Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents?
In April 9, 2012 EPN participated in the European Parliament book launch of, “Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents?” The book was prepared by the European Network against Racism (ENAR). It was supported by the UK MEP Claude Moraes and the EU Commissioner Anna Cecilia Malmström, who significantly backed this new publication with the intention of demonstrating that migrants and ethnic minorities greatly contribute to Europe’s economic, social, political and cultural life.The book intends to show evidence about the real cost of neglecting the positive contribution of migrants and ethnic minorities. It suggests that these groups are often associated to misleading myths and negative stereotypes and consequently provides evidence that many talents go unrecognized.
So, Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents? The answer to this question is a plangent yes. It expresses that Europe does not take advantage of its rich variety of cultures, traditions, and languages to the fullest. It also points to the problem that Europe underscores today’s fight for equality and diversity which is met by strong opposition. Racism, xenophobia, and discrimination on one side; high unemployment and exacerbation of fear on the other, brings people to blame migrants for ‘stealing’ the jobs of non-immigrant Europeans. The reality, however, is of course quite different. As populations grow older, migrants are needed to secure the future well-being of Europe. In addition, statistics show that 25% of the employers in Europe have difficulty filling positions due to the lack of qualified individuals. Creating more opportunities for migrants would thus be to everybody’s advantage.
Claude Morales opened the session by stressing that the publication was very timely due to the fact that it came out in one of the words periods that Europe has experiences concerning the migration debate. He explained that the strength of this report relies on the responses it will receive, which will preferably not be a defensive one. He quoted, “This publication is exactly the kind of response NGOs should work on because it brings an intellectual and cultural contribution to our society”, and added, “We have to be clear here that we don’t want only to defend ourselves from austerity cuts and the rise of nationalisms. Our answer does not have to be only negative but rather positive!”
“We have got talents, you are the losers! The EU cannot survive without the contribution of the ethnic minorities” says Claude Moraes.
Nicoletta Charalambidou, Vice-Chair of the ENAR Foundation, also pointed out that migrants are perceived as very negative nowadays, although it is widely acknowledged that they represent the solution to the economic and demographic crisis that is being experienced. “With this publication,” she quoted, “we want to address this mismatch and wish to create an opportunity for migrants to fully participate in the society they live in”.
Since the 2014 EP elections are approaching, she called for MEPs to make clear their position on the status of the ethnic minorities and stand up for equality, as there should beno difference between high-skilled and low-skilled in terms of access to human rights. Moreover, both groups can contribute to the society they live in, may it be in different ways.
EPN would like to account some of the questions that were raised by Catherine Lynch and Shannon Pfohman, who are two of the authors of the report. These questions were, “What talents do ethnic and religious minorities and migrants bring to European society? What is the cost of neglecting their contribution? How many success stories would come to light if we ceased wasting talents because of discriminatory practices?”
As mentioned, a great number of untapped “hidden talents” among ethnic and religious minorities across the EU are not being fully acknowledged. Sometimes this is related to structural discrimination, humility and lack of self-confidence. And sometimes these talents just simply go undetected in the chaotic pace of daily life or the biased structures in which we live. Evidence of this becomes visible in especially educational and employment sectors.
Also, ethnic and religious minorities and migrants often suffer from job mismatches and work in jobs for which they may be over-qualified. Around 60% of high skilled non-EU migrants are employed in jobs for which they are overqualified. They are less likely to be recognized for their social, economic, and cultural capital or to accumulate further capital, skills and qualifications. Furthermore, they face difficulties in accessing education and in particular attaining quality education, although most European Member States seek to ensure migrants, undocumented migrants, asylum-seekers and Roma, have legal access to education. Hence these disadvantaged factors negatively affect their position and self-confidence in society.
The publication wishes to support the importance of moving away from the negative discourses on migrants and ethnic minorities as a “burden” or as a “cost”. “If we don’t put the positive message out there” says Ms. Pfohman, “we don’t help to tackle the negative perception of migrants”. It is difficult to collect statistically exact economic figures and to quantify the economic value of the migrant population because their contribution is not just economic. There are many fields in which there are migrant role-models, ranging from sports to music, and film to labor. However we have to be able to recognize the contribution of these individuals who do not come from college or a high-level of education as well. Cuisine is an emblematic example. The Kebab or the variety of foods and cuisines available in Europe is a direct result of migration and exposure to cultural diversity.
