Written by: Melanie Saumer | Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna, Austria
Based on the most recent statistics, more than a quarter of the Austrian population has migrant background and in fact, the country's population is growing solely because of migration. Moreover, in 2021 alone, 39,930 applications for asylum were made in Austria. Despite the large numbers of migrants living in the country, very little is known about the opportunities they have to engage with their new communities. Therefore, we, the researchers at the University of Vienna, have decided to explore the civic engagement opportunities of the young, newly arrived refugees living in Austria. In our case, we cooperate specifically with young refugees (age 18–29 years) who come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, as most migrants in Austria originate from these countries.
Our main goal is to identify citizenship opportunities and means to producing empowerment as seen from the youths' perspectives, while using the data collected within the project to produce new and better policy-making that is going to improve the civic engagement opportunities of young migrants both at local as well as national level.
So far, we have already conducted three workshops with our young citizen scientists with migrant background working towards innovations to improve their opportunities for the civic engagement in their new home. Moreover, we also organized a living lab, where the young citizen scientists had the opportunity to discuss their opinions, problems, and ideas for potential solutions with local politicians and other stakeholders with whom we plan to further cooperate on creating impact and reducing hurdles the young migrants are facing.
As we are still in the early stages of the project, the exact social innovation our cooperation with the young citizen scientists is going to bring is not clear yet. However, it is already apparent that our project is touching upon a very important issue and the co-creation process provides unique and otherwise unachievable insights into the lives of the young migrants in Austria.
And what have we learnt so far? Generally, it can be said that political participation of the young migrants is quite hard, while civic engagement is possible, albeit oftentimes problematic. The most common hurdles refugees in Austria need to overcome are language barriers, legal obstacles, lacking sense of belonging and navigating their way around the Austrian bureaucracy. Moreover, while there are numerous opportunities for migrants to engage with the society, many are not aware of them.
Our future efforts are therefore going to focus on meaningful policy-making that could reduce the aforementioned obstacles as well as on promotion of the available civic engagement opportunities in the migrant communities.