3 Things to Learn from One of the Biggest Activist Networks

March 22, 2022
By Karol Wilczyński

It was Thursday, the 17th of February, when I was asked if I could write an article after “A Week of Neighbours”, and share some impressions of the summit. I accepted it gladly and participated in the conversations, workshops and seminars. A week later, on the very day of the closing of the summit, my world and the world of millions of people living in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, fell apart.

Photo: Magnus Aronson /Ikon

When I write this article, only two weeks have passed since February the 24th, and the population of my hometown, Krakow, has risen by more than 10 percent (unbelievable that it’s just two weeks).

Since the second World War, no other European country has received more refugees in such a short time. After just 14 days the refugees have reached 1,5 million people only in my country.

I am happy that we managed to take part in the summit before the bloody dictator started his evil actions in Ukraine. Now it is time for action. I do not know when there will be another time for proper reflection, but the issues discussed during A Week of Neighbors were woven into what is our new reality. I picked three crucial points for you that we can learn and take with us from the A World of Neighbors summit.

1. Relationships are a key

Everyone might join in building short term and long-term solutions to the challenges that are posed by migration – no matter who we are, what we believe and where we come from. What is key is a good knowledge of ourselves and open relationships.

It might sound like a cliche when Márta Bolba, pastor in Hungary and one of the A World of Neighbours Network Practitioners, during the live event says “We make dinner parties”, responding to the question: How do you make people with different backgrounds come together? But eating together, sharing food, fostering relationships breaks barriers between people, and in a crisis this can be lifesaving.

Photo: Magnus Aronson /Ikon
Photo: Magnus Aronson /Ikon

I know this, because I spent the last half year locating people in the woods on the border between Poland and Belarus, bringing food, water and other necessities to people neglected by the world.

Impact on the reality of people on the move
I know this also as a member of A World of Neighbours. Through the network I was able not only to meet fantastic, active people, but also to create alliances which had concrete impact on the reality of people on the move. Thanks to the practitioner meetings organized by Rikko Vorberg during A Week of Neighbours, we could that same Thursday as the war broke out, set up a WhatsApp Ukraine Rapid Response Group. It connects activists in different countries and helps us to know and recognize the needs of people evacuated from Ukraine.

In times of a crisis we should look for companions and allies wherever we can, even if certain affiliations are not great to us.

2. Migration cannot be a political “hot potato” anymore

One of the events of interest during A Week of Neighbours was the conversation between Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Church of Sweden and Fabrice Leggeri, the Executive Director of Frontex. Watch it. You will learn a lot. It is a polite clash between worlds. Fingerprints vs grace.

The conversation was held on February 22, two days before the aggression by Russia on Ukraine. Leggeri is late to the meeting with the Archbishop because he has been in a meeting, discussing the tense situation.

Blatant European racism
Note his language. If there is an outbreak of war, the people who flee will be “people in need of international protection” and it will not be “irregular migration” he says and explains that Frontex can help the four EU states bordering to Ukraine with “security screening”, if there are “other people mingled in those flows”.

He says that his impression is that the EU countries feel a duty to protect the Ukrainians if there will be a war. He has even heard some say it “could be a good opportunity for manpower that is educated, that could easily be integrated in society”.



What I clearly hear is that Frontex divides people fleeing war and persecution into those who are able to easily integrate, because they are not “irregular” (though we all know it is rather the matter of their origin and skin colour). We, as EU, still differ between Ukrainian and Syrian children, though their schools, houses or hospitals where they were born, were leveled to the ground by the same Russian air force on the decision by the same person – Vladimir Putin.

The problem is Frontex is part of the problem

When questioned about Fortress Europe, Leggeri emphasizes that the role of Frontex is to protect the freedom of movement between the member states by securing the external borders. As the civil servant he is, one can expect nothing else. Leggeri knows that “we have to save the migrants’ lives without making it easier for the criminals” or that “we need more political cooperation within the EU”. The problem is, in my opinion, that Frontex is rather a part of the problem, than the solution.

I believe the Russian invasion on Ukraine might be a chance for the EU to reflect upon the fact that the EU does not have a reliable migration policy. In another conversation on the topic of borders of Europe, professor Peo Hansen suggested, for instance, that border policies make one country dependent on the others – the Dublin II agreement is a good example of a system that rather creates chaos within the EU. How to find a solution? Well, start by changing the way we think about migration.

Keep in mind that it is not thanks to the EU nor to the Polish government that Poland has helped 1.5 million people. It has been made possible through civil society and local authorities actions. Once again we are left to ourselves. But that also gives hope – it is also in our hands how we respond to one of the major challenges of the 21st century.

3. Language of hope really may change the world we live in

We cannot surrender to inhumanity and hopelessness. We should look for strength and for ways to keep our humanity. Where to find this strength? In a conversation on the role of spiritual and academic leadership, the Polish Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, pointed out empathy as being fundamentally necessary in human relations. To keep our humanity he invited the listeners to exercise empathy, saying “we could elevate our humanity by trying to feel both the pain and the happiness of others”.


Archbishop Antje Jackelén pointed out the care for language as a way to keep our humanity and an ethical space. “That has relevance today as we see that one of the forces that hamper humanity is changes in language” she said reminding the listeners how small changes in language led to the holocaust and to the genocide in Rwanda.

“A surplus of fear and lack of hope is a dangerous combination”, she said, arguing that hope is not optimism. Hope can relate meaningfully to that we do not know or cannot know. The “language of hope” then influences our way of thinking, helping us bring up and implement real life solutions. And if hopeful, we are open to new solutions, right?

Watch events that were recorded during A Week of Neigbhours.

Salam Lab Poland

Salam Lab build bridges and a culture of encounter between various ethnic and religious communities. A team of dedicated journalists disseminate reliable information on different cultures, as well as national, ethnic and religious minorities.

Salam Lab is involved in longterm projects to build an equal civil society, looking for new solutions in the field of education, social and migration policies.

In August, as the situation for refugees at the border between Poland and Belarus escalated, Salam Lab got involved, organizing humanitarian aid. With the outbreak of the war, the humanitarian response work has increased.

Karol Wilczyński is a journalist, activist and teacher based in Krakow, Poland and the founder of Salam Lab, Laboratory of Peace.

Learn more and support Salam Lab Poland.