Migration: Patrick Taran advocates for a welcoming culture

09 May 2016

The refugee crisis, frequently referred to as the migrant crisis, has been relentless fodder for news media, political debate and public attention in Europe over the last year. “The crisis is much more one of perception – and of values – than of reality,” Patrick Taran believes, recalling that "Refugee arrivals and migration are permanent features of the European story." Today, around 50% of the populations of Rotterdam or Vienna, for example, are foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. Contrary to common myths that refugees steal jobs and increase insecurity, "the reality is that immigration tends to expand employment and create jobs, lower crime rates, revitalize decaying neighbourhoods and expand national production and growth", he says. 

Patrick Taran, president of Global Migration Policy Associates, participates at a roundtable on "Welcoming cities for refugees", held on 9 May 2016 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. 

World attention is currently focused on the dramatic situation of millions of persons driven from their countries or displaced internally by devastating warfare in particular in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. In 2015, Europe countries faced a dramatic increase in the number of refugees arriving in irregular situations, over one million persons. European countries registered 1,392,610 applications for asylum – some arrived in regular situations – more than double the 626,000 asylum applications registered in 2014.

However, let’s put these figures in perspective. Refugee arrivals and migration are permanent features of the European story. Cities have long been and remain ground zero for large numbers of arriving refugees and migrants. Annual immigration arrivals to EU member countries have been consistently over 3 million over the last decade; 3.4 million in 2013, the last year for which published data is available. Some two thirds originate from outside the EU, the other third are immigrants from other EU states. 

The large increase in refugee arrivals in 2015 nonetheless resulted in significant additional challenges for all levels of government. Cities in Europe and elsewhere have critical responsibilities to immediately address the multifaceted challenges generated by arriving refugees and migrants. The challenges of meeting human rights and public services obligations falls most heavily on local government, which must assure adequate shelter, food, health care, education, water, sanitation, public safety, transportation and other facilities for all residents, as well as provide skills assessment and employment services to assist refugees and other migrants in becoming self-supporting.

Nearly all branches, departments and services of city government – indeed of regional and national government – are involved in providing these services. However, local governments highlight that they generally receive little or no support to meet these consequences of national policies and international events.

The challenges for local government are exacerbated by prejudices and rising xenophobic reactions against refugees and migrants. Discrimination and often violent hostility are encouraged by populist discourse and fear mongering on the part of some political figures and parties, along with negative representation of refugees and migration in news media. As Eurocities put it, many cities are affected by two related trends: austerity policies and budget cuts at local and/or national level, leading to scarcer resources to fund social policies, including integration policies, and. an anti-migrant backlash in the context of the global economic crisis, which some political parties have put at the core of their agenda.

These challenges also present opportunities for shaping the future of dynamic and vibrant cities. According to Cities of Migration, the twin forces of urbanisation and global migration have created a rich field of action and experimentation in cities around the world on integration strategies for migrants. The success of many of these cities is to a large extent tied to their success in actualising the hopes and dreams of the thousands of migrants... When they succeed, the result can be a strong economy and a vibrant "cosmopolia", when they fail, the result can be poverty, segregation and social tension.

© UNHCR/M.Henley

Opportunities for strengthening cities may be difficult to realize in situations characterised as crises. Wider perspective, support and shared experience is crucial. At the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR) 2015 General Conference in Karlsruhe, city members expressed unwavering commitment to tackling the situation with an “anti-racist welcoming culture”.

Welcoming cities for refugees in Europe

Launched on 9 May 2016, at UNESCO Headquarters (Paris), the initiative “Welcoming cities for refugees in Europe" intends to identify relevant city governance; map legal, policy and practical approaches; and articulate recommendations on actions and approaches to achieve effective, holistic city governance regarding refugee and migrant reception, integration and social cohesion.

The starting point was a substantial survey of cities participating in ECCAR. So far 12 cities (ranged in size from 22,000 to 1.6 million) in ten countries have responded with data regarding refugee and migrant presence; city policy and practice; specific services provided for refugees and migrants; and identification of challenges and good practices. Most reported foreign-born populations of 16% to 40% of their totals, while Eshe-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg) noted over 55%, and Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Vienna (Austria) indicated around 50% foreign-born or with one or both parents foreign-born.

