We need to break silos between migration and labour legislation

On 8 March I listen to Abdellbaset Alheeshan, a Syrian refugee who has lived in Belgium for one year. He was invited to a seminar in the European Parliament on equal treatment and rights for migrant workers by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Abdellbaset shared his experience of having to wait nine months for his application to be processed and approved. While he was grateful that the waiting time was not as long as in many other EU Member States, it is still lost time for people who have already lost several years of their lives to the Syrian war, not being able to pursue their education or employment. Abdellbaset praised Belgium for allowing migrants, after four months, to work regardless of whether their asylum application has been rejected or not. In this way his friend, whose application was rejected, was able to work for a couple of months before returning to his country of origin, earning a bit and learning a lot that helped him to contribute to development back home. Abdellbaset is volunteering while trying to get a job; he explained though that in Syria and many other countries in the Middle East volunteering is not an option, as people’s salaries are so low that they can only engage in paid work. It is therefore important to explain to newcomers the culture of volunteering and the value of engaging with civil society in Europe. Make the waiting time much shorter, and listen to and involve refugees and migrants in policy making were Abdellbaset’s recommendations to the audience.

Brando Benifei, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and author of the report on refugees’ social inclusion and integration into the labour market expressed that there are contradictions in the EU’s labour and migration laws. Minos Mouzourakis from the European Council on Refugees and Exiles also highlighted the fragmentation between labour and migration law and that we need to break silos and resolve inconsistency between what the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs says versus what the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs says. What we need is to enable ways for economic migrants to come to the EU, in order for them not to use humanitarian corridors to enter, and we need to make it easier for highly-skilled migrants to access the ‘Blue Card’ permit to Europe, said Mr Benefei. Javi Lopez MEP also called for more regular ways for migrants to enter Europe, and more funding for people in vulnerable situations. Our member PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants) reminded the panelists that we also need workers in low-skilled sectors beyond seasonal workers, which is to only group currently recognised by the EU’s labour legislation. The reason why people work irregularly is often because there are no other options. Mr Lopez and Udo Bullmann MEP both called for the European Pillar of Social Rights to be used as an opportunity to economically and socially include newcomers in Europe.

Laura Corrado from the European Commission concluded that we need both legislation and better monitoring of Member States’ implementation of EU rules. Additionally, Member States should invest in integration, and we can learn a lot from successful practices at local level. By the way, have a look at our short videos of migrant inclusion projects we visited in Sweden at the end of last year.

A week later the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published its report “Together in the EU: Promoting the participation of migrants and their descendants”, echoing the same message about the need to invest in social inclusion. National integration action plans and strategies differ widely across the EU and much can be done to improve national migration integration. Among FRA’s opinions they propose Member States that have not yet included nationality as a grounds of discrimination to do so, in order to ensure that migrants who are victims of discrimination do not fall outside the protection provided by legislation. Another point is that of Member States addressing the issue of parents enrolling their children in schools with only students of their own ethnic background, leading to segregation. This has to be tackled with actions to coordinate housing and education policies, as well as opportunities for social interaction between different communities. FRA also encourages Member States to promote the active participation of migrants in education of their children and enable third-country nationals to vote, as well as making it easier for descendants of migrants who were born and/or educated in the country to become citizens.