Faces of Fraternity

Photo essay – Faces of Fraternity

Nynke Osinga, Laura Veringa

While reading the plea for solidarity of Frans Timmermans, current Vice-President of the European Commission and former Minister of Foreign Affair of the Netherlands, we felt highly inspired to visualize his call for ‘fraternity’ (Timmermans, Broederschap, 2015). The last few years our globe has been facing many international tensions. Environmental crises, economical uncertainties, ethnical conflicts, the uprising of extremist political parties who gain their power by creating fear, the global wealth gap, and so on. Next to these sensitive circumstances, Europe has been hit by the so called ‘refugee crisis’. A situation which has brought about numerous people raising their (unfortunately mostly negative) voices concerning the matter. It seems as if the negative sides and effects of an issue are generally the ones being the loudest. This has made us more and more aware of the topic and how meaningful it can be to raise positive voices. Especially when it comes to an ongoing event which concerns people’s lives and their futures. It made us conscious of the fact that we should not experience solidarity and connectedness as a threat, but as an opportunity. To feel the beauty and importance of making new connections. To create a feeling of fraternity in society. Because, when considering the refugees and their day-to-day struggles, what is stopping us to make a connection with them? Why are most of us still choosing the easy way by closing our eyes for their reality? What do/can/should we do about it?

The azc’s (asylum seekers centers) surrounding Groningen are inhabited by many people who crave to get out, explore, to meet people, to work, to help, and to learn. Unfortunately there are not enough local initiatives helping refugees in their integration in Groningen and creating activities for them. Hence, what are the opinions of Groningers concerning the refugees? Is their nature open and prepared to meet and teach refugees? Having these questions arising in our minds, we decided to ask people who work here in Groningen if they, hypothetically, would be willing to open their eyes and hearts for the refugees and let them experience working-life in Groningen.

For our research we questioned people at the moment of performing their occupations. We conversed with several people practicing different jobs in Groningen; someone working at a bicycle repair shop, a market stall, a small local bakery, a lady working in a pop-up store, a student, and a man working in traffic safety. We chose to question specific types of labours, as some workmanships are more open and accessible to refugees than others. Besides we took into consideration that within the jobs we would be questioning, the language barrier does not play a major role in the performance of the particular occupations.

When evaluating the responses of our small-scaled research regarding various people living and working in Groningen, we observed an overall refreshing openness towards the inclusion of the refugees in people’s daily affairs, regardless of their age, gender or workmanship/educational level. We noticed that there was a general readiness for helping, for people acknowledge and are aware that the refugees residing in the azc’s do not have much activities to keep them busy. Knowing this, touches upon the people’s empathy and makes some realize that for the refugees it is of great value to have some sort of activity which they can look forward to. Even though the newly learned knowledge might not be profitable for the refugees in the (near) future (wherever that might be), this is not considered to be a reason for not learning the refugees something new and entertaining.

On the contrary, we also heard voices that were not entirely prone towards the inclusion of the refugees into our society. It is remarkable to notice that those voices came from employees working at larger companies. Perhaps this was also the issue, people felt more like they were answering the question in their being of an employee, instead of an individual with its own personal voice and view of the world. Those representing larger companies fell into the line of reasoning which states that including a refugee in their working environment would not be possible for legal and other reasons. Even though when we explained to them that the question we posed was purely hypothetical, they responded with similar arguments and did not go beyond the covers of their company and its point of view. One large company chose to neglect in giving their opinion. The reason for this might be that the employee did not want to be associated with the company and its point of view.

In viewing these diverging voices, we are able to see how one relates to the integration of the refugees at a local platform. We are aware of fact that the research we have carried out is quite small and subjective, but nevertheless, consists out of meaningful insights into people’s hearts towards those who have the struggle of integrating into a challenging world.

The international relations we study is mostly referred to as relations between states, or relations between governments, or internationally oriented interest groups, and so on. In our small research, we chose to reconstruct the term ‘international relations’, and bring it back to its most basic and down to earth meaning. Relations among people. ‘International’ relations among people. The relation and the willingness towards an acquaintance with a person who comes from a different country, shaped with different norms and values, and coping with different challenges in daily life.