The conference intended to address the crisis and its economic and social fallout, including the European xenophobic discourse which makes migrants the scapegoat and the first victims of these difficult times, although according to Eurostat’s projections, our continent needs migrants more than ever, since they can contribute to the welfare and the growth of our societies. This has also been emphasized in the conclusions of the last European Integration Forum.
Staffan Nilsson, President of the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee), stated that “Europe is facing an unprecedented crisis with heavy economic and social consequences. People tend to retreat into the shelter of familiar identities, into extremism, nationalism and the development of xenophobic, or racist, speech”. That is the reason why the EESC, the Council of Europe and the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council decided to continue and renew their cooperation.
A very profound and inspiring welcome speech came from Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who made clear that the event was a follow-up to the conference in Paris held last 23 September 2011, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Council of Europe Social Charter. He highlighted that the rhetoric of fear and hatred of migrants is spread by politicians at low and high levels in many European countries and that migrants are increasingly pictured as threatening the identity of European nations, even though these have always been inherently multi-ethnic.
He continues by showing how this negative stance towards migrants has proved its tragic consequences, with the UNHCR statistics demonstrating that 2011 had been the deadliest year in the Mediterranean, with at least 1,500 people left without aid, drowning or going missing while attempting to cross the sea in search of a better life or of international protection. Moreover, the recent report of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on“Migration and asylum: mounting tensions in the eastern Mediterranean” points out that those tragedies have not stopped in 2012. Report: http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/Doc/XrefViewPDF.asp?FileID=19467&Language=EN
The situation in the European Union is pictured has worrying. In fact, whereas highly skilled migrants and brilliant artists from wherever are welcome, the situation of migrants with lower skills is clearly different. Lower-skilled migrants are attacked for “stealing jobs” from indigent populations.
However, the reality is different.
Lower-skilled migrant workers often fill in gaps in sectors that locals have deserted for what they deem as better opportunities. The case of Punjabi migrants in Italy is a good example of positive integration, where they have successfully inserted themselves in the dairy sector in Lombardy, without “stealing jobs” from native Italians. The need for stable workforce in this sector, from which young Italians have fled, made that migrants working in this sector were less exposed to abuse and exploitation from their employers. In fact, reports indicate that the majority of migrant workers in this sector have secured legal employment contracts.
Another reality which also needs to be acknowledged is that the presence of migrants is necessary in view of the serious demographic crisis faced by European nations. Actually data indicate that the number of people aged 60 and above in the EU is rising by more than two million every year, while in recent years, the increase in the population of the EU member states has mainly been due to high net migration rates.
The dignity of each person is non-negotiable.
Reflected in his conclusions, Mr Muižnieks pointed out that it is high time for European States to consider a different take on migration. i.e.: a rational management that would fully respect the civil, political and social rights of migrants. Protecting migrants is a moral and legal obligation which should not be lost in any discussion or policy. The protection instruments exist: the European Convention of Human Rights, which makes no difference on the grounds of a person’s origin in granting him or her human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the European Social Charter.
“Do we have more immigrants or fewer citizens ?”
Philippe Fargues, Director of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute reminded us how the immigrants of 50 years ago contributed to the construction of today’s Europe. He stressed that their contribution was absolute essential, instrumental even and that it would not have been possible to build Europe without them. The EU is now responding inadequately by building an area of security.
It is overt that migrants are disadvantaged in relation to nationals and since 2008, with the terrible financial crisis, they are absolutely vulnerable when it comes to employment. The gap of unemployment between migrants was 7% before the crisis and increased to 12 % after the crisis. Today, there is more social exclusion and a new situation is shaping: from the dimension of mobility we are now passing on to immobility, considering the economic and cultural costs of migrating.
The choice to remain in place differs substantively from the inability to move due to economic, political, financial, or physical reasons, as it is a choice made by individuals who are able to move but choose not to. Finally, in regard to population movements and dislocations among contemporary diasporic communities, the notions of homeland andnational identity are often a salient factor influencing migration choices
Moreover, Europe has become less attractive to migrants and investors because of the economic crisis, the rise of protectionism and xenophobic attitudes. And also because of another crisis, started in 2010, which is thedemographic recession, which was long announced. “What will happen?” With the ageing population ever-increasing and the gap between working people and retired people: one’s experience may grow but his competences will be soon outdated. Besides, we can postpone retirement from 65 to 72 years old but it is not a solution. We are not ageing always in good health and there are costs to ageing!
To this extent, Mr. Fargues gave us a constructive viewpoint for our future. In order to overcome this period, the European Union can look at migrants not as temporary workers who will eventually choose to go home but as future citizens. A lot of them want to stay and contribute to our society. Today, the EU cannot afford to increase the number of people who are not interested to become full member of our society. “Otherwise what will it come?”
“With my company I gave immigrants a face and more importantly, I tried to build a company they would fit in”.
“We are condemned to each other. So better make the best of it!”
Melek Usta, created Colorful People. Colorful People is a prominent agency in the Netherlands in the field of Diversity Management and aims at filling (top) positions both within government and the business world. She told us about her personal experience. Daughter of Turkish immigrants, she experienced herself the hardness of being a foreigner and soon realised that far too many highly educated migrants did not have any job or were taking up jobs of the lower scale of the labor market.
She also courageously stressed that we should stop to speak and think about migrants in terms of problems, because we have to face the fact that migrants are part of Europe and that they are here to stay, therefore we need equality in the labor market.
“This is my home now is about identity, gender and the sense of belonging. It is also about our reception, strength and success. What does success mean? It takes the double effort for a woman.”
