A civil dialogue on migration, social protection & funding
On 29 October I participated in a civil dialogue meeting with the European Commission on the impact of migration and the humanitarian crisis on social protection systems. A novelty was the topic of the meeting and that the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG Home) was invited by the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) to join.
Laurent Aujean from DG HOME reassured participants that integration of migrants and regular migration remain priorities despite the urgency of saving lives. The Commission wants to make it easier for asylum seekers to access the labour market while their asylum application is pending. Marie-Anne Paraskevas from DG EMPL informed us that only a few projects funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) support migration integration, despite the fact that Member States can apply for funding of active inclusion, employment and education activities, such as services for families and children, language classes, training of teachers and vocational training. The EU has restricted the use of the ESF to asylum seekers that have applied for protection, which can take up to nine months. The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), on the other hand, is left to the discretion of Member States to decide if they allow it to support all migrants, irrespective of residence status.
The Commission once explained to me that EU funding enables new and innovative project ideas that local, regional or national governments are not yet ready to invest in. Although the long-term aim is for authorities to see the added value of such investments, and help them to find a sustainable solution to support civil society or other service providers to continue their work. I therefore asked the Commission if they know of examples when migration integration projects funded by the EU have successfully led to more sustainable solutions. I also reiterated the question by Michele LeVoy (Director of our member PICUM, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants) on which Member States have actually enabled irregular migrants to benefit from FEAD, and if the Commission could encourage, although not oblige, an inclusive application of the fund. The Commission took note of the questions but unfortunatley did not give an answer. I hope that our civil society meeting with DG HOME on 9 November will provide more clarifications about EU funding.
Social Platform members shared their messages:
Conny Reuter (Secretary-General, SOLIDAR) spoke about the logic of austerity, and how decision-makers should go beyond their personal short-term aim to get re-elected and invest in integration and social policies that pay back in the long-term. Secondly, we need an enabling environment encouraging public and private partnership, where services don’t rely on volunteers only and where service providers aren’t criminalised for assisting irregular migrants. Finally, Mr Reuter warned about trade-offs that may have detrimental effects and play into the hands of the extreme right, e.g. if integration is being funded by cuts from programmes for long-term unemployed people.
Heather Roy (Secretary-General, Eurodiaconia) shared experiences from civil society on the ground and their challenges in accessing funding for the first months when refugees and migrants arrive. Lack of funding for immediate reception services prevents migrants from using their skills and abilities. Existing civil society organisation partnerships with regional and local authorities in one area of services has demonstrated an overall quicker response. Hungary is an example of well used ESF funding to provide an integrated package of social services, including accommodation for women who are being trained as child care assistants. Ms Roy stressed the importance of avoiding competition between services, and to maintain the quality of service standards for all, including migrants, and to ensure training for volunteers to prevent them from burn-out.
Eberhard Lueder (Head of Social Inclusion, Red Cross EU Office) spoke about the work by Red Cross staff and volunteers, and stressed that humanitarian assistance is an intervention, not a solution. Civil society organisations across the EU ask for the expertise of colleagues who are prepared and have more experience of meeting the needs of asylum seekers and migrants.
Michele LeVoy (Director, PICUM) shared the long-term perspective of five to ten years from now. While some applicants will be granted protection to stay, others won’t, and due to the volume of arrivals it will be impossible to enforce deportation of all. The consequence is that there will be more irregular migrants living in the EU than today; the present estimation is around two to four million undocumented migrants. Ms LeVoy pointed out three challenges: firstly, current homelessness systems are not meeting the needs of all EU citizens and funding is not available for undocumented migrants; secondly, 30 percent of all arrivals are unaccompanied children, and many of them end up living in poverty; thirdly, special attention should be given to gender, due to the particular vulnerability of migrants who are women and girls.