On the 19th of June 2018, the Brussels International Centre for Research and Human Rights (BIC-RHR) organized a conference, in collaboration of MEP Dr. Dietmar Köster, on concepts of European inclusion of refugees in the labour market, civil society and communities. This event explored the principles of inclusion and integration in a broader framework, as well as practiced inclusionary theory by giving a number of organizations working with this issue the opportunity to discuss their various approaches to refugee inclusion.
The event hosted presentations from five different projects, including the BIC’s own Phoebus project. Each of the presenters represented slightly different approaches to practicing inclusion but could all display compelling outcomes.
We Can - Mr. Badouin Ongunda
The first presentation was made by Mr. Badouin Ongunda of the organization We Can. A new organization for policy advocacy and civil defense, We Can was founded in the last year by refugees and asylum seekers living in Belgium. Mr. Ongunda is an international relations and policy specialist for the organization and is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his presentation he highlighted the need for more comprehensive approaches to providing protection for refugees and asylum seekers once they arrive in the EU. What is important, Mr. Ongunda insisted, is that refugees and asylum seekers in Belgium have access to education and work, as these are some of the best tools we have to fight religious and intellectual extremism.
Duo for a Job - Mr. Gilbert Carlson
Mr. Gilbert Carlson is a mentoring program officer with Cinemaximiliaan, an organization that promotes the arts through hosting film screenings and supports newcomer artists. This group was initially founded by a European couple living in Brussels, who just started going to Maximilianpark and projecting movies for the people there. Now they are a much larger team, comprised of newcomers and locals interested in creating spaces for artistic expression. Our presenters, Mme. Batul Hosseini and Mr. Reza Panahi, went on to explain how the organization assists newcomers not only with artistic projects, but with many of the complex aspects of settling in a new host country. Mme. Hosseini, a newcomer from Afghanistan herself, is now completing a degree in social work in Brussels and has been working in that capacity with Cinemaximilian. Her story is not unique within the organization either, as they work to engage people in projects that capture their interests and utilize their talents.
Our final project presentation was from Convivial director, Mr. Bruno Gilan. The organization has been operating in Brussel for the last 20 years and was initially founded in response to the Rwandan Genocide. Convivial works to facilitate newcomers’ settlement both socially and professionally, right from the first moments of settlement here in Brussels. They offer mediation to newcomers, assisting them in finding and negotiating for housing or work agreements. In their view this is the best way to try to reduce discrimination and promote long term perspectives amongst local residents. Convivial offers a wide variety of services in a variety of languages. They also work to provide newcomers who use their services with a social assistant for up to two years after their status is recognized. Ultimately Convivial does essential work as an interpreter, facilitator and guide throughout a newcomer’s settlement. One of the points that Mr. Gilain explored was the need for a change to longer term win-win conceptualizations of inclusion practices. Assisting individuals into the right labour sector does indeed take more time but, as Convivial has found, is better than placing people in precarious, short term jobs.
The following session allowed our expert panel, comprised of MEP Dr. Dietmar Köster of the S&D party; and Sergio Roberto Gratteri, a social entrepreneur and founder of Homeland: Places of Belonging, a new musical inclusion program for newcomers in Brussels. The discussion was moderated by Kate Jackson, project manager of Phoebus.
In Dr. Köster’s opening statements he explored the importance of these terms, inclusion versus integration. The Member of the European parliament showed how even the etymology of the word ‘integration’ is descriptive of a one-way adaptation, the part changing to fit into the whole. This is not what is needed now. ‘Inclusion’ allows for the expression of diversity and innovation, two things that Europe needs. He also commented that many of the discussions being held at the European Parliament are much more focused on tightening borders and finding the most legal and efficient channels in which to operate returns, instead of the issues that were highlighted by the presentations earlier, namely access to a fulfilling life. He reiterated similar sentiment to Mr. Ongunda in that our best tools to fight extremism in any form is by providing individuals with fair and equitable opportunities, and learn how to welcome them.
Mr. Sergio Roberto Gratteri followed Dr. Köster’s remarks with questions of how to best promote participation from different minorities and integrate them into the larger whole. Through his experiences as an educator and coordinator at the BOZAR,,he identified the need to interact with people not based on their migration status, but on their skills and interests. He explored how difficult it can be for refugees and asylum seekers to adapt their skills to new environments. This is where his project, Homelands: Places of Belonging, and the work of organizations like Duo for a Job become integral.
Ms. Batul Hosseini and Mr. Reza Panahi of Cinemaximilan
In the question section Mr. Ongunda, of WeCan, asked the expert panel to explain to him some of the actions European member states engage in internationally, especially in already dangerously destabilized regions. As part of this statement Mr. Ongunda looked to the expert panel to explain how Europe views their role in forced migration drivers. Dr. Köster responded by highlighting the issues of member state collaboration in the follow through on equal resettlement. He associates this with a misunderstanding of the wealth and value of newcomers. He closes his response by reminding all present that migration has been a core element of innovation and development throughout human history. Culture is a living changing thing and those newcomers who arrive are not looking to disrupt host communities, but simply looking for some safety.
Other questions from the audience related to the trends of nationalism and the resurgence of bloodline nationality being sought after in the UK and US through both the many recent developments surrounding Dreamer act (DACA) and the Windrush generation.
Mr. Gilbert Carlson of Duo for a Job speaking with a representative from We Can, Mr. Kamal Nijim
Europe needs diversification and rejuvenation and this can be accomplished through focusing discussions and policies not around safe returns and well-shored borders but a more unified European approach to migration management. This current change in migration is not anomalous and needs to be approached with a long-term, win-win style perspective.
Our first recommendation for the European Union (EU) and their member states is to further encourage cooperation with employers. EU member states need to realize the importance of the role played by employers in refugees inclusion in the job labour market. This can be done in a variety of ways, most significantly being the subsidization of initial refugee employment and the facilitation of global skills recognition.
Secondly, there is a needs for EU to better understand and communicate the benefits that come from investing in inclusive policies for migrants. Studies are now here to support claims of migration benefits to host societies. For instance, In Germany, the investment in refugees will outweigh the costs and have a positive impact on the entire German economy in 5 to 10 years.[note]Fratzscher, M., and Junker, S. "Integrating refugees: A long-term, worthwhile investment." DIW Economic Bulletin 5, no. 45/46 (2015): 612-616.[/note] What the EU really needs to do now is to communicate the benefits of migration to incalcitrant member states.
Finally, it is essential that European member states fight against discrimination. To pursue this objective, countries should not tolerate the normalization of the xenophobic discourse and assure that their anti-discrimination measures-at the core of the values of the European Union[note]Grabenwarter, C. "European Convention on Human Rights." In European Convention on Human Rights. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, 2014.[/note]- are well respected.