Restoring Community

Vidia Negrea (4th from right) and others who met during the 19th IIRP World Conference to discuss ways to address the refugee crisis in Europe.Vidia Negrea (4th from right) and others who met during the 19th IIRP World Conference to discuss ways to address the refugee crisis in Europe

IIRP Europe representative Vidia Negrea, who lives in Hungary, is determined to address the refugee crisis facing her country and the continent. Thousands of refugees have been arriving in Hungary daily, fleeing devastation in the Middle East. The response in Hungary and has been to build fences.

A refugee herself who found a warm welcome when she fled Romania for Hungary 25 years ago, Vidia has been especially dismayed by the refugees crisis.

Seeing police dealing with a crush of refugees near the train station, Vidia tried to help them communicate with each other, but could not. She left, felt helpless and discouraged. Thinking others must be having similar feelings, she held a circle go around for students in her university restorative practices course so they could share their fears and frustrations around the crisis. Some said they were frightened of this large group of people coming into their lives. Some were worried about their relatives who were police officers. Yet everyone wanted to help the refugees. After the circle everyone felt relieved and happy that they could share their fears and needs. What’s more, students found ways to humanize the experience, going down to the train station to offer comfort and help to the stranded refugees.

Vidia relayed this circle experience to members of the European Forum for Restorative Justice. She and five Forum members have launched Restorative Action Without Borders, a program to model how to provide safe spaces for honest conversations with refugees and the professionals and volunteers who serve them. The group also hopes to guide communities and policy makers facing this crisis.

Vidia is taking every opportunity to engage people in this issue, including at the IIRP World Conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and at the Victimology Society Conference in Belgrade, Serbia.

She hopes the initiative will support conversations that let people have a voice in a respectful way. “It’s an evolving project,” says Vidia. “We are not the experts on these issues. The people who will have a voice are the experts, and they may create a different path, but that will be OK.”