During the past year Europe has been seriously challenged by the number of persons seeking asylum within the Union. Thus far, the focus has been on accommodating these refugees, but it is essential that simultaneous measures are taken to enable all individuals to be included effectively in the societies in which they settle. In this task, we believe that the universal values enshrined in international human rights agreements provide a critical point of departure and a vital tool for the development of policies and programmes aimed at ensuring social inclusion.
In light of this conviction, RWI recently facilitated a round table on the topic of social inclusion within a human rights framework in the Nordic and Baltic countries. The round table targeted policy makers at the national level, but also included participants from academia, civil society, local municipalities and the EU. The aim was to provide a platform for mutual exchange and learning, thus contributing towards the development of concrete tools and strategies for the promotion of integration and inclusion within a human rights framework.
By taking departure in a promising practice approach, participants were invited to share their experiences and present initiatives from their respective fields. During the discussions, issues particularly related to the embodiment and enactment of human rights in processes of social inclusion of refugees at a municipal level was made evident. There appear to be challenges of translating visions of social inclusion and human rights from European level through the nation states and down to the level of actual practical implementation. Though it differs between countries, these issues appear to be closely related to bureaucratic procedures, lack of resources as well as lack of coordinated shared efforts on a local management level. Also the role and responsibilities of civil society is ambiguous, especially in terms of accountability and non-discriminatory measures, as there is a danger that municipalities will use CSO’s to fill a vacuum when the state is unable to provide sufficient support.
Another important point from the discussion was the need to move beyond an ‘emergency’ discourse where the primary focus has been on creating infrastructure to accommodate new arrivals in terms of basic needs such as shelter and health care. Instead we need to look towards sustainable and long-term solutions for the handling of the current situation and we need to address the issue of categorisation by single-dimensional labels as well as notions of assimilation rather than integration. One challenge here is the premature assumptions being made about refugees, leading to a ‘deconstruction’ of the individual’s identity, reducing it to a single aspect – the migrant identity – without taking notice of the fact that these people are also fathers, teachers and potential new European citizens.
In general, there seemed to be consensus amongst the participants at the round table that a more in-depth and holistic understanding of the challenges of social inclusion is needed, and that an important, though often neglected perspective is that of the migrants themselves. Bureaucratic challenges such as standardized procedures within the welfare state were raised as an issue that creates barriers for the individual in terms of utilizing their skills, which could risk preventing refugees from taking control over their own lives as well as further complicating their ability to enter the labour market.
An emerging need for increased collaboration across national boundaries was further identified, as it proves to give significant and valuable inputs to learn from each other and share experiences and best practices.
Four final themes emerged as a result of the round table session and the follow-up discussion:
- The role of civil society;
- The relationship between the State and the municipality;
- The ‘deconstruction’ of the individual migrant;
- Discriminatory barriers to the labour market
Subsequent to the round table, an open panel debate took place to discuss the topic of social inclusion in an open forum and to convey the overall conclusions from the discussions to the public.