Social Platform discusses integration, social tension and political trade-offs

On 7 June our members met over lunch to debate integration of migrants and other groups in society that are socially excluded, and what tensions and trade-offs can arise. Our members Freek Spinnewijn, Director of  the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and Sabrina Lenoach, Migration Officer from the Red Cross EU Office were invited to share their experiences.

Freek spoke about the impact of the refugee situation on the homeless sector, defining three anomalies.

Firstly, there is a legal anomaly. While all Member States are obliged by EU law to provide shelter to refugees, only a handful of them give the same rights to other homeless people. This leads to competition for beds as Member States often rely heavily on the homelessness system, and providers prioritise refugees ahead of other people in need.

Secondly, there is a financial anomaly. The support providers get from local and national authorities is less per bed than they get from the state for sheltering refugees. Homeless shelters therefore end up reallocating their beds for refugees to secure funding in order to compensate for their lack of resources for taking care of other homeless.

Thirdly, there is a political anomaly. While politicians argue that they do not have money to invest in services for homeless people they treat the refugee situation as an exceptional ‘off balance’ investment.  Homelessness may be considered as a social emergency, but not in the same budgetary terms as the refugees emergency caused by the Syrian war. Why isn’t homelessness in Europe considered a civil disaster allowing us to mobilise funding in the same way we do when a natural disaster occurs, asked Freek. The fact that states mobilise accommodation for migrants proves that it is political will that determines whether it is possible or not to help those in need. Freek ended with outlining ways forward. The new EU initiative for a European pillar of social rights includes a political recognition that all (legally residing) people have the right to housing and shelter. The EU could make homeless people an explicit target group in EU funding to better address their needs. Finally, there is a need for a further debate on the role of the homeless sector in migration policy.

Sabrina told participants about the social tension caused by the political discourse differentiating between  ‘good refugees’, from certain nationalities and social categories, and ‘bad migrants’ that look for better lives and flee poverty. Politicians use emotive language such as ‘hordes’ and ‘swarms’ that both stigmatise and paint a negative image of migrants. Red Cross volunteers and staff struggle between helping migrants and helping other people in need. Sabrina expressed concerns about the European Commission’s latest communication on legal avenues to the EU that reflects national interests by calling for reducing pull factors and rights and services available for migrants and refugees, which negatively impacts social inclusion and integration. The Red Cross is working on access to services, combating discrimination and promoting exchange between local communities and arriving migrants.

On a similar note, our members European Network Against Racism, ILGA-Europe (LGBTI rights) and European Women’s Lobby recently published a joint statement to politicians about ‘attempts to play out one group at risk of discrimination against another, using emotions to cultivate and justify a xenophobic political agenda’. Jana Hainsworth, our President concluded that we have to be courageous and talk about how we can continue to have the same level of social welfare in Europe when we have the current pressure on our system. I agree, we need to talk about issues of tension and how they can be solved or mitigated. We cannot let populists and the far-right hijack our debate.