It has happened millions of times every day since time immemorial: men, women and children leave their home countries in search of a better life. Launched in 2011, the ERASMUS-MUNDUS programme EMMIR focuses on migration and has received several awards.
Her first encounter with the topic of migration was at Georgetown University in Qatar. Rumsha Shahzad was actually there to teach foreign staff at the university a little English so that they would find it easier to settle in their new surroundings. But the young politics student from Pakistan soon realised that her encounters with guest workers from the Philippines were leaving their mark. “Their stories were heart-breaking. About how they had left their home country in the hope of finding a better life in the Gulf region – but that life never materialised,” the young woman recalls. She became fascinated with the subject of migration – so much so that the 24-year-old decided to give up her job in Pakistan and apply for a place on the course “European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations” (EMMIR).
EMMIR is an international and interdisciplinary programme. It has been part of the European Union’s ERASMUS-MUNDUS Master degree programme since 2011. Seven universities in Europe and Africa jointly design the programme. The University of Oldenburg is in charge of its coordination, with political scientist Dr. Lydia Potts and Professor of American literature and culture Martin Butler as the main coordinators. “EMMIR is a globally active network comprising 40 organisations in 15 countries. In this form it is unique,” stresses Potts. Central to the programme is solid theoretical training in migration research and intercultural relations – combined with several months of practical experience all over the world. The students deal with European and global questions on human rights, democratic values, the welfare state and the labour market. So far, almost 140 students have successfully completed the EMMIR programme - around 85 percent of whom secured a job in the first year after graduating, most of them in governmental and non-governmental organizations. In 2016, the Master's programme was awarded the European Erasmus Label of Excellence for the second time running, and has been continuously developed ever since.
Migration: fast-paced and complex
That the EMMIR programme is so dynamic mainly has to do with the topics the students and lecturers deal with. “Few topics are as fast-paced and complex as migration,” says EMMIR graduate Cynthia Sampaio. In Europe, people often talk about African migrants crossing the Mediterranean to come here, but from a global point of view most migration movements occur within one continent and are far more complex, she explains. Despite years of professional experience – including as a member of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR – Sampaio still finds it difficult to describe her field of work in specific terms. "There’s so much going on," says the 40-year-old Brazilian, who returned to the University of Oldenburg a few weeks ago to give the EMMIR team temporary support. For example, the United Nations is currently working on two international agreements to tackle the global increase in refugee and migrant movements: the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. At the same time, the topic of refugees and migration is very present in the media, and this has repeatedly generated uncertainty and therefore needs to be complemented with scientifically sound information, she notes. "Migration is the topic of our times,” Sampaio is convinced.
Mulugeta Berihun Asfaw also wants to make a contribution in this area. The 28-year-old Ethiopian studied sociology and was looking for a possibility to focus on migration. His search led him to Oldenburg. Even as a young boy he had experienced how people he had grown fond of would suddenly leave to seek a better life elsewhere. “In our village there were many stories that didn’t end well. I often heard about migrants who were abused. But despite this, more and more people are taking this step. I always wanted to learn more about it,” says Asfaw. The EMMIR programme with its internationlity and interdisciplinary approach immediately appealed to him. “It’s the perfect combination of science and practice.”
This combination was already reflected in the first months of the programme: together with the other 27 students in their year Rumsha Shahzad and Mulugeta Berihun Asfaw went through an intense period in Oldenburg last autumn. The first subject on the study agenda was basic scientific work, to bring all the students up to the same academic level. The first academic texts dealt with discrimination – for instance why the academic world is so dominated by whites. A study trip took them to the Czech Republic. “Here, we looked at the ethnic group of the Roma and why they live on the fringes of society,” says Rumsha.
Finding your place in the world
Things get really exciting for the students in their second year, when they start their practical training. They can choose one of the seven participating universities in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Norway, Germany, Uganda, Sudan or South Africa. Asfaw already knows that he wants to go to South Africa – the projects there deal with labour migration, his focus topic. Shahzad hasn’t yet settled on a specific topic, so she’ll probably go to Uganda where migration can be experienced in all its diversity. “It will definitely be an intense time for you, it can shake you up a lot,” graduate Sampaio tells the two. Many students get to know themselves a lot better in the practical year, she explains. “I’ve seen how EMMIR lures students out of their safe little holes. It’s very challenging because you’re confronted with a lot of things. But it’s a great way to get to know yourself and find a meaningful place in the world,” she says.