Human Rights Dimension of Migrant Integration Policy

IMG_1314 (Kopie)The rise of populist rhetoric in the months leading up to the European Parliament elections this May as well as the results of the recent referendum in Switzerland, show how hostile the climate all over Europe has become over the issue of immigration policy. High time for the FNF to look at the current EU and national state of play on integration policy from a distinctly human rights perspective and to ask Thomas Huddleston, Director of the Migration and Integration Programme at the Migration Policy Group and Lara Natale, Coordinator at the European Network of Migrant Women, which reforms are needed and what are the challenges of the current situation?

In addition to publishing the widely-known Migrant Integration Policy Index, the work of the experts at the Migration Policy Group focuses on making recommendations on policy changes on European level that would be useful to Member States in order to improve the integration of migrants into host societies. Thomas Huddleston briefly introduced the main milestones in the history of migration policy, such as the resolution to adopt a common migration policy at the Tampere European Council in 1999, followed in 2000 by an anti-discrimination law (employment, education, housing), which have changed the landscape. In 2003 the family reunion directive was passed, after studies showed that social context promotes integration. The findings of Necla Kelek, author, social scientist and winner of the 2009 FNF Freedom prize, point to the contrary, however. Her research shows that Turkish guest workers quite successfully integrated into German society and began to decline when their families began to follow, at which point integration not only slowed but social cleavages began to materialize.

Huddleston’s main recommendations for policy changes across the EU are to lower barriers (bureaucratic, exams, etc.) to naturalization for migrants. Studies have shown repeatedly that allowing migrants to feel involved in the socioeconomic and political environment of their host states changes dynamics drastically: it turns people from victims to agents of their own destiny and thereby promotes integration like no other policy.  On a side note, Huddleston pointed out that populist and nationalist parties were only able to become so prominent because they have voters, if migrants were able to vote where they reside, they would have a voice and the political landscape would look much different: “give them a voice and make them part of the debate,” Huddleston demands.

Unfortunately, precisely because the unfavorable political climate, new developments are blocked because Member States argue that they have strong national laws, although the biggest challenge remains common action on policy.  Another aspect which is often overlooked is just how crucial it is to pay particular attention to how policies affect migrant women differently from migrant men.

It is a fact that migration impacts men differently than women. Illustrating this, Lara Natale pointed out that the employment rates of migrant vs. native men are about the same, while there is a stark difference between migrant and native women. The European Network of Migrant Women sees existing gender neutral policies as a problem, as they put migrant women at a disadvantage (more about this in Natale’s presentation). For migrant women it is even more important than for migrant men to improve access to the labor market by facilitating skills recognition (i.e. prevent de-skilling) and to make it easier for women to obtain an independent status, so they are not dependents of their husbands, fathers, etc. which takes away their agency, their independence… and often their rights.

For migrant women and men it is equally important to have access to the labor market, to be able to find employment and that the right to reside and the right to work go hand in hand and are not split into individual processes with additional bureaucratic burdens. “Once people have a perspective of social mobility,” Natale related “they have an incentive to integrate”. That, in combination with the abovementioned aspect of family-unification, functions as the ultimate catalyst for integration into the social contexts of host countries. It is a matter of acknowledging human rights of migrants and creating an environment which is tolerant and open for the benefits of migration, which enriches the culture and society of host countries and contributes to the economic and political progress.

The discussion was moderated by Ruben Dieckhoff, Desk Officer for Human Rights, FNF, who also gave a short overview over the human rights work of the FNF.

Susan Schneider

Fotos: FNF Europe