two significant themes of this trip so far, the otherbeing taxation. Most of the Danes refer to it as the immigration problem. I finally had to say it’s not a problem, immigration is good too, what can you tell me about the benefits to your society about immigration?

One person, from the radical left, did say that the media were doing more stories sympathetic to immigrants and refugees, showing how isolated they live and the discrimination they face when trying to seek jobs.

Taxation was a big theme too because people are taxed about half their income. In return, they receive free health care, free education including college, and many other benefits. Immigrants are a touchy issue because they comprise about 8% ofthe population but 30% of the welfare recipients. You can see why Danes are a bit upset about immigration.

However, the flip side is that immigrants are discriminated against in the jobsector. The Danes we spoke with openly said that people with non-Danish names don’t get job interviews. So immigrants cannot get jobs and then are blamed for not working. Clearly the Danes have a long way to go in figuring this out. In their defense, I have to note that they did not have any significan immigration until 40 years ago. To their credit, they are open about acknowledging that they could be more proactive in helping immigrants become intergrated instead of just thinking that it will automatically happen.

Finally, we met with the Danish Red Cross which resettles asylees and a representative of the Danish Refugee Council. If I understand this correctly, in Denmark, asylum seekers are housed at the Red Cross facilities until their cases are heard and they receive their papers to stay in Denmark. Denmark wants to keep them separated and not integrated into the larger society in case they have to be deported. They have families who live in the Red Cross compound for years before they get permission to stay.

After they receive their papers, it is the responsibility of the individual municipalities, such as the city of Copenhagen,to resettle them, such as find them housing, jobs, etc.

Flora Ghosh from the Danish Refugee Council spoke about many things, but what I think is most relevant to RWN is the fact that most resettlement/integration activities are only about getting people jobs, but not socially integrating immigrants and refugees. They are housed in areas separate from Danes, and even if they get jobs, it’s things like cleaning offices after the workday is done, so immigrants still don’t have any Danes to interact with.

There were many statistics given about immigration, integration, the second generation of immigrants, employment, and so on. What is disturbing is that refugees are being accepted based more on their potential for integration and less on humanitarian needs.

Also the needs of refugee and immigrant women are not being discussed, except as victims of non-Danish cultural practices, such as honor killings. Refugee and immigrant women are viewed as victims by immigrant men and this creates a wedge between the genders and creates more barriers for integration.

Only a handful of refugee and immigrant women are represented in governing bodies and none are in executive positions. This definitely resonated with me as RWN was created to develop refugee and immigrant women into leaders.

There is much more I could write about, such as meeting Flemming Rose, the editor of the newspaper that published the Mohammed cartoons that sparked intense protests in the Muslim communities across the world, the issue of Islamophobia, and the issue of human trafficking in Denmark. However this post is long enough and I have to move on to my meetings in Rome, Italy and my thoughts so far on my meetings in Belgrade, Serbia.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Arrival in Copenhagen

Today I arrived in Copenhagen and our schedule is very interesting. We have meetings organized aroung the themse of environment, immigration and integration, and freedom of speech. The people we will meet include the Deputy Head of the the Asylum Department fo the Danish Red Cross, which I believe administers the Danish refugee and asylee program, and the journalist and editor of the newspaper that printed the Mohammed cartoons that sparked protests among Muslims a few years ago. We will also have the chance to visit the immigrant neighborhoods.

In Copenhagen, I am travelling with only 4 other MMF fellows, which should make for more interactive discussions. I will also be in Copenhagen a longer period than in Paris, and these two factors are probably the deciding factors that allow us to actually visit immigrant neighborhoods.

One thing I did forget to mention about the Parisian trip. While we did not have the chance to visit the suburban immigrant neighhorhoods, the GISTI office was located in an ethnically mixed Parisian neighborhood. When I arrived, I saw East Asians, black Africans, South Asians, and North Africans. I did not have the chance to see too much of the area, but felt right at home. One last note, in France and possibly other EU countries, the ghettos are located not in the inner city, as in the US, but in the suburbs. However, as in the US, the low income populations are housed in tall apartment complexes that are cut off from the rest of society.

