The end of summer saw a flurry of media activity around the European refugee crisis and the city of Malmö geared up for the arrival of refugees at the Central Station. By the start of October, the arrival point at Malmö Central was moved to the backside of the station, away from the main street – did this mean this emergency is over? Far from it and for both refugees and the city of Malmö, the hard work is only just beginning.
To support the City’s efforts the Student Union of Malmö högskola (MAH) held a meeting on the 10th of September where over 100 students and staff congregated to hear what they could do for the refugees in Malmö. This resulted in the formation of the volunteer group “Malmö University for Refugees” (MUFR) of which I am a part of. One of the first big activities the group participated inalongside of 4000 other Malmö residents was the “Refugees Welcome” rally on September 13th, to listen to Government and charities perspectives on the newly arriving refugees.
On October 12th, the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, told an 800 strong delegation of cross-party politicians and charities, that helping new arrivals to integrate into Swedish society was a key concern. “It is a huge task for the whole of Swedish society,” said Löfven.
Fortunately, the MUFR likes a challenge and the initiative, led by volunteer students and staff and supported strongly by the Student Union, has been gaining momentum each week with focus on various aspects of integration for refugees in Malmö.
Part of the MUFR initiative has been to investigate what is currently being done by other organisations in Malmö and ensuring that the most accurate and relevant information is passed on. Following this preliminary investigation, the groups has been identifying how students and staff can lend expertise through volunteering, either with existing initiatives within the community or creating something that is organic from within MAH that is either not currently offered in Malmö, or a volunteer service that they believe should be offered more widely.
With this in mind, MUFR has looked at the needs and categorised them into four main focus groups, being led by student volunteers from Malmö University. These focus groups are:
- Work with minors: This group will focus on activities, projects etc. that are related to helping refugee minors. If you are interested in being part of this work contact Marzia Mattes.
- Work with women: This group will focus on activities, projects and initiatives that will assist refugee women with the different challenges they may face in Sweden. If you are interested in being part of this group contact Sofia Kristoffersen.
- Language Cafe: This group will organise a weekly language cafe for refugees, where students can teach Swedish and/or English to refugees on a volunteer basis. The language cafe is currently looking for volunteers to sign up to help the refugees practice their Swedish (mostly basic conversations). Of course, it would also be advantageous to have some English speakers for refugees who want to practice their English plus anyone with Arabic, Persian, Kurdish or Pashto is a bonus! If you are interested in being part of this group contact Marisol Pérez.
- Rights and Frequently Asked Questions: This group will focus on arranging a “FAQ” document for refugees in which refugees can find information about their rights and possibilities in Sweden. This will be a document to look back to when questions arise, in order to ensure the right information is passed on. This work will require a lot of research and also cooperation with legal entities in Malmö/Sweden. If you are interested in being part of this group contact Paul Hattig.
Working in conjunction with these four main focus groups is an Information Technology (IT) group that is being supported by the multinational technological and consulting corporation IBM who is keen to see where they can support our needs in this area. In the spirit of this, IBM has invited us to participate in an Open Hack they are running in conjunction with students at Lund University on 4th-6th of December. “Hacking” in this instance is used in the sense of exploratory programming and an Open Hack or a “Hackathon” (a word that combines Hack and Marathon) takes place over many hours or days and is usually competitive. Open Hacks are used as a way to quickly develop innovative new technology or software by challenging the best, brightest and most creative people to be involved in the Open Hack – mainly IT developers, coders, software designers etc. This IBM Open Hack is a “Hack for Humanity” (focusing on Humanitarian issues) and IBM is hoping to use real life challenges from MUFR in this exercise. If you or anyone you know would like to join the Hack, just click here.
Initiatives like the ones above have given the MUFR a positive reputation that has been growing, enabling them to be involved in other community activities for refugees. This includes involvement in an initiative by local dentists to visit transit homes for refugee children to teach them about dental health and hygiene and distribute toothbrushes to all the children which has been an extremely successful endeavor. Whilst visiting these transit homes, we also take the opportunity to deliver any donated shoes, clothes or toys for the children staying there. For any information regarding this initiative or any others outside of the four focus groups, feel free to contact me personally.
Formal MUFR meetings take place every Thursday at the Student Union building and consist of not only MAH students and staff, but also include invited guests from various organisations such as IBM, Individuell Människohjälp and others who are keen to partner with MAH to ensure that our initiatives are valuable to the refugee community and truly meet their needs.
If you are interested in getting involved with MUFR within the scope of any of these focus groups or initiatives or would like to propose a new focus group, join the Malmö University for Refugees Facebook page, contact any relevant groups as outlined above and come along to any Thursday meeting held from 12:00 to 13:00 in the Student Union at MAH.
By Suzanne Snowden.
Picture 1&2: Malmö University for Refugees