Written by Danica Van der Merwe 

After the screening of the film FLEE, Adil Izemrane, co-founder of Movement on the Ground (MOTG) and EURACTIV Journalist Natasha Foote answered a few questions from the audience while also sharing their opinions and experiences regarding people forced to flee their countries and the issues they face even once they arrive at refugee camps. 

Natasha had gone to Lesvos and, with her team from EURACTIV, looked for a new supposed camp funded by the EU. She mentioned that 155 million euros had gone into establishing the camp. She had already heard several concerns from the people in Lesvos about this camp such as it being in a remote location next to the island’s landfill and in a forest located in a dry region and it being far from services and opportunities for integration and language learning. Natasha and her colleague set off to find the camp but said they ended up on a wild goose chase and never actually found the camp. 

After seeing the state of camps such as the Moria camp and returning to Amsterdam, he realised there needs to be structural changes. Adil explains his mindset behind Movement on the Ground and rethinking refugee camps by drawing a parallel with music festivals in Amsterdam. He saw a lot of resemblances between managing tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes in refugee camps and hosting the same amount of people for music festivals. “In Amsterdam, we are able to build up those festivals in a few days with crowd management, food management, security and safety measures. So why aren’t we able to do the same for people forced to flee when they need it more than anyone else?”

This is where MOTG’s Camp-to-Campus philosophy comes in, which AEJ member, Wytze VanderGaast experienced first-hand during his trip to the Samos camp which he describes in an issue of the AEJ Belgium newsletter. MOTG believes camps are outdated and inhumane. People forced to flee do not belong in camps. Their mission is to transform the camps and centres into campuses (Here, Adil emphasises the ‘US’ in ‘campus’). Once people arrive and have time to settle, they are included in activities around the campus. It starts with asking what their background is and what their profession was, what their goals and talents are and utilising that within the campus. It’s all about education, inspiring one another and inclusion. Once they get out of the campus, they can kickstart their future and go straight into the job market, which Adil mentions is often a problem with camps. 

Adil kindly stayed for a one-on-one interview afterwards where he spoke about the role of the press and society in the crisis of people forced to flee their homes. 

He highlights the importance of seeing and recognising the individual and not only seeing them as numbers and data. “There are stories behind every human being.” 

As for the role of the press and journalists and how they cover the stories of displaced people, Adil stresses that they have a huge responsibility due to their influence on the narrative – which he says is long overdue for a change. Most often, only big traumatic stories are told, which he recognises is due to needing to sell stories and expose human rights violations. However, Adil believes that there is a responsibility to maintain a balance and also allow for hopeful, inspiring stories (of which there are many). He believes this will allow people forced to flee to be seen with human faces and identities in the eyes of society and that hopefully, they will start to be seen as more than victims. 

“When I engage with people in the centres, I don’t see them as victims. I see them for their potential, their profession and the backgrounds that they bring to our society. That is something I would love to see the press portray. [With these stories], it will be easier for people not to be afraid. There is a huge responsibility for the press to balance how people forced to flee are being portrayed.”

On the topic of those who have fled from Ukraine, Adil has a multi-layered reaction. 

“It has been uplifting seeing how people have moved in solidarity with the refugees from Ukraine. At the same time, it has also been painful and confronting to see all of this while others on the EU borders are being pushed back. The people we serve in the camps and reception centres around Europe are in very lengthy asylum procedures and get rejected while seeing on television how Ukrainians are being welcomed. At the same time, I see this as a big opportunity. I see a momentum that we should grab as a society and that the welcome of Ukrainians should be the new standard for refugees in general. If it can be done for 5 million overnight, it should happen for the tens of thousands of people arriving as well.”

When asked about his opinions on implementing systems that hinder refugee paths into Europe, Adil states that these systems are not sustainable solutions. They merely force people to pay smugglers more and take more dangerous routes, which we see happening. One solution that Adil suggests is creating safe passages through solidarity mechanisms where the burden is divided among all European countries. 

He knows that there are no overnight solutions, but he also knows that migration will always be with us, as it has been since the beginning of mankind. He emphasises the need to educate the children as they are the future game-changers of our society. 

“The education system and parents should inform the youngsters at an early age to be inclusive, empathic and welcoming towards marginalised people- not only refugees. We need to plant seeds in the hearts of the youth to really have a profound and sustainable change.

In this journey to educate the children and society, Adil says that the best resources are displaced people themselves. “Only when you have a dialogue with people concerned will you be able to develop an understanding and tolerance for one another.” He insists on not only speaking about them but to them. He also suggests not only asking about the difficulties of their story but exchanging ideas and talking about fond memories they hold on to as well. 

Adil left that night and drove back to Amsterdam to join his family for the last few days of Ramadan and to celebrate with them. His Instagram caption that day captures everything Adil revealed during the interview and the Q&A panel:

“We are living troubling times and only when we commit to do something about it collectively we have a chance for sustainable change. It is a long road but I see a hopeful one.”