7th EU Migration Forum, EESC took place on 20 and 21 October. An overview

I was delighted to get the email confirming my attendance at the 7th EU Migration Forum was accepted. And I was intrigued to see what it would be like to become a member of the bureau. I put myself down for elections, although I am a totally unknown person in the EU sphere. Worth giving it a go, I thought.

The EU Migration forum is organised by  European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee since 2015.

This year’s theme was Youth inclusion: key to successful migrant integration. 

The fora give a voice to the many civic societies across Europe, as well as public bodies and some individuals. It is a very intense two days of speeches and workshops. The findings of the forum will then be used to shape new policies.

There were 200 people attending the forum in the very opulent Jaques Delors Building on the Belliard Straat, a throw away from the Schuman Plein in Brussels.

The Forum was opened by

  • Paul Soete, President of the Permanent Group on Immigration and Integration
  • Michael Shotter, Director, Asylum and Migration, Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, European Commission
  • Mahdiyah Ayub, Young leader, Former Member of the project Football for Unity, Ireland

The importance of including and listening to civic society was mentioned, as well as the challenges the EU has faced over the last year.

I was proud to hear Mahdiyah Ayub from Ireland talk about the importance of sports in integration, and about Football for Unity, a wonderful example of how sports can help.

The next part was filled by women connectors in Europe.

They were:

  • Seyran Khalili, Project lead, Young Connectors – Women Connectors, Norway
  • Rachel Streefland, Deputy Mayor of Utrecht
  • Catriona Graham, Director, Advocacy and partnerships, World Scout Bureau – European Support Centre
  • Belén Vallina González, founder of Yaran, Spanish NGO

I was especially impressed by Rache Streefland, talking about Utrecht and its efforts to help the migrant

community to find a place, such as sharing accommodation for students and young migrants, what a wonderful idea. 

Language is always an issue, but by sharing accommodation, people will get to know each other learn about

the different cultural habits, but also the daily life in the host town. 

Rather than hiding away IPAs away from town, the effort is made to make them an immediate part of town. This is so much better. 

Catriona Graham, from the EU Scout Bureau, talked about the amazing efforts made by the scouts in Poland to help the millions of Ukrainian refugees to find a place, get supplies and re-settle into a (temporary) life in Poland and other neighbouring countries.

The lady from Spain especially, made us understand the huge differences there are between the different EU countries, in the scale of the refugee issues there.

Q&A was then opened and I asked Ms Graham, after congratulating the scouts on their amazing efforts, if there are also plans to support the other refugees and if the Scouts Group will make an effort to make other refugees feel welcome too. I gave her the example of Ireland where you never see any POC in the scouts and where, as our co-founder experienced, there still is discrimination happening. (Our Co-founder, a Commissioner of the Scouts Group in Burundi, who joined the scouts in Cork, only to leave, feeling very disappointed, discriminated against and not valued for the amazing experience he had leading Scouts in his country.)

Ms Graham said that efforts were made to establish more inclusion in Ireland and to work on the issues there.

She came to see me in private afterwards and told me she was aware of the issues and that a lot more efforts need to be made, she was happy for me to have raised this issue.

We had a wonderful Syrian Lunch.

The afternoon started with workshops. I was in workshop 4, Advancing participation and engagement of young migrants.

We were asked who should be involved in writing policies on the integration of young migrants and what the main challenges are in the integration of young people.

I was part of a discussion group of Spanish youth workers, a great way to get an insight into what goes on in other countries and to practice my Spanish knowledge.

On question number 1, we all agreed that the policy-building efforts should be led by experts in the field. These experts being the young migrants themselves. (‘if you have an engineering problem, you will ask an expert to help solve it, this expert will be an engineer’).

We decided there should be a quota in working groups, which should reflect the society. If 1/10 people in a certain area is a migrant, LGBTQI, Roma, etc, then that should be reflected in the working groups.

The next question was about which challenges civic societies face in their efforts to integrate young migrants.

The youth workers all had a mentorship role. Young people arrive in a new country. Often after a long and perilous voyage. The shock of coming from one culture into w country where everything is different is often underestimated. So the best support to offer is mentorship, giving the young people the time to adjust, helping them step-by-step to get accustomed to the new country, new language, and new culture.

