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“It all started when Pietro Pinto, coordinator of the SnapShots project, contacted us. He wanted to know if we would be interested in joining this trip, and to us it immediately seemed like a great opportunity to create a European network that would put local authorities and civil society organizations at the same table for joint work. And so we joined”.

So says Christopher Andersson, policy officer of The National Forum for Voluntary Organizations, an umbrella organization for civil society organizations working on social issues in Sweden. The Forum’s goal is to strengthen civil society organizations in Sweden through opinion formation, capacity building and tools to facilitate their mission and work. The Forum aims to improve opportunities for civil society to participate in the implementation of social policies in Sweden, to raise public awareness and to modernize both financial support and laws affecting civil society organizations, encouraging young people to play their part in society, with the organization Volontärbyrån”.

Established in 1993, the Forum has a presence throughout Sweden and provides a platform for civil society organizations to meet, network and produce proposals for policy.

To name just a few of the Forum’s members, think of the Swedish Victim Support Association, the Salvation Army, the Swedish Red Cross, Save The Children Sweden, the Swedish respect organization IOGT-NTO, the YWCA-YMCA National Council of Sweden, Lions Clubs International, Sensus Study Association and many others.

“For us, the project was in line with our goal of strengthening the right to asylum, in Sweden and in Europe. Many of the organizations that are part of the Forum do important work in the area of migrant reception and integration, and we hoped to contribute their perspectives to the European project,” Christopher says. “We were looking forward to new insights into the realities of border cities and islands, offering our input, but at the same time growing as an organization through learning about migration experiences in Europe and the implications they have on different cities, regions and countries.”

Now that the project, after a great deal of work, is coming to an end, it is time to take stock and strengthen the results obtained in these years. “The networking between civil society realities and local authorities in Europe has been very interesting. Through the project we learned how we can work together for the integration and reception of migrants. The Border Town and Island Network is a very important example of how transnational cooperation can promote work through the sharing of best practices and methods,” says Christopher. “It was also very interesting to host a study trip to Östersund and show participants from all over Europe how a small municipality in Östersund and local social realities have found new ways of flexible cooperation in working with housing and work for newly arrived unaccompanied minors.

Regarding the pillars of this project – solidarity, memory, networking between territories in Europe – how could we describe Sweden?

“A lot has happened in our country since 2015,” says Andersson. “At that time there were a lot of migrants who arrived, and currently there are discussions going on in the parliamentary committee for migration policy, which will take a position on the formulation of the future Swedish migration policy. The committee has submitted its suggestions and several Forum members express deep concern about the development that government guidelines are taking. The debate in the committee was a far cry from the proposals made by several Forum members, which attempted to keep alive Sweden’s deep roots in both respecting human rights and working to support refugees and their integration. Among the proposals put forward are temporary residence permits, making it more difficult to reunite families and increasing the income and Swedish language requirements for obtaining residency. In an article published in the newspaper Aftonbladet, representatives from the Swedish Red Cross, the Church of Sweden and Save the Children Sweden wrote that many of the proposals would make it more difficult for Sweden to live up to its asylum requirements. The idea of a volume target that uses refugee quotas to regulate the number of asylum claims in Sweden means that some of the world’s most vulnerable people are denied the protection they should be entitled to. At the same time, however, despite these political problems, we see every day the tireless work of organizations and volunteers doing amazing work: one example is the Forum’s Operation Volontärbyrån, which helps organizations recruit volunteers, which showed that 18% of volunteer applications were in the ‘Integration and Refugees’ category. This means that there is still a strong consciousness in Swedish civil society on the issue.”

Has the work done over the years with SnapShots impacted the context in a positive way?

“I think so, as for example the events organized on the occasion of October 3, 2019 were a great success. The screening of the documentary that won the Lampedusa festival, it triggered a political debate on migration with many political parties intervening and networking activities, we were able to bring together over a hundred citizens, politicians and civil society organization to discuss the issue. We think this was a key success of the project. The ability to take such a holistic approach to migration and thus make it relevant to different target groups,” says Christopher, “if I have to think of a limitation, surely the pandemic greatly influenced the way we met and interacted with the different partners involved in the project. The digital activities were well planned and executed, but obviously there was a lack of personal contact, a face-to-face meeting. Much of the networking and learning is done through interviews and discussions in more informal settings, but not seeing each other in person was a limitation for everyone, but it didn’t stop us from doing great work on our territory and networking in Europe.”

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