Agita Misāne. 3rd meeting of the European Migration Forum in Brussels

The European Migration Forum met already for the third time in early March - on 2nd and 3rd of March - in Brussels. Approximately 120 representatives from the non-governmental organizations of the European Union (EU) and neighbouring countries, representatives from the EU Member State institutions, regions and local governments participated in the event which was opened by Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs.

The key issue of the forum was a transition from the "crisis management" to the long-term overall strategy in the EU migration policy. A number of speakers emphasized that migration is a normal process, people have always moved from their places of origin to another place of residence. It should be also understood that migration is not a crime and this applies not only to forced migration such as escaping from the war zone, but also to migration in order to find better economic conditions and employment. The EU in general and each Member State individually always have had their own migration policies, however, it should be also admitted that the arrival of the large number of asylum seekers in Europe in recent years means that these policies should be reviewed in part and improvements and new solutions are required for a number of areas.  Thus, the main directions of the forum could be described in a single sentence: "Keep the useful things that are working, and develop new strategies where they are necessary."

On 20 July 2015, twenty-seven EU Member States, as well as Island, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland agreed to place in their territories more than 22,000 displaced persons from the third countries which have an obvious need for international protection. Currently, in general, only 0.003% of the European population are refugees, however, this small amount is not evenly distributed across the whole continent, besides, there is no reason to think that the number of asylum seekers will decrease in the near future. Some Member States have received asylum seekers for years, however, the EU displacement programme which is the result of the above agreement is the first common and jointly coordinated project for all the EU Member States. Thus, the participation in this programme is not just a solution of the "refugee crisis", as it is commonly referred to in the media, but also the issue of the EU solidarity. Those Member States which signed the agreement, but still in practice refuse to receive asylum seekers, can face not only reproach from the other Member States, but also sanctions in future.

Displacement per se is only a part of the tasks which have to be dealt with by the European communities, it is also necessary to provide basic services for the persons which have recently arrived in the particular countries, as well as we should also think about the future - taking the asylum seekers back to their countries of origin once the crisis there is over, or about their integration in the new home countries if they want to stay there. A number of speakers emphasized that the European countries, where a serious labour shortage is expected in ten or twenty years, is directly interested in a significant number of immigrants staying in Europe and their integration in the labour market. National institutions alone can not do all the necessary things either in the area of service provision or wider integration, therefore intensive involvement of the non-governmental organizations is required.

Discussions in forum`s plenary meetings and work groups focused on three groups of questions. First, safe and legal asylum seeker migration process. It is no secret that a large part of migration from the Middle East is controlled by human traffickers - it is life threatening, and more than a half of the migrants does not reach Europe at all. 90% of the migrants have paid to the traffickers. Migration is a reality, and it should be legal, safe, not degrading human dignity and not restricting human rights.

Secondly, a lot of attention was paid to the questions of providing the basic services (housing, employment, education, health and social services) to the immigrants. In practice, a scope of services which the immigrants can have is directly related to their residence status. As it changes, their communication with the service providers also changes. Therefore, both a coordinated operation of service providers and awareness of service users are important. The problems in this area are observed in a number of Member States further resulting in a source of social tension.  It was pointed out in the forum that one of the most important prerequisites of a successful integration was cooperation among all services, local governments and non-governmental organizations involved. Rendering of services, of course, is expensive, however, it should be regarded as an effective, long-term investment, as it should pay off in terms of economy at least because a taxpayer base is being enlarged - assuming that immigrants will be fully involved in the labour market, as well as will use the services provided by the local providers (for example, language teaching specialists, apartment landloards, etc.) The situation in Latvia in this respect is far from the optimum as it is no secret - majority of the displaced persons has left the country and will not become the new taxpayers in the future.

Thirdly, an important theme of the forum was social climate and presentation of the migration theme in media and generally in the public space. This issue often is accompanied by anxiety. Won`t the immigrants take our jobs? Won`t they live at our expense? Won`t they threaten our cultural identity? While the asylum seekers worry whether they will we be accepted in the home country? Will it be safe there? Such concerns are understandable, they should not be ignored, rather they should be discussed. However, it is easy to manipulate with them and the increase of populism in the European policy is the most obvious testimony of this. There is no better way for settling mutual concerns as information. The framework of the migration regulations and the EU policy should be explained, only true and accurate facts should be presented, besides it should be done on a regular basis and often. Stereotypes and myths of all parties involved should be dispelled. A closer contact allowing to know each other better, as well as explanatory work in both directions are proved tools to build mutual trust. Finally, today`s "immigration challenge" for the European communities can be expressed in a simpler formula: "If you have accepted - involve! If you have arrived - be ready to participate!"

This publication has been made in the framework of the project “Information Centre for Immigrants”. The Project co-financed by the European Union within the framework of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.Grant Agreement No.PMIF/12/2016/1/1.

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