How to resolve the fear of the unkown?

Especially when talking to the older people in my circle of friends I quite often realised a huge fear or distrust of the unkown foreign when it comes to the so-called refugee debate. Even though these people are normally very reflected, very human behaving people, who care for eachother, who agree that every human being has the same right to live. How can one explain this contradiction? Theoretical constructs vs. practical experiences might play a huge role.

In those talks I found out that it is a lot about missing experiences, missing examples. How to feel empathy? Already being told some concrete stories seemed to help a lot. If one has for example never travelled far, not experienced a lot of different cultures, he or she might be missing positive experiences in terms of personal contact, respectively any experiences at all. How can those experiences be created? How can they happen without being forced?

While travelling we often tend to be more open or we rather take the time to get to know strangers than in our everyday lifes? What is it, that creates that different atmosphere? Can we trigger it at home as well?

Does it need a connector to bring locals and migrants together? Another person? How can we create encounters which are based on sympathy and mutual exchange?

Questions for all indeed!

Hi @Luisa, nice to meet you and welcome on board of Edgeryders. I’m Noemi, and like you I was disappointed at the lack of empathy people around manifest when it comes to displaced populations.

End of February in Brussels many of us edgeryders had a community event to look at what is out there and how people like us can be part of a constructive mobilization. We had a powerful case study from Armenia where @Iriedawta shared mind bogging numbers and wasteful efforts in her country to deal with this, but we also met people like the group at Dine With Us in Brussels who are one step ahead of the game. That, for me, is an illustrative answer to your question “can we trigger it at home?”

For me, the test is winning arguments with family and close friends whose opinions are a little far off from mine. What is your practical experience?

Hey Noemi,

A huge thank you for your fast respond and an even bigger sorry for not having written back any earlier!  It was just recently that I noticed that you and so many other people had commented on this. My bad and it will not happen again. Sorry! I had a look at Dine With Us and liked it a lot. Thank you for the link! It is a bit similar to Welcome Dinner in Berlin where I have already signed up couple of weeks ago but am still waiting for a match. There are a lot more locals interested or at least signing up for it at the moment than newcomers – maybe due to the flyer-bans in Berlin’s refugee camps?  If I get a match I will tell you about the experience.

About your practical experience I have pretty much experienced the same thing so far. For me as well, it has been mostly about winning arguments with people I am closed to. It often works by sharing good stories I have experienced.

No worries about late response, glad to see you back.

@Luisa, just a quick thought: maybe Welcome Dinner is more popular with locals than newcomers because of the way the team is configured - mostly locals I’m guessing? If “newcomers” (generic term because newcomers might have been around for some time now!) were actually part of the design and the project team they’d have new insights into how more diverse communities can be engaged. This is exactly what we’re looking at with OpenCare - novel ways of improving promising projects out there, even if these new ways are just insights or if it means borrowing ideas from different projects faring better already.

What other term to use?

@Noemi yes, I think you are right! It would make total sense. We had a guest from HiMate last week at university. I think they build up their platform being such a diverse group from the beginning on. It is a free voucher platform for refugees, similar to Groupon. Maybe interesting for you? Nadia was at the meeting as well. About the indeed generic term “newcomers”, do you have any suggestion what else to use?

Well targeted, this HiMate initiative

I appreciate its message to companies, makes it clear and quite convincing.

Actually “newcomers” is the most generic, broad enough and also non-offensive term we came up with for this OpenCare challenge. It turns out that most of us have fit that category at some time in our lives. I only wanted to point out that projects looking at integration of sorts might need to acknowledge that those who are perceived as newcomers can already have strong cultural claims to a space because they are already shaping it e.g. working migrants, or foreign students settling to a space.

And so even this generous term falls short. Will keep thinking about this.

Thank you for explaining!

Yes, I think that is why we started using the term “newcomers” in our group as well when we first heard about it and you are absolutely right, that some of those “newcomers” are already having strong cultural claims to a space. It was during the interviews we did when we first came along this paradox. I will put up another post on our complete research development and include this observation there as well. Thank you for your help!

“How can they happen without being forced?”

This, for me, is a really difficult design challenge.

Years ago, I was living in Milan. I got frustrated because, though people from every corner of the world lived in the city side by side with me, almost all of my friends were white Italians like myself. WTF?

With a small group of global friends, we responded by throwing a party. The idea was:

  • dance to world music, not just Euro Techno or Detroit House or whatever was in vogue in 2011;
  • stress the "everyone welcome" theme
  • the core group of non-italians, globalised Italians and second-generation Italians would advertise their presence. This was to let people know that (1) no matter where they came from, they would not be the only foreign-looking people in the room, and (2) no, this was not a party of the Eritrean community, or the Peruvian community; it was a party of the Milanese community, just some Milanese happened to be of Eritrean or Peruvian background. 

I mentioned it in my blog:

And so, with a small group of Milanese from all over the world we decided to organize a party to celebrate the diversity of our country and our city. We called it Vuka, which means “Arise!” or “Awaken!” in the Zulu language; and we are going to throw it tomorrow, Tuesday March 22nd at 10 p.m. sharp, at Casa del Pane di Corso di Porta Venezia 63 (map). We designed it as a club night for dancing to the sound of the most cutting-edge clubs of Lagos, Karachi and Barletta [a small town in the south of Italy]; and where the Milanese of any origin are welcome and respected. Join Medhin (Milano–Asmara), Nadia (Stockholm), Dan (Johannesburg), Davide (Verona-Sydney-Osaka) and myself to dance away to the world’s beat in a space where everyone’s welcome, and our many differences of living out Milano power up the party.

