Thursday, 15 June 2017

International experts urge political leaders to help solve refugee crisis


Barcelona (ACN).- Experts from Canada, Sweden, Portugal, and Catalonia agreed that a common political strategy is crucial for the successful reception and integration of refugees. Only with courage and leadership can civil society be positively involved, which, according to the experts, is an essential factor in the integration of refugees and their families. The experts shared their experiences in a conference in Barcelona on Wednesday, organized by the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Immigration of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and the Council for Public Diplomacy of Catalonia.

The conference, held in Barcelona at the renowned Pompeu Fabra University, facilitated the discussion of one of the major challenges on the current global agenda: the question of refugees and forced migration, and how the economic and social inclusion of these people and their families can be successfully managed. The participants came from countries that have implemented successful policies in this area such as Canada, Portugal, and Sweden. The experts had the opportunity to share their experiences and good practices among themselves and with an audience comprised of scholars and governmental representatives.

In comments to the CNA, Ricard Zapata-Barrero, Director of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Immigration of the Pompeu Fabra University, highlighted Canada's participation, because it has a long tradition of integrating refugees. Asked about Catalonia’s potential role in this area, the expert explained that Catalonia's experience with integrating immigrants is well known abroad, and that Catalonia would like to receive more refugees. “This is the reason why our organization decided to co-host this event, so we can learn more about successful practices from other countries,” he added. He also pointed out that Catalonia has the tools to integrate refugees and that one of the lessons learned from Catalonia's experience with heavy immigration over the last decade was that the involvement of civil society was essential. At the same time, Zapata-Barrero pointed out the difficulties for the Catalan government and institutions in developing efficient refugee policies, since “Madrid has a very centralist attitude”.

Leslie Seidle, a research director at the Institute for Research on Public Policy of Montreal, who presented a series of good practice examples in the area of communication, coordination, and financing of immigration policies, highlighted in statements to the CNA the importance of political leadership and courage in order to solve the refugee crisis in Europe. “Leaders in Europe are afraid of the rise of the extreme right but they shouldn’t be. Angela Merkel has received very strong criticism from some sectors but she showed a lot of backbone.”

Deborah Tunis, the Canadian government's Special Coordinator for Syrian Refugee Resettlement, in turn stressed the importance of language as an integration tool, as well as strong political leadership, using as an example the prime minister of Canada. She recalled how the death of Alayn Kurdi became a decisive factor in the 2015 elections and mobilized society and politicians to make a true political commitment to the Syrian refugees. The new Canadian government committed to taking in 25,000 refugees in a very short time. “Engaging ordinary people, cooperation, volunteers, the whole society, is key,” Tunis said in comments to the CNA.

Additional speakers at different round tables were Pedro Calado, Portugal's High Commissioner for Migration, who explained that Portugal receives 10 immigrants for each emigrant, and pointed out the active role of foreigners living in Portugal. Bern Parusel, a political expert in the Swedish Immigration Office, spoke about the positive integration experience of the Balkan refugees who came to Sweden during the 90’s. Parusel also stressed the involvement of the municipalities who designed efficient policies on the local level. Pieter Bevelander, Chair of International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö University, as well as Rui Marques, president of the Platform to Support Refugees in Portugal, also presented their points of view and experiences.

The symposium also featured the collaboration of the Secretary of the Office of Equality, Migrations and Citizenship of the Catalan Government, Oriol Amorós. The rector of the Pompeu Fabra University, Jaume Casals, opened the conference, accompanied by the Secretary General of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, Albert Royo, and Maria Badia, Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the EU of the Catalan Government. All of the Catalan representatives insisted on the Catalan people's commitment to and solidarity with the refugees, which, they said, cannot be exercised fully because of the lack of competencies.

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  • Audience at the conference on refugees in Barcelona (by CNA)