Immigration in Paris

There have been a few main themes in my time in Paris. The first is that France sees itself as a deep, rich culture that is a founding member of the European Union. The second is that the world is changing and France needs to adapt to these changes. The third is that immigration is a major issue, in that immigrants, especially young people, are acculturating and yet society is not ready to embrace them. This created a powder keg of tension that exploded in the immigratn youth rebellions in the Parisian suburbs a few years ago. And the fourth is that France is coming up to a presidential election, which casts a shadow on all our meetings.

During my stay in Paris from March 10 to 13, we have learned about the French perspective on the European Union, on immigration and education in France, about the economy, and globalization. The most interesting things, for me, were:
1) meeting with high school seniors at the Helene Boucher school. I sat with two girls who speak English very well, and participated in student strikes in the past two years, to protest the proposed labor laws that would allow employees under the age of 25 to be fired with no reason. They spoke about how hard it was to become employed at all in France and to lose it with no explanation was chilling to them, as it would be to any of us. I was impressed my their knowledge of the world, about opportunities, and about the fact that they spoke French, English, German, and Latin. One girl was taking Chinese class after school, to prepare for a globalized future. I got their names and e-mails because these girls are the leaders of today, and will be shaping our future.
2) The French census does not ask about racial and ethnic data because people realize that there is inequality and discrimination and are afraid that hard data would be used to confirm it. I believe that data is neutral. If it says that 15% of the population is X ethnicity, that is not good or bad. It's how you use it that becomes contentious. As Americans, we are used to this discussion and controversy. For France, it is new.
3)Meeting with an elected official from Massy, oneof the Parisian suburbs that experienced the youth rebellion a few years ago. This official was very matter-of-fact about the discrimination immigrant youth face, and their frustrations and lack of opportunity. I only wish that we had the opportunty to visit it to see for ourselves and to meet with the people directly, instead of having academicians, economists, journalists, and elected officials speak to us about it..
4) Meeting with about their work and the European Union's efforts to prevent asylee seekers from coming to Europe. The Secretary General share with me a map printed by that showed asylee detention camps across the EU and their border states. GISTI provides legal aid to asylees in their immigration cases, advocates for immigrant rights, and publishes reports, in French, about immigration issues. That, by far, was the most interesting meeting I had so far on this trip.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

American in Paris

We started in Washington, DC with a seminar about the difference between Americans and Europeans. The key difference is that Americans are active and forward thinkers, and risk takers. Our motto is "just do it." Where as Europeans are much more deliberate and philosophical. At RWN, we know that the women who come are thinking forward about their new lives now, and their futures for their children. That's why RWN's mission is about building on women's strengths, skills, and courage. Refugee and immigrant women come here, not knowing what they will face, but they come anyway. So that message resonates strongly with me.

Today I am in Paris and we had dinner with two journalists who spoke about the future of France. They are in the run up to a presidential election and they are also grappling with the issue of integrating immigrants. In the United States, we are a country of immigrants, and yet now that is a hot button issue. Dinner ended too soon, despite lasting over 2 hours.

Tomorrow we begin our trip in earnest, meeting policy makers and opinion shapers about immigration, integration, and education. Most exciting will be meeting high school students, the future generation that will shape France.

Monday, March 5, 2007

European Exchange Trip

Refugee Women's Network's executive director, Ms. BryAnn Chen, has been awarded a Marshall Memorial Fund fellowship by the German Marshall Fund.

As a result, in March 2007 she will be traveling throughout Europe, meeting formally and informally with a range of policymakers and prominent members of the business, government, political, non-profit/non-governmental organization (NGO), and media communities.

Her particular focus will be to learn about:
  • women’s rights efforts
  • immigration policies
  • refugee resettlement processes
  • efforts by refugees and immigrants to help other refugees and immigrants acculturate
  • leadership opportunities for foreign-born women
  • sources of support for nonprofit organizations / nongovernmental organizations
  • philanthropy in Europe

This fellowship is a wonderful opportunity for Refugee Women's Network to learn about other programs and models that promote refugee and immigrant women's independence, self-sufficiency, and networking.

Her itinerary includes visits to

  • Paris, France
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Rome, Italy
  • Belgrade, Serbia
  • Brussels, Belgium

In the coming weeks, she will be using this blog to record her immediate impressions about the agencies and people she meets as well as other aspects of her trip.