Younous Omarjee, Member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament, shared his concern of the escalation of xenophobic attitudes in some countries and spoke in more concrete terms, than on a theoretical level. He talked about his personal experience. Coming from an island in the Indian Ocean (Reunion), he explained that there the population is shaped mainly of migrant people and everybody contributed to the unity of the country. He warmly said “The EU should not become an isolated island in the world; it should stay open and welcome migrants as they are the precondition for growth and well-being”.
Philippe Legrain, one of the most prolific and prominent immigration promoters operating in Europe today, wrote a book that had great impact in many countries, namely: Immigrants – Your Country Needs Them. Previously serving as the trade and economics correspondent for the Economist and the special adviser to the director-general of the WTO, he is also the author of “Open World: The Truth about Globalization”.
He began his intervention by referring to the motto mentioned in treaty of Rome, and which should define Europe today: “unity in diversity”. Ultimately this is not the case, since it reflects the diversity across the European countries but not within them. Our efforts to keep poor people out while the rich and the educated circulate freely are unsustainable and morally wrong. Freedom of movement is one of the most basic human rights. We, in rich countries, take it for granted that we are free to move around the world according to our pleasure. Many of us study and work abroad for long periods of time, and some of us end up settling elsewhere. Why, then, do we seek to deny this right to others?
Mr. Legrain stressed the economic loss that the EU would experience by denying access to immigrants or refugees, since migration is about opening new businesses and enterprises as well. It leads the path to development! The EU needs new ideas, new businesses and a variation of visions coming from innovators and entrepreneurs. “It could be an NGO, a shop or a company … and nobody can predict the benefit we could have gained from it had we given it a chance”.
“Just Look at Silicon Valley: Google, Yahoo! and eBay, which were all co-founded by immigrants” he states.
Indeed, nearly half of America’s venture-capital-backed start-ups have immigrant co-founders. As an ever-increasing share of our prosperity comes from companies that solve problems –may they be they developing new medicines, computer games or environmentally-friendly technologies, designing innovative products and policies, or providing original management advice – diversity is crucial. Indeed, since diversity boosts innovation, it is the greatest source of economic growth. Critics who claim that immigration has few or no economic benefits are profoundly mistaken.
He concluded by inspiringly pleading for people to mix up in the streets and for employers to attract more diverse workforce. “We have to make the newcomers feel welcome! We need to invest in education, remove barriers to entrepreneurship and reinforce discrimination laws. This is a time of crisis and we have to fight against the temptation to turn against each other”.
At the end, the participation of the Commissioner responsible for the Home Affairs portfolio in the European Commission, Anna Cecilia Malmström, launched the final debate. She expressed her concerns for xenophobic parties, anti-immigrant rhetoric which often manipulates the fearful public and leads to the exclusion of migrants in social life and in the labor market. She continued her speech by stating that she found it strange that the EU is actually struggling to see itself as composed of a diverse mixed innovative culture. It was after September 11, 2001 the Europe’s language changed to the detriment of immigrants.
“But language is important and no person is illegal.
Someone can enter irregularly into a country but is not illegal!”
Irregularity, Europe as a fortress, and the Mediterranean Sea can be symbols of tragedy but this is one side of a big reality. Some migrants do come legally to Europe and fully integrate. Why not speak about positives cases?
Educated migrants, migrants with PhDs and those simply with a desire to improve their lives are flocking to places like Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, China, and India. Despite this, we do not make the necessary investments to integrate newcomers into our schools and workplaces. Nor have we done enough to reshape our public institutions to be inclusive and responsive to our diverse societies. The issue is not how many new immigrants are accepted into the European Union, but acknowledging the nature and composition of the society in which we already live.
Concluding, EPN was not only thrilled by the great support this publication received but also encourage our followers to read it and make their small contribution toward the change of mentality we need in this time of identity fallback and economic stagnation. Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents is also an encouragement to policymakers and academics to undertake more research on the positive impact of migration and ethnic and religious diversity. Such studies will be crucial if we want to change negative stereotypes. After all, diversity is part of the very foundation of Europe, and we can only build a strong and successful Europe by recognizing and capitalizing on the value of our differences. Revealing the hidden talents among us is therefore a step towards achieving an equal and racism-free Europe.