We also felt that the way this is being discussed is about the ‘them and us’, although, if we talk about integration, we need to address both sides. Is society ready to help. What do we do about bias, etc

Many youth workers asked this question: How can you ask people to integrate when you also make them feel unwanted? And that is something that came up during the whole forum.

Other workshops were

  • Workshop 1 – Young migrants’ access to education and training – JDE60
  • Workshop 2 – Specific challenges and measures regarding integration of young refugees – JDE63
  • Workshop 3 – Legal migration: youth mobility, both in the context of education and labour mobility of young people – JDE61

The views were that every migrant should be given acess to education and also third level education, Thanks to the efforts of UEE, Union Des Etudiants Exilés, many refugees and exiled students in France now have the right to continue/start their studies without extra costs. This should become a EU rule.

Among the specific challenges were named the conditions of living for many young people (refugee camps, homelessness, etc) , also the pushbacks of refugees within the EU (eg France and Spain) seems to be a huge issue at the moment, with many people dying in their efforts to reach another country.

After a brief overview of the workshop outcomes it the next talks were about Public Attitudes toward migrants

  • Amara Makhoul, Editor in chief, InfoMigrants, talked about the importance of fighting back against the spreading of false news, by spreading the truths, no holding back, just plain decent journalism.
  • Fridoon Joinda, Filmmaker, Migratory Birds.  Fridoon is a very gentle Afghan refugee who spent a long time living oin one of the Greek refugee camps. His Film, made with the simplest of technology is telling the truth about migration and the difficulties in the camps.  The film I was most proud of, was called  “Nice Lie,” and it examines the lack of connection between the high ideals of the European Union with its dedication to human rights and dignity for all people with the way refugees are being treated in the camps on the Greek islands, where they had their first taste of Europe.  
  • Luca Barani, Policy officer, Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, European Commission. Luca showed u graphics of poll results, indicating that the perception of refugees has become more positive over the last few years, with 62% approval rate, still a lot can and needs to be done, to improve on this.

The Bureau Elections were then held, every candidate had 2 minutes to speak.

Here is what I said:

I am Roos Demol, Co-founder and CEO of International Community Dynamics (ICD),
trading as Recruit Refugees Ireland.
As a Belgian woman who has enjoyed freedom of movement in the EU, I am a proud
European. I believe in the EU and I also believe we can improve it, making it more
accessible, less of a fortress and more of a Citadel to those who need protection from
persecution, wars, violence and climate change.
ICD is a grassroots organisation, our directors and volunteers are 95% migrants and refugees.
We are members of the Refugee Council’s asylum network, The Anna Lindh Foundation and
the Africa Solidarity Centre. We have joined the Irish network Against Racism, Arts for all,
and the local PPN. (Public Participation Network) We collaborate with refugee supporting
agencies and educational institutions across the country, as well as NALA, the adult Literacy
agency and Unesco Employability program.
Our own Citadel, a world music band of International Protection Applicants continues to
create awareness and has been asked to play at major Festivals across the country, while our
cricket team has produced a national player, who may one day lead Ireland to victory on
world stage.
On a personal level I have become a director on the Africa Solidarity Centre’s Board of
Management, and have been active in the steering committee of the Cork City of Sanctuary

Movement, I have contributed to the EASPD think tank on how to help disabled Ukrainian
refugees in Europe.
I have co-operated with IHREC (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission) to create a
guide for employers for hiring International Protection Applicants, I have assisted in
webinars for IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) Networks, and created a
major impact in the country through advocacy and pro-action.
I would now love to take this passion of mine a step further. I would like to join the Bureau
as a member of a national civic society, being at the centre of it all will help us to make
connections, to collaborate and learn from best practices, to help the EU become a place that
is really supporting refugees from any country, from any background.
Let’s make Europe become a place where everyone belongs.

That was the end of day 1.

We enjoyed a nice Syrian meal, and a performance by a band of refugees, Miksi.

