Nowadays, newspapers and media stress the theme of immigration and its related crisis in Europe. There is a deep fear of what, who is different from us, and this is reflected in the European political situation. It is not the purpose of this brief blog to analyse the issue of immigration, nevertheless the aim is to look at it from the restorative lens. Indeed, restorative justice is a paradigm which can be applied to situations other than crime since its main purpose is the restoration among the parties involved. Therefore, restoring trust and human empathy might be the driven force to create an inclusive society based on the respect for the Other, whatever the latter is.
Restorative Justice & Strengthening Relationships
In my recent experience as an RJ4All intern and a young person, I have learned that where applied, restorative practices can lead to positive outcomes that can strengthen the relationship among individuals, since categorizations can be subsided by the knowledge of the person itself. Hence, labels as “criminal”, “ ex-offender” or “refugee”, which are constructs of a prior assumption, can be nullified.
In order to outline whether restorative justice can fight xenophobia relating to refugees, Mannozzi's definition of restorative justice is helpful. The Italian researcher describes the restorative process using five core words that are closely related to the offender. The first is attentive and active listening, which allows the parties to accept the other side. Then through empathy, the person is evaluated in its entirety and not according solely to the unlawful action. The third concept is the recognition of the other, after which the offender is not perceived as an enemy, but rather as a person. Subsequently, trust allows offenders to internalise moral values that they had lost leading to integration. Finally, reintegrative shaming can allow offenders to understand the consequences of their actions, without being stigmatised after release.
Active listening can allow the individual to talk about his/her trauma and the challenges he/she is facing. Moreover, empathy and recognition of the Other can lead to the awareness that the refugee is a person in need, whose dignity has to be respected and protected from any abuse. Finally, the feeling of trust can facilitate his /her integration into society, without being perceived as dangerous and job-thieves.
Some facts and figures
The actual arise of episodes of xenophobia and racism has its roots in the fear of the unknown, on which specific political parties built their campaigns; thus helping the conviction that people who are escaping from wars or who just want to have a better life are dangerous. Moreover, media complicate the situation by overstating the idea of an invasion of refugees in Europe. However, this is not always true, as various data show.
Firstly, the issue of migration has a political side. For instance, Hungarian Orban, the Italian Minister of Defence, Salvini, and other right wings coalitions or populists, criticize immigration on various grants such as the protection of European values, the protection of national security, the protection of the economy and demography. But is there a real threat?
In Italy between 2017 and 2018, the rate of immigrants arriving by sea has decreased by the 80%. There is a grave misunderstanding of the perception of immigration. As outlined in the Guardian, in 2015 1.3 millions of asylum seekers came to Europe while in 2018 there have been 42000 undocumented migrants. In addition, media have played their role. Indeed, they do not properly use the terms immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers as international law would require; thus, being confusing. Moreover, often crime news has opted for specific descriptions of refugees which increase attitudes of non-integration and scepticism towards them.
Living in a society, people need to have contacts with the other members in order to create strong relationships. In the middle of the twentieth century, the psychologist Gordon Allport theorized the importance of contact between people. Thus, when the two categories of “Us” and “Others” have direct contact, it is possible to nullify hostilities due to the emergence of shared values and characteristics. This is exactly what restorative justice attempts to achieve.
Examples of restorative justice approaches with refugees
Firstly, I would like to start by underlining the importance of integration. Indeed one of the main restorative principle, reintegration of both ex-offenders and people who are excluded from the society is relevant to create a better society based on inclusion and social cohesion. The latter “does not advocate homogeneity of culture, but a pluralist society where members from different cultures foster a bond with the help of continuous social interaction”. Various international instruments have outlined the importance of creating a safe environment for refugees where they can express their own traditions and deal with the trauma of being displaced. Among them, it is worth mentioning the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
Recently, Restorative approaches have been implemented in order to achieve local integration and the latter “has emerged to take prominence in finding durable solutions across the globe where such problems persist”.
Rundell, Sheety and Negrea have analysed how restorative processes enhance collaboration, empowerment and dignity of refugees, taking as an example an experience in a refugee camp in Europe as well.  Their main assumption is the fact that restorative processes can diminish refugees’ trauma by helping them to feel confident and be heard by people around, after which they can take positive changes within the whole community. This aim is achieved by restorative circles, during which specific restorative questions are addressed and people work together without relationships of subordination.
Furthermore, Albania as been the host country for the Conference on “Expanding the restorative imagination: Restorative justice between realities and visions in Europe and beyond”. During the two conference days in June, various themes related to restorative justice have been discussed. Among the them, restorative justice has been described as a social movement able to address migration-related challenges and their repercussions, such as populism.
To conclude, the discourse on restorative justice and migration-related issues is at the beginning and further researches and implementations have to be undertaken. Nevertheless, the current political and cultural situation requires alternative answers; thus, restorative justice might be an attempt to unify people where material and psychological walls have been raised.
Giorgia Varvello is an RJ4All intern. She is a Human Rights Law undergraduate and is based in Italy.
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