Armenians Hold Aurora Dialogues in Berlin
BERLIN — It was a refreshing change to see such an initiative in the German capital. As Aurora Humanitarian Initiative co-founder Ruben Vardanyan remarked, participants “were happy to see the representatives of a developing country thinking about universal humanitarian values and expressing concern about dangerous processes unfolding today around the world.” The developing country in question is the Republic of Armenia.
What most Germans know about Armenians has to do with the 1915 Genocide and the ongoing campaign to have Turkey recognize it. But this time, the focus was not Armenia or the past; it was a current and pressing issue facing the entire world: the challenges of global migration and how to meet them.
The Aurora Dialogues, which took place December 4-5 in Berlin, were titled, “Millions on the Move: Need for Development and Integration.” Experts and humanitarian aid organizations shared their experiences and knowledge about global migration with representatives from the political world, business community and civil society. The aim was to develop ideas on how Germany and the European Union might find solutions to deal with the migration and refugee crises.
The choice of Berlin as a venue for this meeting, organized by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative together with the Global Perspectives Initiative and Robert Bosch Stiftung, with the help of Stiftung Mercator, was not by chance. Considering that Germany has welcomed the lion’s share of refugees over the past several years — one million came in 2015 — and that Europe is the main destination sought by the current generation of refugees, Berlin was the right place.
Staggering Statistics, Lamentable Misconceptions
The sheer dimensions of the problem are mind-boggling. As the conference documented, there are an estimated 65 million people who have left their homes and 700 million worldwide who would do so if they could. In addition, there are groups of people who do not even appear in such statistics, including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who have been uprooted from their homes by war or other disasters but are still in their native lands. Then there are about 200 million people who could be displaced by the effects of climate change by 2050.
Before addressing the needs of these desperate populations, one needs to have a clear picture of the phenomenon. “To talk about migration often means to talk about misconceptions,”said Norbert Lammert, former president of the German Bundestag, in his speech. That misconceptions prevail in the public perception of migration is demonstrated by the results of the Aurora Humanitarian Index 2017, a survey of attitudes and trends related to humanitarian matters. The results of the survey, which was conducted worldwide with 6,500 participants from 12 countries, indicated that most people think their own countries have done more for refugees than they actually have. In addition, persons surveyed displayed widespread skepticism regarding the ability of individuals or collective agencies to make a significant difference. Only nine percent of those asked said they thought that their actions could make a difference when it comes to finding a solution to the global refugee crisis. More optimism was displayed by those belonging to the younger generation, particularly regarding the contribution migrants can make to society.
The existence of such misconceptions means that a new approach must be adopted to present a realistic and balanced view of migration, flight, integration and religion. As Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland said, “Stories are important, but unfortunately we hear too little about the people involved. What actually happens to the people whilst on the move as refugees, is important.”
In her view, the media often portray a one-sided, negative image. “Such distortions, often politically shaped, had an impact on the success of integration, the participants concluded. “We must succeed in bridging the gap between perceived emotions and actual facts,”said Rita Süssmuth, former president of the German Bundestag.
Challenges for Europe
For Dr. Ingrid Hamm, founder of the Global Perspectives Initiative, those addressing the problem “have to begin thinking in much more global terms. When it comes to topics of migration and reasons for flight, there remains a huge lack of information, as well as an increasing need for a stronger dialogue between Africa and Europe.” The conference participants agreed that Europe should define a collective approach, and this involves drafting clear immigration legislation as well. Süssmuth noted that better regulation of migration is the key to fighting xenophobia. She noted the fact that Germany currently “lacks a formal immigration law”which would be needed, to “increase clarity, ensuring an easier, more coordinated process.”
One problem discussed was the lamentable lack of cooperation and coordination on a European level in addressing the refugee crisis. But not only: participants criticized the attitude of several European states that are engaged in denial — not willing to accept reality. Lammert rejected the notion that there is a problem of “absorption capacity,”as some suggest. What is lacking, he said, is a shared responsibility and commitment to solve the problem. “If there is one country in which there is broad awareness that migration cannot be hindered by walls, then it is Germany. Migration is not a sudden state of emergency but, with respect to historical context, a normal aspect of our history — presenting both problems and opportunities,”said Lammert. In fact, a significant proportion of older Germans remember the post-war refugee crisis and were among those fleeing to the West.
If governments are called upon to face the challenges presented, there is a meaningful role to be played as well by private initiatives. The conference discussed how the private sector could promote and accelerate growth, while public initiatives could better conduct projects on a larger scale. Anja Langenbucher, director of the European office at the Gates Foundation, underlined the importance of private initiatives in the development sector: “Private initiatives act as catalysts. At the same time we decrease risks for investors and have clear, quantitative goals. This is an advantage in contrast to public investments.” John Prendergast, US human rights activist, pointed to the need for monitoring flows of public funds, saying, “Public funds are not tracked strictly enough on the way to the recipient countries. Many public investments are affected by money laundering or get lost along their way.”
The Armenian Role
Embodying the spirit of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the Aurora Dialogues offer a platform to experts and dedicated personalities who are engaged in seeking solutions to the global challenges of our time. Now in its third year, the Dialogues provide the stage for an intellectual and interdisciplinary exchange, based on the notion that we should learn from the past in order to make the right choices in the present, to pave the way for a better future together.
Ruben Vardanyan put it this way, “They (the participants) saw our willingness to share our experience and use it for changing the world around us. I think that we were able to look to the future without forgetting our past.” And if in the past Armenians have experienced the horrors of expulsion, war and genocide, they have also recently had the experience of welcoming refugees into their country.
“Holding the Aurora Dialogues in Berlin,” Vardanyan said, “we wanted to show the world what we are doing. We also wished to inform people that Armenia has made a significant contribution in welcoming refugees, as very few people know that Armenia has already accepted about 20,000 refugees from Syria.”
Aurora Humanitarian Initiative
Founded on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative seeks to empower modern-day saviors to offer life and hope to those in urgent need of basic humanitarian aid and thus continue the cycle of giving internationally. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is Gratitude in Action. It is an eight-year commitment (2015 to 2023, in remembrance of the eight years of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1923) to support people and promote projects that tackle the needs of the most helpless and destitute, and do so at great risk. This is achieved through the Initiative’s various programs: The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the Aurora Dialogues, the Aurora Humanitarian Index, the Gratitude Projects and the 100 LIVES Initiative. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is the vision of philanthropists Vartan Gregorian, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan who have, already in the second year, been joined by several dozen new donors and partners. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is represented by three organizations — Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Foundation, Inc. (New York, US), the 100 Lives Foundation (Geneva, Switzerland) and the IDeA Foundation (Yerevan, Armenia).
Further information is available at www.auroraprize.com
By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
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