Most cities have established a specialized service or department for city policy and action on refugee and migrant arrivals and integration. Barcelona (Spain) launched its ‘Refuge City’ plan in September 2015 to gear up for receiving and assisting refugees, providing necessary services and guaranteeing their rights. Ghent (Belgium) recruited new staff for community and welfare coordination, for sensitization and communication, and for housing coordination focusing on asylum seekers. Graz (Austria) set up a task force group with members from different city departments, organized housing infrastructure with the regional government, invited citizens living around refugee accommodations to information events, and took special measures for unaccompanied minors. Karlsruhe (Germany) established a special fund to support voluntary initiatives and the mayor held two big community information meetings for citizens. Rotterdam established a special Program “Basis op Orde” and subsidised refugee care. In Sweden, Malmö stepped up its emergency planning in Autumn 2015 when a large number of unaccompanied children arrived, to solve urgent challenges including housing, and the Uppsala Executive Board adopted an overall strategic plan covering five areas: coordinating activities and resources; housing/accommodation; schooling and information; reception and employment; and leisure activities and social inclusion. The city started the “Family Friend” initiative encouraging inhabitants to make personal contributions to facilitate social inclusion and integration of the newly arrived.  

Sudanese asyium seeker
© UNHCR/O.Laban-Mattei

Key challenges

A fundamental challenge for local government administration is to address the real needs for services, support and integration of newcomer populations. People new to a city or a country need information and orientation.  They won’t learn instantly the new local language so they need information in other languages. That puts language and civics instruction high on the list.

Immigrants, just as the established population, need services: schooling, healthcare, access to housing, transportation to work, police protection, social security, maternity support, etc. Most go to work as soon as they can. This includes children once they reach adulthood and refugees when they obtain work authorization. They need assistance in recognition of credentials and qualifications, skills retraining or adaptation, and job matching support.

Housing and urban habitat planning are highlighted as a major challenge by most: often migrants live in overcrowded housing in the peripheries, which greatly affects their capacity to integrate into society and realize themselves as full citizens.

Besides the public services, local government administration has fight discrimination and to sustain social cohesion in hostile environments. Manifestations of anti-foreigner sentiments, incidents of violence and publicly-voiced accusations that refugees/migrants steal jobs and increase insecurity are not an uncommon phenomenon.

Migrant's protest in Paris (Photo: JeanneMenjoulet & Cie)

Discrimination reinforces attitudes that constrain certain identifiable groups to marginalized roles and poor conditions. The results of consistent denial of employment opportunities, relegation to ghettos, lack of education or training opportunities, absence of police protection, and multiple discrimination in community life are exclusion and ultimately, breakdown of social cohesion. 

Discrimination has a double impact on refugee and migrant women. Gender segregated labour markets contribute to discriminatory employment in countries of destination, resulting in high levels of abuse and exploitation of women refugees and migrants. Anti-discrimination and equality of treatment measures are prerequisite foundations for integration policy. Respect for the diversity of cultures, opinions and religious beliefs provides the setting that ensures the dignity of each person and the recognition of their abilities, two key aspects of well-being and hence of social cohesion.

What's at Stake

Migration changes the ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic and religious composition of societies and communities worldwide. But change and diversity don’t often ‘come naturally,’ all the more so when established populations find public services disappearing, jobs becoming less stable, affordable housing more scarce, cost of living rising, and so on. Without assertive public information and education, it is easy for disaffected locals to believe political harangues and news coverage suggesting connections between foreigners and unemployment, crime, scarce housing, deteriorating health care, inflation, traffic congestion, etc.

The reality is that immigration tends to expand employment and create jobs, lower crime rates, revitalize decaying neighbourhoods and expand national production and growth.

What may be more important is that migration is crucial to sustaining the world of work in the 21st century. Over 90% of all migration – including refugee movements – is bound up in employment and economic activity outcomes. In 2013, International Labour Office (ILO) calculated that 150 million of the then 232 million people – including refugees – living outside their countries of birth or origin in 2013 were economically active.  That represents nearly all of working age.

