Cities for all: towards a new paradigm for integration

This article first appeared on Open Migration

How do stakeholders find and craft win-win lasting solutions that would benefit both migrants, refugees and hosting societies?

PHOTO: A

From the UK’s decision to leave the EU earlier this year to November’s presidential election in the US, refugees and the wider subject of immigration have been used as political campaign weapons to polarise public opinion and win votes. The emergence of anti-migrant narratives has threatened to undermine both the EU’s and individual countries’ efforts to promote refugee integration in the face of the worst migrant crisis in recent history.

But beyond the heat of the headlines, the longer-term challenge for countries welcoming refugees and migrants remains how to sustainably support them in their new communities. Where are the innovative solutions to integration? And what are cities doing to invest in the future of their new arrivals?

Reframing the narrative

From housing to employment, the global migration and refugee crisis presents myriad problems for cities trying to support an influx of permanent or transitory residents. But it also offers opportunities for innovation and investment that can have a lasting positive impact on both local populations and new residents.

According to the UNHCR, more than 60 per cent of the world’s 19.5 million refugees and 80 per cent of 34 million internally displaced people live in urban environments. While cities offer newcomers anonymity and opportunities to build a new future, they can often be hostile environments for vulnerable refugees struggling to find the support they need to navigate new systems or compete for jobs.

The UN’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 represented the first attempt by the General Assembly to discuss large movements of refugees and migrants at the heads of state and government level. Seen as a watershed moment, the summit focused on strengthening governance of international migration and creating a more responsible system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants.

At the summit, 193 member states signed up to the New York Declaration, which commits signatories to strengthening the positive contributions made by migrants to economic and social development in their host countries. Signatory states also committed to expanding the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labour mobility or education schemes.

Responding to change

These challenges are resonating both in Europe and elsewhere. Susan Downs-Karkos is the director of strategic partnerships at Welcoming America, which works with organisations and communities to engage Americans in immigrant integration efforts. She says: “There is greater concern than ever before about the plight of refugees everywhere, and the need to create a more welcoming policy and culture so people can rebuild their lives has rarely been so clear. How can we transform one of the greatest challenges of our time into a significant opportunity – one that can make a difference in the lives of millions of immigrants, in Europe and across the globe – and to the local communities that welcome them?”

Three years ago, Welcoming America began research into how US cities were responding to their changing populations and to identify local government’s role in creating a welcoming community that attracts and retains global talent. This included documenting local policies and programmes that helped immigrants integrate into the community and helping longer-term residents connect with and appreciate their new neighbours.

The result was the Welcoming Cities & Counties network, which enables US municipalities to learn from and share welcoming approaches with one other. The network has grown from 10 to around 100, from Anchorage, Alaska to Salt Lake County, Utah. Partners include companies and economic development agencies as well as civic organisations such as universities and local YMCAs.

Welcoming America’s support for member municipalities includes annual events, webinars and communication campaigns to tackle issues ranging from workforce development strategies to community policing and language access for immigrant entrepreneurs.

Downs-Karkos says Welcoming Cities reduces the barriers faced by immigrant entrepreneurs, for example by demystifying regulatory and financing structures or providing access to micro-lending services.

The city of Denver in Colorado set up a commission on immigrant and refugee affairs three years ago. Projects include a mini-grants programme, launched in 2015, for local organisations with creative ideas to bring neighbourhoods together. Ten winning projects receive $1,000; this year they included a “movies in the park” night to connect community residents and local businesses, and a digital storytelling project focused on refugees rebuilding their healthcare careers in Colorado and culminating in a public video screening.

Business partners

Enterprise is proving a successful model for integration. Every weekend at north west London’s Queen’s Park Farmers Market, the Spice Caravan stall serves up savoury and sweet dishes hailing from Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia. A catering co-operative founded in 2011, Spice Caravan has grown from a group of six refugee mums cooking at school events, to a successful enterprise supplying the local farmers’ market, private events and festivals.

Ayan Hassan, a Somali-born mother of three and a co-founder of Spice Caravan, says a large part of its success is due to the support of Salusbury World, the UK’s only refugee centre within a school (Salusbury Primary). Established in 1999, the charity helps children and families adjust to UK life through after-school clubs, English classes, mentoring and community activities. As well as providing Spice Caravan with kitchen space and start-up funding of £500, Salusbury World also helped the women to access training in business planning and food hygiene.

Salusbury World manager Sarah Reynolds says schools can play an important role as mediators between local communities and new arrivals, as they know and have the trust of the local community. The charity’s work across four schools and colleges supports around 200 children and young people and 250 adults each year.