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 2

Day two started with the election results. The Bureau membership will go to the Syrian refugee and member of the French UEE. I was delighted for him and not at all disappointed, although I did get some votes, thanks to my interventions. But I can feel the heaviness of bureaucracy, and I am not convinced that I would have much of an influence on what is going on. Happy to be where I am.

The keynote speech followed, Keynote speakers were:

  • Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, talked about the amazing efforts of the EU in helping Ukrainian refugees, the Temporary Protection Directive which was implemented for the first time, and what the EU can learn from this.  Ms Johansson also said that the TD should have been implemented during the Afghan and Syrian crises, but that we can only learn from what we have achieved now. She rejected questions about two-tier refugee treatment and said most people who come by boats etc, not from war-torn countries are economic migrants. That those who claim to be refugees must prove so, according to each country’s practices. This gave me a little jolt.
  • Ms Johansson got too many questions and mostly was confronted with the sad realities on the grounds, the pushbacks within the EU, costing people’s lives. I asked why people from countries such as DRC, where war has been waging in the East for many years, violence and gender-based violence are rife and people flee on a daily basis, are not given immediate protection, but have to wait for many years and be re-traumatised during interviews. I also asked how it is justified in the EU, and now in this year of the Youth, that children are kept in centers where their rights are trampled upon every day.  I got no response, as Ms. Johanson had left. What I did like was her talk about ‘safe passage’ ways,  by for example making it a lot easier to find work in the EU countries. and maybe other ways. It is promising, let’s see.  Some pathways already exist but are not well known, such as the safe passage to study.
  • Christa Schweng, President of the European Economic and Social Committee talked about her work and the important work of EESC.  As the president of EESC she showcased what is possible.

The Q&A session was lively but unfortunately too short.

The open Floor sessions were discussion groups on topics proposed and voted for by the audience. I chose to go the pushback one, where I was sadly disappointed to hear of the pushback situations where people have lost their lives.

We did not hear of the outcome of other discussion groups, these may be published at a later day.

The day ended with a discussion panel

  • Beate Gminder, Deputy Director-General or Migration & Home Affairs, European Commission talked about her work, and how she visits many countries to check on the ground what is happening. (Unfortunately once a country knows of the visit, the act is cleaned up, as I heard from one of the Cypriot NGOs there.
  • Giuseppe Varacalli, member of the Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs, European Committee of the Regions. I particularly liked hos address, saying that the EU and especially certain regions need the refugees to revive the local economy. Some people asked if that meant the refugees were only used when useful, but he talked about it being a win-win situation for both sides. 
  • Michael McLoughlin, Member of the EESC Coordination Group for the European Year of Youth, Youth Work Ireland Did not like the wy people asked questions about things the EC has no control over, like schools, etc. I wanted to tell him, that if the EU wants to know what happens on the ground, they need to listen and not patronise, as he was doing there, but I was tired and just let it be.
  • David Vondrácek, The Czech Presidency, about the Ukrainian crisis and how his country dealt with the many children starting school in his country (more than the Czech children starting school)

This was the end of the forum, I was happy to have gone, more for networking reasons, and also to listen. But the question on anyone’s lips was, what will come from this now?

The EU is a big machine, and we are little NGOs . but not taking part seems wrong.

I do think it is important that as European organisations we come together, work together and learn from each other, not only in the EU Forum, but outside as well. I have met some wonderful people, and hope to build on that in the very near future.

I think we need to work on third-level education access to all in the first place, and then keep working on understanding, and awareness. Safe passage is a must. How can we bear, as proud Europeans, to see people drowning in the Mediterranean while trying to reach a better life? And how can we bear people dying because one country does not want them to cross the border?

How can we say that poverty is not a reason to move, and what about the upcoming refugees of climate change? This was not yet addressed in the Forum, and it is a huge issue, that has started already. 

Here are the outcomes of previous fora. let’s hope something good comes out of this one. 

With Jean from Italy
With Zegrari Abdelhak from France

Thank you EESC for organising and thank you to all who carry the plight and tribulations of refugees and IPAS at heart.

with Bernadette Dean from Cyprus
With Abdelhak and Kevin from France and Austria

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