Debating migration, radicalisation and inclusive societies

This 31 May and 1 June were the Civil Society Days, a cooperation between the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and members of the Liaison Group representing European civil society organisations and networks. This year the theme was about migration. The organisers aimed to encourage a dialogue with civil society participants, although the event fell short of meaningful participation. Inspiration could have been drawn upon from the European Migration Forum, organised a few months earlier by the EESC with participatory methods instead of traditional panel-style ones.

This being said, I attended a session with particularly interesting speakers on the topic of whether we live in parallel societies and how civil society can help prevent marginalisation and radicalisation.

Civil society plays a key role in building inclusive societies, stated Ruby Gropas, working in the European Commission but with previous experience in academia and with civil society. Civil society has the unique ability to address inequalities, for example in places of religious worship and schools. While civil society plays a crucial part, it is the responsibility of decision-makers on national and European level to facilitate partnership between stakeholders, such as academics, the private sector and entrepreneurs. This should include funding to enable meetings and joint work.

We cannot afford to get pessimistic and tired of speaking about marginalisation and radicalisation, said Bart Somers, Mayor of the city of Mechelen in Belgium. Mr Somers made some refreshingly different remarks. Firstly, it is actually not radicalised people from the Middle East coming to destroy Europe; in fact it is the other way around, with several thousand Europeans going to Syria and Iraq to destroy the Middle East. Terrorism is no longer simply a migrant issue, it is about people born in Europe. Cities have to involve all inhabitants to build a sense of belonging, and also support the families that might lose their children to radicalisation. Secondly, it is important to remind ourselves that it is not only migrant and ethnic neighbourhoods that can create ghettos; ‘white’ homogenous schools and neighbourhoods in societies with diverse population are also ghettos.

Fatima Zibouh from the University of Liege in Belgium challenged Mr Somers by saying that while he presented a great vision, most do not share it. Both migrants and decision-makers have to make an effort to change. People who live in a building without knowing their neighbour illustrates that we can live together but still remain in parallel worlds. In order for us to really live together we need common projects. As urban and territorial identity is stronger than ethnic identity, the local level offers opportunity to bring diverse people together.

Claire Fernandez from our member European Network Against Racism outlined various European problems and solutions. One problem is that policies can have a disproportionate impact on Muslim and persons of African descent, for example current practices in Member States such as stop and search at airports and borders on the basis of ethnic profiling. Some solutions include governments making impact assessments when launching new legislation, building coalitions between human rights and community led organisations, and consulting civil society when designing anti-radicalisation policies. Radicalisation in itself is complex; while social exclusion and discrimination are contributing factors they are not the only ones. The fact that Roma people have not become radicalised despite the discrimination and exclusion they face demonstrates that there is more to it, explained Ms Fernandez.

A critical voice was Professor Mauro Magatti from Università Cattolica di Milano in Italy that claimed that there is no true European civil society, which is not a byproduct of political institutions. We need a joint response to increase visibility for critical thinking and towards inclusive societies.