But Reynolds is concerned by the lack of specialist support for new arrivals: “The growing number of unaccompanied teenagers likely to be arriving across those schools is deeply worrying as the support offered by social services tends to be quite inadequate, they themselves being subject to swingeing cuts, poor publicity and a lack of foster carers.”

Salusbury World is part of a new network of groups supporting young refugees in north London, which Reynolds hopes will help to join up services and address needs more effectively.

Route map to integration

Writing earlier this year, Judith Sunderland, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, remarked that the integration debate has often been “fractious”,  pitting those who favour more assimilationist policies against those who argue for variations of multiculturalism and protection of cultural diversity. Sunderland identifies the main stepping-stones to successful integration as legal status, appropriate accommodation, access to employment and education (including language classes), and family reunification.

Starting in 2016, the Migration Policy Group is the coordinating research partner for a six-year long monitoring of refugee integration in 14 EU member states. The National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) evaluates policies according to the needs and situation of beneficiaries of international protection and asylum seekers. Assessments completed in 2017, 2019 and 2021 will contribute to national and European debates on improved refugee integration and provide governments with evidence for more efficient and effective policies.

Private sector involvement and investment is essential to the mix. In Germany, With Migrants for Migrants (or MiMi by its German acronym) is an integration programme that recruits bilingual individuals from within immigrant communities to become cultural mediators who can make the German health system more accessible to immigrants. Emerging from a public health project by Ramazan Salman, a Kurdish immigrant from Turkey, MiMi trains these mediators to support campaigns from alcohol abuse to vaccination. It says some 1,000 mediators have reached over 32,000 migrants. Salman claims the small annual budget (euros 1.5 million) reaches more immigrants than his state-run competitors.

Creative solutions and support from both public and private sector organisations are vital if cities are to embrace the diversity and talents of their new inhabitants. CILD’s director Andrea Menapace says: “We need a paradigm-shift that would allow stakeholders to find and craft win-win lasting solutions that would benefit both migrants, refugees and hosting societies.”

The first event of the Cities For All project by CILD and Humans on the Move (in partnership with Impact Hub Milan and in collaboration with the City of Milan) took place on 16 December. More information here.

Brexit and beyond: What will the UK out of Europe mean for migration?

This article first appeared on Open Migration

The weeks and months following the UK’s Brexit vote have been dominated by confusion and uncertainty about what this will actually look like in reality, when it might be implemented and how it will impact on issues such as migration.

48%

On 23 June 2016, the UK went to the polls in a historic referendum to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union. The country woke up the following day to find that 52% of those 30 million-plus voters had opted to leave the community it joined 43 years previously.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU – popularly known as ‘Brexit’ – surprised many at home, sent shockwaves across Europe and reverberated around the rest of the world. The ensuing weeks and months have been dominated by confusion and uncertainty about what Brexit will actually look like in reality, when it might be implemented and how it will impact on issues such as migration.

Recent months have also seen an intense Conservative Party leadership contest following the resignation of the (pro-Remain) prime minister, David Cameron and the arrival of (pro-Remain) Theresa May as his successor, the appointment of a new cabinet and abolition of the role of minister for Syrian refugees.

Leave vs Remain

June’s referendum fractured the UK government and the main political parties. The official Leave campaign, whose supporters included former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, wanted to see an end to what it called “the supremacy of EU law” and argued that the £350 million sent every week to Brussels (a fact much disputed by their opponents) should instead be spent on the NHS and science research.

The pro-Leave UK Independence Party (UKIP) seized on immigration as their strongest campaign weapon, urging voters to “take back control of our borders” in a widely criticized ‘Breaking Point’ poster launched by UKIP leader Nigel Farage. The poster used a photograph of a long line of migrants and refugees on the Croatia-Slovenia border – part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.

Pre-Brexit prime minister David Cameron was a leading voice in the Remain campaign, which argued that UK membership of the EU made it stronger, fueled economic growth through immigration and protected workers’ rights.

Exploring the post-Brexit landscape

Many political pundits have commented on the UK government’s lack of contingency planning for a Leave vote. But on taking up her new role, Theresa May asserted: ”Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it.”

In order to leave the EU, the UK has to invoke an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This gives both sides two years to agree the terms of their parting. May says she will not start this process before the end of 2016, so a clear picture of what kind of deal the UK will be seeking from Europe in terms of trade and immigration is unlikely to emerge until next year.