Migrant workers at Egyptian-Libyan border

Migration today is central to the viability of labour markets worldwide. Foreign-born workers comprise 10-15% of labour forces in Western European countries, 30% in Switzerland. 20% of the German work force is foreign origin. Proportions are far higher in many European cities, where migration is rejuvenating the workforces.

For example, around 50% of the populations of Rotterdam and Vienna are foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. 20% of the German work force is foreign origin. In 2013, 71.4% of non-EU nationals in EU Member States were engaged in economic activities. Furthermore, the rate of labour market participation was actually higher for non-citizens than citizens in Luxembourg as well as the Mediterranean and Eastern European Member States. Contrary to common myths, these rates show a high level of economic participation of migrants in European countries.

Migration is maintaining the viability of European agriculture, construction, health care, hotel, restaurant and tourism and other sectors. It meets growing demand for skills, and promotes entrepreneurship. Migrant remittances, skills transfers, investments, and trade are enhancing development in both European and other countries. Migration is not only key to development; the viability, indeed the very survival of Europe's developed economies depends on migration.

Greater mobility anticipated

Within 15 years, the majority of the world's countries will be in serious work force decline. Many already are. Fertility rates in some 122 of 224 recognized countries and political territories are at or well below zero population growth; this includes all of Europe. In the next fifteen years, Germany will lose 5 million members of its work force; Italy's work force will decline by some 3 million; Switzerland will need 400,000 additional workers. The Russian Federation has lost 10 million workers since 2000. Most dramatic is the anticipated decline of China's workforce by some 100 million people in the next 30 years. Over coming years, these countries will face increasing departures from the work force uncompensated by decreasing numbers of youth entrants. This means increasingly 'globalized' demand – and competition for the most crucial economic resource of all: trained skills at all levels.

No country today can form or train workers with the entire range and number of evolving professional, technical and vocational skills needed to perform the ever more complex work performed on its territory. This drives a constantly increasing, international mobility of talent, competencies and labour at all skill levels. 

The global skills crisis is critical. A forecasting study by the McKenzie Global Institute estimated that the global shortage of high skilled and trained technical skills may reach 85 million by 2020. Almost 40 million skilled workers with tertiary education will be lacking, especially in developed countries and notably across Europe. Another 45 million will be missing with technical, vocational and scientific skills needed by employers - this within five years. Already employers around the world complain that they cannot fill one in three jobs on offer with the needed level of skills. 

Supply side pressures

Pressures for labour displacement and emigration from countries North and South remain intense; in some situations they have significantly intensified in the last five years. The war and conflict driven exodus of millions from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have overshadowed the bigger, long term mobility trends, particularly because of the more than a million persons in refugee circumstances arriving in Europe over the last year.

However, a main factor in countries across Africa and Asia remains the absence of jobs and decent work in countries with growing youth populations. Job creation remains flat while youthful populations are increasing. Meanwhile, financial crises and austerity measures have devastated national economies as well as social protection systems even in Europe, and have resulted in youth unemployment rates of 50% in several countries. New waves of emigration, especially of young skilled workers, have departed from Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – a significant number to cities elsewhere in Europe.

The future of migration has arrived in Europe’s cities. It brings urgent, complex challenges for all administrations. These challenges and opportunities can be met effectively and justly. Doing so requires proper knowledge, application of the rule of law, engaging the best principles of public administration, and implementing effective practices. 

Patrick Taran

*  *  * 

P. Taran is president of Global Migration Policy Associatesan international expert body conducting research, policy development, advisory services and training worldwide.  He counts 40 years full-time professional experience in international migration, refugee resettlement, immigrant integration, labour migration and human rights work at local, national and global levels. He is former Senior Migration Specialist at the International Labour Office—ILO, (2000-2011), responsible for technical cooperation and advisory services in Africa, Central Asia and Europe, and activity on discrimination, migrant integration and human rights protection of migrants worldwide.  He is Senior Fellow at the Global Migration Center, Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies of Geneva and Visiting Professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. Author of several books on migration and more that 200 published papers, articles, book chapters and speeches, P. Taran  is co-author of the recently published IPU-ILO-OHCHR Parliamentarians Handbook on Migration, Human Rights and Governance (October 2014).  

See his interview at the German-Russian Forum. Berlin, 14 May 2014