In the wake of the major flow of refugees that started in 2015, countless volunteers have joined together to support those in need of protection. “Their work was and is essential for solidarity and peaceful coexistence in Styria,” stresses Brigitte Kukovetz of the Institute of Educational Sciences. In a project led by Annette Sprung, she analysed the volunteers’ experiences, needs, strategies and the (mostly informal and unconscious) process of their political education.
The plight of the refugees and the inadequacy of the government’s response were the driving force behind most people’s commitment to help, the researchers learned in interviews. Through their commitment, the helpers developed an awareness of their own privileges as well as a critical understanding of the global context, the reasons behind the migration flows, and politics. “In addition,” Kukovetz explains, “the volunteers had to come up with suitable arguments and take a stance because they repeatedly met with resistance from their social surroundings.” Workshops and celebrations are common activities to raise awareness among the local population of the history and needs of the refugees. In the course of demonstrations and protests against deportations, many helpers also became politically active.
“However, all these measures only generated a few new supporters. It seems that only those people who already have a basic social or specific political attitude develop solidary behaviours,” the researchers sum up. Conversely, sometimes committed people give up in frustration because they are unable to cope with the adversities they encounter. These include, for example, increasing xenophobia and the ever stricter legal conditions under the conservative/right wing government, or the far-reaching experiences of loss when their “protégés” have to move away or are even deported.
At the same time, educational scientists have observed that many volunteers tend to patronise the fugitives in their care and expect certain efforts and a great deal of gratitude from them. “This is definitely a research perspective that we want to look more closely at,” says Kukovetz.
The Graz scientists will present their research results on November 7th from 2 pm to 7 pm in the Municipal Council meeting room of the Graz City Hall as part of the conference “Learning Solidarity (?): Experiences and Perspectives of Voluntary Engagement in the Field of Flight/Migration”, which is open to all interested parties. Volunteers also have the opportunity to share experiences.