The migration of third-country nationals to the EU is not a new phenomenon; we have been facing it for many years. The Union promotes a standard basic principle of immigration integration policy in the Member States and provides a framework for cooperation in the preparation of national integration policies. Slovenia has adopted a Decree on the Integration of Foreigners, which sets out the methods and conditions for the integration of immigrants into social life. One way involves participation in a Slovenian language course and getting knowledge of Slovenian history, culture and constitutional order. Knowing the language and culture of the host country is the first step towards realising the desire for a better life. The Ministry of the Interior and the European Fund for the Integration of third-country nationals finance the implementation of this programme.
Velenje AEC has been carrying out activities in the field of integration, literacy of foreigners and raising awareness of the importance of integration for many years. We provide training for staff who cross paths with foreigners in their work, organise events on the issue of increased immigration and, in collaboration with the local community, seek solutions. We strive for professional and educated staff, as we believe that quality knowledge transfer is one of the essential advantages we have. We have a wide range of experts trained to carry out the Initial Integration of Immigrants and Personal Education Plan programmes to better integrate immigrants into education, training, and society. They participated in a workshop Useful Slovenian language for Albanian speakers, and we also have an expert commission for the basic level Slovenian language exam.
We have been carrying out the Initial Integration of Immigrants programme for ten years, and more than 600 participants participated in the programme. We include interpreters in groups where the participants are exclusively Albanian speakers. We carried out general non-formal adult education programmes for foreigners and people who cross paths with them at work. In recent years, all the activities we have carried out are based on successful collaboration with associations and the local community during the process of including the foreigners and raising awareness of integration as a two-way process.
In this project, I participated in the course Slovenian language for Albanian speakers. I taught Albanian women who do not yet speak Slovenian well. In the beginning, I taught them the alphabet, numbers, dates, and everyday words. I have found that learning is challenging for them. They relaxed during class, so it was also easier for me because I knew what they needed. I hope I was able to help them, and I believe that they will be able to apply the knowledge they have gained from me in their daily lives in the future.
How to eliminate prejudices against immigrants?
As part of the Centre for Intercultural Dialog Velenje, we organised a roundtable entitled Eliminating Prejudices: How to Establish Contact with Immigrants? (in Slovenian). The purpose of the roundtable was to raise the awareness of the wider local community about the importance of immigrant integration as a two-way process that requires the efforts of both parties to coexist and reduce intolerance among individuals. We talked to the guests of the roundtable about the issue of immigration, the problems or challenges immigrants face when entering a new country, and each guest shared their experience. At the end of the official part, the audience could ask questions and a productive debate developed.
The Centre for Intercultural Dialog Velenje was of great help to me, mainly because I come from abroad and have never had contact with the Slovenian language. I was taught the basics of the Slovenian language in a fun and straightforward way, to the point where I could communicate in everyday life. Socialising with other people became more accessible because of this project, as I also met new people here. We even had a trip where we learned about the history of Velenje. The teachers were always friendly and willing to help.
So how can we eliminate prejudice? Everyone must overcome them within themselves, say the immigrants, who often have biases about being overlooked just because they do not know the language or are from another country. The locals must also face their prejudice, as they often feel that the immigrants are taking something from them. However, being different can only enrich us. More than 550 participants from various countries, mainly the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina), took part in the activities. Quite a few were also from Albania or Kosovo and Brazil, Chile, Russia, Ukraine and Tunisia.
When I first came to my teacher Barbara at the workshop First Steps in Slovenian language, I was pleased with her teaching method, as she managed to keep my attention and interest in the Slovenian language. I attended the workshops regularly, and in one year, I learned a lot, met new people and Slovenian culture. We went to Velenje Castle together and had a lovely time. Now I feel better because I understand a lot and can speak Slovenian.
The participants most regularly attended workshops intended for learning the Slovenian language and were also actively present in other less formal activities. Many people participated in the Recipe Exchange workshop, where everyone could present themselves with their country’s food and in this way also present their culture. In doing so, they affirmed the saying that food unites people. With various workshops and events, we wanted to create a positive atmosphere where everyone is welcome. Multiculturalism enriches us, so the workshops were intended for everyone, both immigrants and the local population.
Tadej Oprčkal (firstname.lastname@example.org), Velenje AEC