It worked pretty well! But then, we left the country and could not continue with the experience  :-)

I wish i could have come to that party! It’s sounds like so much fun

We can make one!

It was great fun. But, hey – we know so many global people now! We can just make more parties like it. In fact, I have half a mind to throwing one in our place this summer… I am sure you can find a DJ in Calais, @Alex_Levene .

I also still like the title: Vuka! (apparently it means “arise” in Zulu – or so our South African friend Dan maintained). It’s a cool word.

It gets even worse when I talk to my friends who migrated from Poland and who, living surrounded by people from Arabic countries, India, Pakistan, radicalise even more. One of my friends, after 3 years of living and working in the UK, says that indeed, these people are sometimes good, but the best thing for all of us is to stay away from each other and keep our pure cultures and races. And that it worries him blond girls decide to sleep with black guys. I know I come from an extreme country, where 96% of the people are Poles, and we’re all white and catholic - and now imagine even with this huge wave of migration, only some of these people will bring back some good stories of the others. It really makes me wonder that if the stories do not help, if own experiences do not help (wait, I even have a friend living in Brussels who didn’t join us on the LOTE evening because it was in Molleenbeck), then how do we make people trust each other and grow a positive, open, supportive, inclusive society?

It is also a challenge to create this environment for meetings that would not feel like encountering something exotic and different due to some voyerist instincts - I used to work in italy for an NGO and we organised human libraries there, but even though it is some sort of step for people to have a chat with migrants from Ghana and Bangladesh, to meet transvestites and gay community members, it felt a little bit like a show. These people run into each other on the streets, you see them every day - why so many of us decide not to interact, discover and understand them? It’s a puzzle.


Well, your friend certainly got me wrongfooted. He thinks we should all keep separate to keep cultures pure, yet there he is, a catholic Slav in an Anglo-Celtic protestant country. He does not like the idea of blonde girls sleeping with black guys, but I am sure he, like most men of any shade, enjoys the sight of a pretty black woman. Very hard to argue on these basis.

We can only hope that the people bringing back the good stories will be more credible and cooler than those bringing back the bad ones. This way, we can win over more of the new generation – aim at cultural hegemony, in other words.

People who believe in cultural purityafter the age of 18? I am afraid they are a lost cause. I do not recommend investing time in trying to change their mind. That’s their loss: they are going to miss the music and the food and the laughter and the glorious diversity in Vuka!

On proving your close ones wrong

@Natalia_Skoczylas your story reminded me of something and now I’m wondering.

I decided not to break a friendship when I saw a (rather distant) friend of mine was a supporter of a right wing extremist social group on facebook. I guess, like Alberto explains above, I was giving up on any possibility to change their mind. The fact of the matter is, and I’ve tested it before, that you can’t beat emotional arguments with rationality. Honestly, that feels like a dead end.

But maybe one still needs to at least make a case before deciding to tolerate attitudes around you that go deeply against your owns. Mea culpa.

I am not convinced about this particular choice I have made - in fact, I am mostly deeply irritated during these debates.But it helps me escape the bubble I live in, inhabited by people that agree with each other. Though, I am still pretty far from understanding why they think what they think.

wow that’s a tough one

Really hard one: We have a flag over our head, marking our belonging to a certain group of people with common “values”, the first one being same nation based on tradition/culture, language and everything else (while in fact the flag only marks the territory owned by a certain power structure). Then the bigger group of religion and even bigger group of race. We have been conditioned to think in certain patterns (mostly as means of control and achieving power by few) and great majority of people don’t have time/will to question all those things. Not even counting that, just take into consideration collective history, how many bad past experiences have their been? We Europeans have destroyed and dominated every other culture we encountered in our “benign attempts to civilise them”(if we had means to do so). All those things are big obstacles, it will take a loooooong time i believe before we undo several thousands of years working against us.

The only way to truly build bridges between communities is to  have them work together, eat together, talk and exchange knowledge about each other. (even then you might get an incredible reaction like “hey Mohamed is such a nice guy…FOR a Morrocan”, so one stops regarding him as a foreigner but  he stays an exception, he is UNLIKE those others :).

All those divisions are totally unnatural if you ask me, in fact it is beneficial for human species to mix as much as possible, greater mixture of genes leads naturally to better results and greater mixture of cultures/difference of experiences is of immense value.

I dont really have a flag above my head, i am a human and i believe all humans have equal value but it took me years to realize that and bear in mind i question everything, even my own actions, thoughts, feelings. So maybe travelling inwards might solve issues as well? Asking important questions to ourselves or others like: Why do i keep distance from this person? What is the origin of my fear, mistrust, why am i judgemental? Again, how does one accept the idea that he/she is wrong in some fundamental ways? Ego is an obstacle :).


Hey everyone! Thank you so much for commenting and taking part in this conversation. I just recently noticed how many people replied. A huge sorry for not having written back any earlier! Alberto, I like the story of your party very much. Even though this was the question I started with, at the moment I or better we, because we started working as a group, are more focused on the relation between the use of public space, food culture and the feeling of home when it comes to people on the move. I will open another post for those interested. So sorry again and it will not happen again!