Crisis Management through Networking
Migration is an intensive and multi-layered process, accompanied by many decisions, new experiences, but also doubts and fears. There is a lot to manage: Starting with the consideration to settle in a place (permanently or temporarily), the final decision about destination and migration type, the preparation, the travel route, and finally settling in the new home. That requires a lot of strength and leads to one thing that is often underestimated: After entering the destination country, this burden does not stop abruptly. If the arrival in the new country is still exciting at first and the differences between the country of arrival and the home country tend to be positive, at some point the euphoria of the “honeymoon phase” subsides and makes room for the next phase of arrival: the negotiation phase.
The critical adjustment phase typically manifests itself during the settling into the new home. In this phase, people come into contact with what may still be a foreign culture; and do not only gain positive experiences: people put their foot in their mouth, language barriers make communication difficult, and a frustrating feeling may arise that many things are easier or better in the home country than in the new one. Feelings of fear, anger, doubt, and sadness are present. And, depending on the personal situation and circumstances, the dimensions can be severe: studies show that, especially during this phase, there is an increased likelihood of developing depression, psychosomatic complaints, and post-traumatic stress reactions (see Hofmeister, 2014). However, because this condition occurs some time after arrival, the critical adjustment phase does not always receive the social attention necessary to mitigate its consequences.
And this is where the work of migration networks comes into play. Because leaving one’s hometown shakes one of our deeply rooted needs: The need for security. Security also refers to emotional security, the possibility to confide in people and to have the feeling of not being lonely. Especially in the negotiation phase, the lack of emotional security comes to the fore: one feels left alone, doubts one’s decision, and has the feeling of having no place in society. Migration networks can build bridges: they bring together people with similar fates and create ways to be there for each other through regular interaction. This can happen through exchanging experiences, but also speaking the home language or eating favourite local dishes together can quench the longing for the abandoned homeland, create a sense of well-being and mitigate crises in the long term.
However, the effect of a network goes beyond: The exchange of experiences in the new country is an essential factor that contributes to a successful integration and inclusion process. Learning the new language together, advice on filling out forms, support in dealing with the authorities or finding jobs for each other are, for example, supportive offers of help. After all, who knows the problems of new migrants better than people who have also migrated in the past? The exchange of experiences offers support, appreciation, and a meeting at eye level – what many lack in their new home country. Through networking, these needs are addressed and people can be supported during turbulent phases. In this way, networks make a crucial contribution to an inclusive and integrating society through their work – which far exceeds their formal activities.