MEP Benifei on EU refugee policy: ‘Reception is an investment worth making for the future of our countries’

According to Brando Benifei, who recently presented a report on the integration of refugees in European societies, more EU funding is needed for handling their influx and supporting the struggling civil society organisations involved.

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa – What was the origin of the report "Social inclusion and the integration of refugees into the workforce", which was approved by the European parliament on 5 July 2016 and for which you were the rapporteur?

Brando Benifei – The European parliament has from the beginning of this parliamentary term taken care of the problem of migrants and refugees. It has even insisted on making the governments face up to the emergency situation before it erupted so strongly starting in 2015.

The necessity to prepare a report on the integration arose from considerations that Europe has often moved too late and too little to handle the flow and the integration of the arrivals. We need to change.

What is the most important fact coming out of this report?

The necessity to grant additional resources from the redistribution of interests produced by the Central European Bank within the eurozone. Also the relocation of resources from other European expenditure chapters within the European Social Fund, and within the cohesion policies.

Greater resources are needed to allow regions and local authorities to plan projects using European funds. In the current situation it is important not to affect the existing resources which are economically and socially critical for the vulnerable groups of inhabitants within the receiving countries, such as the disabled and the long-term unemployed. More social investment is essential to avoid racism.

Another important point in the report is the necessity of providing services for employment and integration, in partnership with the private sector, for those who could more quickly be integrated through language lessons, certification of competence, profiling – all those techniques existing in Europe as good practices so that those arriving and who have the right to protection are integrated as soon as possible into the host society.

What concrete examples can be given to avoid fighting between the poor?

Funds for the refugees and migrants have in time shown to create wealth for all. It is important to demonstrate with the data and figures already available that it is an investment worth making for the future of our countries. With an effective integration policy, those arriving can find dignity, play a part in and be useful to the whole community.

Let me show an example: Data from the Italian statistical office shows that the pension system cannot continue without immigrants. Workers coming in as migrants contribute to the pension system and in general to the welfare system helping to put it into equilibrium, as they give more than they take, because they are usually younger than the national average.

What should be done to establish greater cooperation between European institutions and the civil society dealing with migrants and refugees?

It needs responsible actions from all players. The media needs to speak more, and more rationally about this issue, telling the facts and choices made in a less sensational manner.

On the other hand the European institutions need to be more accessible, more available to the general public and therefore felt more present in the regions. Existing offices, like Europe Direct, should be more visible, so as the public knows what the EU is doing and what opportunities are available.

Can you quote some successful integration tool in Europe?

I'll quote two interesting ones. The first is an Italian example of the SPRAR (protection system for asylum seekers and refugees) considered a model at European level. It is a system which provides a good distribution throughout the territory. The plan has the approval of the mayors and is managed together with the local political authorities. It is a system that Europe has adopted as a good practice.

In the case of the SPRAR it would be a good idea if more city councils joined the system instead of waiting for an emergency situation which has to be managed by the prefecture – which represents locally the national government –, taking responsibility from the local authority. A costly solution that also brings disruption to the local population.

Another good idea is the systematic use of applications for smartphones. There are several, but the most significative is Ankommen, promoted by the German national Labour agency. It provides the asylum seekers and refugees with information on their rights, their obligations, what they should do suggesting how they should move.

The system is based on the fact that these people have nothing, are often in great economic difficulties, but they do have a phone with them. It is the only way they can keep in contact with family and friends. The fact that refugees have a phone is often mystified, but it must be understood that it is the only way they can keep contact.

On the contrary it is important to take advantage of the fact that many do have a smartphone to integrate them and save the expense of other instruments. New technology, if used wisely, creates positive opportunities.

In order to have an answer to the proposals of the report it is necessary to come out of the state of emergency and for member states to adopt a global approach to reception...

This will be possible if the European parliament keeps as a high priority in 2017, as it has in previous years, the approval of the package on the treatment of persons coming from third countries. This wide ranging of measures proposed by the European Commission provides a broad holistic approach starting from the reasons for departure and the relationship with the countries of origin up to the issue of integration.

Keeping these topics high in the legislative priorities would facilitate the making of decisions binding all countries, even the most reluctant, and rally them to a majority which very slowly appears to be emerging: that of those believing that there is the need for common responsibility among the States and a sense of solidarity within countries, territories and between people.

It is an emergency that has already become structural and therefore must be faced with a serious and scientific approach. It implies planning and far sighted vision, that Europe has sometimes not fully shown.

This article has been produced within the project The Parliament of Rights, co-funded by the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa and its partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

LogoEPEN

Translated from the Italian by Judith Kennedy

Factual or translation error? Tell us.