THE ‘MIGRATION CRISIS’ SHOULDN’T CLOUD THE NEED TO BUILD A MORE INCLUSIVE EUROPE
In the context of deteriorating humanitarian situations in both Syria and along the Greece-Turkey border, Friends of Europe brought together its network of migration and inclusion experts for a brainstorm on ways forward in the field. The meeting took place on a pivotal day in the European migration discussion, as European Ministers of Home Affairs prepared to meet for an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council to address the crisis.
While talk of the border situation was high on the agenda, participants also agreed on the need to address issues of solidarity, inclusion and narrative change to counter the politics of fear.
Improving Europe’s response to migration will require an increase in real solidarity – a solidarity that goes beyond rushing off to Greece, as EU leaders did, to talk about reinforcing Europe’s external borders and declaring that Greece was Europe’s ‘shield’. True solidarity entails both operational and financial aspects – and must not be just among Member States, but also with the migrants and refugees at the borders and in countries of origin
Delivering solidarity, though, is often easier to do than many European policymakers and politicians seem to believe. Many Northern and Western European states, for example, have far greater capacity to support both states with borders and those on the other side – but leaders lack the political will necessary to act on this capacity, particularly after several years of anti-immigration rhetoric from the media and right-wing campaigners.
Financial solidarity through common funding may be one solution, but is still dependent on individual member states. Current funds represent only a drop in the bucket of what is actually needed. And some point to an uneven distribution of European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) finances as fuelling the problem.
Operational solidarity – through institutions like Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) – currently represents the most realistic form of functioning solidarity, and the best hope of relieving pressure on countries.
But there is also a minimum level of solidarity that must be shared with those waiting at Europe’s borders – the right to seek asylum. It has proven far too difficult to relocate unaccompanied minors, victims of torture and those with medical certificates.
In addition to the humanitarian consequences of such inaction, this is also a missed opportunity for Europe – young people come with a desire to integrate and contribute. Under current circumstances, however, they are being pushed back and left to fend for themselves in high-risk situations.
An easy solution – and an essential one to show a bare minimum of compassion and solidarity – would be to fast track asylum procedures for unaccompanied minors. Their numbers are both heart-breakingly high, and at the same time shockingly low given the initial pushback from states refusing to take them in – the 1,200 unaccompanied minors on the Greek island of Lesbos would be a drop in the ocean of the European population.
Fostering a culture of inclusion is essential to ensuring the dignity and humanity of refugees and migrants, and requires streamlining support for diversity across all levels – from national and European policymaking to local action.
Most European governments and the European institutions are lagging behind and still do not reflect the makeup of the Union itself – with migrant backgrounds particularly poorly represented in European decision-making circles. As such, policies often fail to take into account their impact on migrants and people of colour.
Ensuring greater diversity among policymakers would not only provide much needed representation, but would also bring in the lived experiences of those who have typically been on the receiving end of Europe’s migration policies.
Diversity and inclusion in policymaking is also essential since it allows for more out-of-the-box thinking and policies which are more innovative, pro-active and pertinent.
Involving diaspora in particular represents a significant opportunity to ensure that the needs and varying cultural backgrounds of newcomers are taken into account – giving them the best possible chance of smooth integration.
Increasing diversity would have the knock-on effect of helping to mainstream migration and inclusion into other areas – beyond the prisms of home affairs and security.
However, more widespread effort will be necessary to counter the politics of fear being disseminated by Far Right populists and increasingly also being embraced by mainstream politicians – and to some extent, as illustrated during the latest ‘migration crisis’ by the EU institutions. Messaging needs to be rethought – conversations around facts and figures do not win hearts and minds. Those who need to hear the message are also emotional – migration is a topic soaked in fear, and it’s time to think about how to create a more emotional (while still fact-based) story around migration.
At the same time, leaders should remember that language matters. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has referred to Greece as Europe’s “shield” – such language is damaging and reinforces the idea that migration is something from which Europeans need to be protected. Promises to shut Europe off from outside threats create a powerful narrative for those who are afraid.
Such messaging can be especially powerful in a country like Greece which has already dealt with significant economic suffering in recent years. The European Commission may use such language in an attempt to turn the tide of unpopularity that remains following the Eurozone crisis.
Despite this, some countries are using migration to paint a picture that is not just positive, but also realistic. In addition to representation, integration and inclusion, Canada, for instance, has also used good border management as a narrative tool. Doing so has allowed for an expansion of migration and humanitarian programmes. And with most migration to Canada centred around the labour market, the narrative shows how it has helped Canada’s economy – creating a more positive image of migration in the Canadian consciousness.
Rather than focusing on the numbers, Canada has created the Immigration Matters platform to highlight the benefits of migration at the local level, with stories available to be shared online and through facilitated discussions.
Canada is also part of the Global Forum on Migration and Development and has worked with other countries and international organisations to produce a guidebook for narrative change: “Shaping the public narrative on migration and migrants”.
At grassroots level, there is also inspiring work being done in Europe. Coalitions of social entrepreneurs, migrants and civil society organisations are putting forward success stories on a technical level, and building networks of influencers. And academics are converting existing data on migration into lesson plans, helping to mainstream migration issues into curricula.
ROOM FOR COOPERATION
The need to tie grassroots ideas back to policymaking remains evident, but amidst the backdrop of an emergency ministers’ meeting, a humanitarian crisis at Greece’s border, and the spectre of a viral outbreak on the horizon, participants in the meeting agreed on the importance of building coalitions beyond governments to make concrete change in the short- and medium-term.
Since 2016, Friends of Europe has contributed to the global discussion on migration and inclusion through our sustained work and innovative thinking on the topics, aiming to spotlight that well-managed migration is an asset for Europe – and the world. To reach this end, all those who believe in an open, inclusive and multicultural Europe must work harder to change the current negative narrative on migration through facts and figures, as well as a stronger emotional story on the many benefits of inclusion. Policies must also be more realistic and comprehensive, addressing both the challenges and opportunities posed by migration and inclusion.
The narrative on migration must tell the true story – successes and failures – of what it means to leave one’s home, make the journey and settle into someplace new. Europe has a role to play in making this a reality.
This meeting presents an opportunity to bring together Friends of Europe’s network of policymakers and practitioners working in the fields of migration and inclusion for an exchange of ideas. We aim to identify common trends and themes for the months and years ahead, as well as to share upcoming projects and areas for collaboration.
Participation in this meeting is by invitation only.
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