Sadie Choua, filmmaker and writer, showed her latest film “This is my home now”, where the stories of three women of migrant background living in Europe are followed closely. While struggling for their equal rights, these women, like so many others, enrich their host communities in numerous ways. Anna is a gender researcher and poet of Russian background who owns a hotel in Lefkara, Cyprus. Dil from Sri Lanka is a successful stand-up comedian, journalist and radio host as well as an active voice for equality and the rights of migrants and queers in Ireland. Sophie from Tunisia runs a beauty salon and social institute in Marseille, France, an empowering meeting place for women from different backgrounds. Their stories break down stereotypes of migrant women and give a face and a voice to the increasing number of women of migrant background in Europe.
Sadie Choua closed up with a very engaging and strong message when she says: “The majority group does not have the power to condemn the minority group. We have to fight for more balance between the sexes and the ethnic minorities. Now it is about responsibilities. If you don’t take them either you are lazy or you have no ambitions. Instead of shutting their mouth, we can fight discrimination and give them some tools with which we can allow them to express themselves.”
“Migrants bring positive contribution and represent also an economic potential but not ONLY: our responsibility to recognize diversity”.
EPN deeply appreciated Corrado Giulietti intervention in the conference. Mr. Giulietti, Director of the Research at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn. His field of expertise includes labour economics, migration and its determinants, the impact on receiving countries, the labour market performance of immigrants and the role of their social networks.
He began his speech with a series of questions we should ask ourselves as a premise for a conclusion on the discourse of immigration; trying to demonstrate that we can think from a different and a more constructive angle. “What are the potential benefits of immigration?”, “Why do migrants come to Europe?”, “Do they move to Europe only because of the welfare?”
As regards to the last question, he affirms that it is not the case. Migrants are powerful in terms of network. They do not come for the welfare but and it is misleading to think about migration in general terms. We often end up speaking about them as they were all in a similar situation and in Europe for the same reasons. Instead, they have different ages, perspectives and they are more at risk of employment failure than natives. Therefore, when we make comparisons between groups we have to make sure to make the right one by comparing similar groups. Besides, we have migrant generations, the new ones out shadow the previous ones by arriving with different skills and adapt better to the needs of the labor market. SO the debate does not only revolve around the binary migrants-natives.
Also, another central question that Mr Giulietti’s research tries to answer to is: “Does immigration have an effect on happiness?” As a matter of fact, he found out that in some German regions, it is proved that migrants positively affect happiness because they do not have an effect on the health of the native population or their income. On the contrary, they bring different kind of services and they take up on “low” jobs which means that immigration is in some cases our welfare!
His presentation “Five questions about migration, five answers to convince” is available onhttp://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.fr.events-and-activities-immigration-wealth-duties-speeches.27310.
To this extent, Claus Folden, head of the Operational Support Centre in the European Asylum Support Office in Malta since 2011, also reinforced the thesis that migrants are not all the same. Refugees are for instance a totally different group. Some of them are traumatized and far more vulnerable. For this groups “we have to run protection, is unquestionable, legal and moral! We need them and they represent a very powerful group bringing new skills!”. “It is a question of international protection and of application of the asylum law within the EU 27 Member States rather than how many refugees we accept or not. It is not about numbers going up or down”.
Mr. Folden’s presentation: “Why Europe should accept asylum seekers and refugees? Is this only a moral duty or also an (economic) opportunity for Europe?” is available on http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.fr.events-and-activities-immigration-wealth-duties-speeches.27311
“We need to integrate THE OTHER”.
Jean-Paul Delevoye, President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council since November 2010, states “Politicians are always going to win voter… in the entire world one of the main subjects when it comes to human rights is about the protection of minorities. The majority will be always worried to have his daily life destabilized.”
“We have a paradox in the world today. That economy is far more important than politics and it is a crucial element. It’s about accessing markets. Economy could bring development and ultimately the integration of migrants. Thus, integration is also an economical issue. We have to show to the politicians the great added value migrants have in our economy, we need foreigners as a vector to lead our economic growth and prosperity. In order to do so, we need to strengthen our identities and we have to acculturate so we can integrate elements of the other culture. Integration is a mutual process.”
“The whole immigration issue is cause of anxiety in Europe”
Elizabeth Collett, Director of Migration Policy Institute Europe and Senior Advisor to MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration greatly underlined that in Europe, a great deal of energy has been expended to quantify the costs and benefits of immigration. In reality, we should just accept the fact that the contribution of migrants is not just economic, but cultural and demographic.
She also offered a very enlightened comparative perspective by assessing a critical difference between Europe and US, which refers how the immigration is perceived in these two countries. In US, the changing communities represent a dynamic process because there is more sense of social mobility and the concept of immigration is intrinsic value. Also, in US, the concept of migrants entering the society is not in question, is more about how they can enter it.
The European society has to understand social mobility as a common good. The European States need to maximize opportunities instead of thinking just about the risks, because when the economic debate takes over the social discussion, than more sense of responsibility is simply needed.
Her presentation “Immigration as an opportunity- the transatlantic experience” is available on http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.fr.events-and-activities-immigration-wealth-duties-speeches.27312.
To conclude, EPN participated in the conference with great attention. There were a lot of interactive and animated moments where people from different backgrounds, nationalities and religion shared their point of views. As a whole, we deeply share the idea that it is just too easy to assume that in order to solve the problem; the EU needs more border control. Policy has an impact and we can do something. As Elisabeth Collett perfectly put it “It is not only irresponsible but also quite lazy to say ‘we do not want immigration anymore, we have got enough of it.’ There are competing economies around the world and Europe is less attractive. How do we respond to those who want to stay? That is the question. Numbers are illusory! We have to handle labour markets flaws and go to see where the gaps in the laws are, not just stop immigration!”