The UK has sovereign authority over non-EU migration. But Brexit has direct consequences for intra-EU migration, affecting the estimated 3m EU citizens living in the UK and the 1.3m UK citizens in EU countries. The UK government has stated that any decision on the future of the former is dependent on the position of the latter as Brexit negotiations unfold.

Norway and Switzerland, both outside the EU, are cited as potential models for the UK to follow. Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and, as such, must apply the same free movement rules as EU member states but has no vote on the rules. Meanwhile the bilateral Free Movement of Persons Agreement removes restrictions on EU citizens wishing to live or work in Switzerland. These models of residency and work rights for EU citizens that are virtually identical to those of EU member states. So, even if Brexit results in tighter controls of the migration of EU nationals, free movement could be largely unaffected if the UK were to follow a similar model.

The greatest fear for many is that Brexit appears to give legitimacy to the anti-migration feelings expressed by UKIP in its campaigning. Stephen Hale, chief executive of charity Refugee Action, says the result is “a very divided Britain with an uncertain outlook”.

“The public now need clarity that this was not a vote to slam the borders shut, or to fan the flames of prejudice towards 3 million understandably anxious Europeans living and working in the UK today,” he says.

PHOTO: Walt Jabsco / Flickr Creative Commons

 

The UK on asylum

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford notes that, aside from citizenship and the internal market, the UK participates selectively in EU policy on asylum and immigration.

The EU’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is intended to ensure that the rights of refugees under international law are protected in its member states. The system sets out minimum standards and procedures for processing and assessing asylum applications, and for the treatment of both asylum seekers and those who are granted refugee status. The UK chose not to participate fully in the recent CEAS reform process, stating that it did not judge that adopting a common EU asylum policy “is right for Britain”.

The UK has also opted out of any refugee quota as part of the EU’s reform of the Dublin system, which currently says asylum seekers must be processed in the first EU country they reach and any that make it any further can be sent back.

In response to the breakdown of that system at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, new proposals would see Brussels calculate how many asylum seekers each EU country could cope with based on size and wealth. If arrivals exceed this number by 50 per cent, asylum seekers would automatically be sent to other EU states.

The UK is not part of the Schengen area, which has no border controls. The Le Touquet agreement, reached between the UK and France in 2003, permits each country to carry out passport checks on the other country’s soil. Critics say this has accelerated the growth of the “Jungle”, which is currently home to almost 5,000 refugees.

While signed outside the auspices of the EU, so not affected by Brexit, Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart believes France should consider renegotiating the agreement, and handle migrants’ asylum requests in Kent rather than in Calais. But a home affairs select committee report published in August has called on the UK government to maintain the Le Touquet agreement as “a priority”.

The report also shows that the UK is struggling to meet its pledge to welcome 20,000 Syrian by 2020. Between September 2015 and March 2016, 1,602 Syrians had been resettled under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme aimed at those in camps on the Syrian borders. The UK received only 3.1% of the 1.25m first-time applications for asylum in EU member states in 2015, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The fence surrounding the port of Calais next to "The Jungle" in Calais, France. (VOA/Nicolas Pinault)

Fear of contagion

So could Brexit be an early sign of a European political tsunami? New research by the European Council on Foreign Relations has found 34 anti-EU referendum demands in 18 other countries. ECFR surveyed 45 of Europe’s “insurgent” parties – from the hard left to the far right – on subjects from their country’s membership to the EU to specific policy issues such as refugee relocation quotas.

Of the total interviewed, 36 oppose the EU-Turkey deal on the refugee crisis, many of them voicing concern about the EU-Turkey deal because it will lead to closer co-operation between the EU and Turkey.

ECFR director Mark Leonard says these challenger parties represent “a revolution” in European foreign policy: “Even where they don’t win power directly, they are so politically powerful that they are forcing mainstream parties to adopt their positions.”

Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen has been calling for a French EU referendum for three years and promises an in-out vote on France’s EU membership if she is elected next year. She hailed June’s Brexit vote as “a victory for freedom”.

Italy’s Eurosceptic Five Star Movement (M5S), an anti-establishment party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, won a quarter of the national vote in 2013 and last month clinched the mayoral seats in Rome and Turin. While the M5S is committed to EU membership, it has called for a national referendum on the euro.

Anatole Kaletsky, chief economist and co-chairman of Gavekal Dragonomics, believes the Brexit referendum’s outcome has transformed the politics of EU fragmentation. He wrote recently: “Before, advocates of leaving the EU or euro could be ridiculed as fantasists or denounced as fascists (or ultra-leftists). This is no longer possible.”

HEADER PHOTO: Duncan C / Flickr Creative Commons