Establishing the Profession of Intercultural Worker in the Czech Republic
Between 1 December 2012 and 30 November 2014, the non-governmental organisation InBáze, o.s., which has long focused on the integration of migrants in the Prague area, is implementing an international project entitled Formování profese „sociokulturní mediátor“ – inspirace portugalským modelem (Establishing the Profession of Sociocultural Mediator Based on the Portuguese Model; project registration number cz.1.04/5.1.01/77.00416). The project is being implemented in partnership with the High Commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue, ACIDI, I.P. in Portugal, and is funded from the Human Resources and Employment Operational Programme of the European Social Fund.
The idea for this project originated from the need, expressed jointly by NGOs dealing with the integration of migrants in the Czech Republic, the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, to create a common standard for different NGOs employing migrants as interpreters, assistants and mediators, as well as to professionalise services aimed at overcoming language and sociocultural barriers between migrants and public institutions, reducing the dependence of ignorant migrants on unprofessional middlemen, and supporting peaceful co-existence in a culturally diverse society. At the same time, the project seeks to establish such services as part of the Czech system of professions and, not least, to support migrants as active players in the Czech Republic’s integration policy.
The project draws on InBáze’s experience with coordinating a team of professionals who, since 2011, have worked with the Prague offices of the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior. They are migrants who offer interpreting services, help to fill in forms and provide basic counselling related to the residence of foreigners in the country. These services are provided in 7 languages. The team members come from Mongolia, Syria, Vietnam, Belarus, Russia, France, the Czech Republic, and Palestine. Following the Portuguese model, we originally called the profession „sociocultural mediator“, but we have changed the name to „intercultural worker“. The main reason is that the competencies related to the profession we are seeking to establish are different from those of a mediator as defined by the Mediation Act (Act No. 202/2012 Coll.). The key objectives and activities within the project are based on the practical needs of (not only) our organisation.
The main output of the project includes the following:
In order to analyse best practices for involving migrants as helping professionals – intercultural workers – we created a thematic network with 19 members which met four times a year over a period of two years and discussed the skills, activities and work opportunities for intercultural workers, as well as practical experience and needs of organisations in the Czech Republic. The members of the thematic network were: the project’s foreign partner – the High Commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue from Portugal; the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic; the Department of Social Services of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic; the Directorate of the Foreign and Border Police of the Czech Republic; the Department for Foreign Nationals Integration Support Centres of the Refugee Facilities Administration of the Ministry of the Interior; the Regional Foreign Nationals Integration Support Centre for South Moravia, based in Brno; the International Organisation for Migration; the Mediators’ Association of the Czech Republic; the Hradec Králové Regional Catholic Charity (Diecézní katolická charita Hradec Králové); Caritas Czech Republic (Charita Česká republika); InBáze, o.s.; Integration Centre Prague (Integrační centrum Praha, o.p.s.); the Hanoi Club (Klub Hanoi); MOST PRO, o.p.s.; META – the Association for Opportunities for Young Migrants (META – Společnost pro příležitosti mladých migrantů); the Organization for Aid to Refugees (Organizace pro pomoc uprchlíkům); the Counselling Centre for Integration (Poradna pro integraci); the Association for Integration and Migration (Sdružení pro integraci a migraci); the Association of Citizens Assisting Migrants (Sdružení občanů zabývajících se emigranty).
We have cooperated with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior to create the profession of intercultural worker as a clearly defined profession established within the system. Before the project finishes, we aim to make the profession of intercultural worker part of the National System of Qualifications and the National System of Occupations. This means we need to clearly define the skills and activities linked with the profession. Once the profession is part of the system, it will be possible to obtain a professional certificate by passing a qualifying examination. As a long-term goal, beyond the scope of the project, we seek to make the profession part of the Social Services Act, which is now undergoing major review.
We have sought inspiration abroad; thus, we have learnt about the theoretical concepts and practical application of intercultural mediation, as well as the diverse practices and priorities of integration policies focused on employing migrants as helping professionals in France, Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland, Austria and Germany. A summary of our foreign inspiration will be part of a publication we are currently preparing. On the theoretical and methodological level, we have been greatly influenced by the work of Carlos Giménez Romero, the pioneer of intercultural mediation in Europe, who visited us in Prague in May 2014. He held a lecture for experts in the field and a seminar for local authorities. Through several visits abroad we have got acquainted with the work of sociocultural mediators in Portugal, intercultural mediators in Vienna, Austria, and BürgerLotsen (“civil pilots”) in Berlin, Germany. In May 2013 we organised an International Intercultural Mediation Conference with the following foreign speakers: Rosario Farmhouse, High Commissioner of ACIDI, I.P, Portugal; Margalit Cohen-Emerique, psychologist and researcher on intercultural mediation and social work with migrants, France; Clara Yuste, university professor and researcher on gender and interculturality, Spain; Shams Asadi, representing the Vienna City Hall (Austria).
In all of the countries we have analysed the priorities of integration policy, especially on the local level, include continuous support and professionalization of services such as interpreting, assistance in dealing with public authorities and other public institutions, and negotiation and prevention of conflicts in communities and neighbourhoods. Such services are primarily provided by migrants or people who have the experience of migration and know several languages and cultures. Most often the profession is called “intercultural mediator” or “community interpreter”. An essential fact we have learnt is that the services of these professionals are mostly paid for by municipalities, i.e. local authorities. Continuous education on different levels – from short courses to university programmes – is considered a priority. As the profession becomes established, professional associations are often founded.
The key objective of the project in the field of education has been to prepare a course for intercultural workers and obtain accreditation for this course. This has been done in cooperation with CARITAS, College of Social Work in Olomouc, which has long experience with education in the field of social work. We are currently organising a pilot course entitled “Qualification Course for Social Workers Focused on Assistance and Counselling to Migrants” (Kvalifikační kurz pro pracovníky v sociálních službách se zaměřením na asistenci a poradenství migrantům). The duration of the course is 250 hours, out of which 40 hours are dedicated to practical training. There are 6 language modules: Russian, English, Chinese, Mongolian, Arabic and Vietnamese. The course is attended by 29 migrant students from China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Sudan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Mexico, Algeria, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Chechnya, Romania and Moldova. The final examination will take place in October.
The output of the project will also include glossaries for intercultural work, published in Russian, English, Chinese, Mongolian, Arabic, Vietnamese and Spanish, and a publication entitled Formování profese interkulturní pracovník(ce). Zahraniční zkušenosti, praxe a vzdělávání v ČR. (Establishing the Profession of Intercultural Worker. Experience from Abroad, Practice and Education in the Czech Republic).
For more information see the project website: www.interkulturniprace.cz.