No other topic has been as strongly debated during the past years as migration. The opposition by populist parties to immigration continues to feed the dominant sentiment in several Member States. Simply neutralizing xenophobic attempts to project social fears and anxieties on the “figure” of the migrant, is not enough. However, placing too much value on their over-simplified narratives is not an option either. It helps legitimize their success, make them sound normal and offers them free publicity.
In view of these European Parliament elections, there is a need for a more nuanced approach and a shift in the way that civil society, relevant stakeholders and especially mainstream parties deal with far-right, unreliable and false information. One meaningful way is to highlight that migration and diversity bring talents, competencies and new ideas, which are enriching and can positively contribute to the development of a society.
Indeed, building inclusive societies is hard work. It requires, on the one hand, individual motivation and commitment from the side of the migrant since understanding and adjusting to the way of living in a new country is a challenge as such. On the other hand, support and openness from the receiving society is essential, especially given that several European countries struggle with internal emergencies resulting in high unemployment rates or housing crises affecting their own citizens.
JRS experience shows that contrary to the visible anti-migrant discourse, there is widespread support across Europe for embracing migrants and refugees in our societies. Therefore, we need to talk with facts, and make people aware that migrating or searching for refuge have always been and will forever remain an intrinsic part of the history of humanity.
Being a refugee is not easy for many reasons
Soheila is a 30-year-old woman from Iran. She has a degree in art, she loves painting and has two dreams for the future: one is to teach art in a school and share with children her love about painting; the other one is to exhibit her own paintings at some point. Her story is an example of resilience and determination for a better and fairer life against all odds.
She was initially living in Denmark, where she started working in a school, but suddenly she was sent back to Italy because of the Dublin system which says that the first country of entry of any asylum seeker must in principle assume responsibility for their claim. ‘’I tried to explain the authorities that I had never been in Italy and that I did not know anyone there, but they did not want to listen. I arrived in Rome and from the airport I was sent to a reception centre where I stayed for one year. I had to start all over again. Learn a new language, rethink my life,’’ she recalled.
Her dreams might be about painting, but her cause in life is to live again together with her family. Her parents and her sister are left behind: ‘’Every day I work hard to be able to embrace them. I cannot go back to them, but they could come at least here with me. I know that still it is not the right time and that it needs a lot of legal and administrative steps, but every day I get busy waiting for that day to come. When I arrived in Europe I did not think it would be so hard’’. Because of a slow family reunification process, Soheila had to overcome alone her health issues: ‘’In Italy, I underwent three operations in the head. I lived the coma experience. I am still alive, still here, stronger than before.’’
The need to welcome and to protect
Soheila currently works in a small cooperative as a graphic designer. It is a job that she really likes and the people she works with have become their Italian family. Soheila has a message to share for consideration for any future integration plans.
‘’Today I am here for myself and for all the women who live like me as foreigners. I do not want to complain or make you sad, but I want to show the strength, the determination, the desire to succeed that refugee women have. We, refugees have dreams, talents, determination and a lot of strength. We can promote ideas, projects, create more just and open societies because what we want more than anything else is to build: build relationships, build bridges, bonds, in my case build works of art. We do it every day with words, with actions, with the ability to forgive, because we are stronger than the pain they have inflicted on us’’.
With the European elections taking place in few days, JRS Europe urges political forces across Europe to get inspired by the story of Soheila; which surely is not the only story to be told. Specifically, we encourage EU and national policy makers to:
- Leverage existing experiences and best practices at community level.
- Foster direct dialogue and cooperation between authorities and citizens’ initiatives.
- Encourage actions that mainstream the integration of migrants within broader policies on social inclusion by prioritising the funding of projects with mixed target groups, including both migrants and other local vulnerable groups.
- Invest in local, small-scale, community building initiatives, by giving priority to the financing of such projects within the relevant European funds.