While the concept of social inclusion is broad and extends to all segments of the European community, it also concerns the challenges that the EU still faces in its efforts to ensure that migrants and their descendants are included and participate in society.
On 19 May 2020, UNITEE has conducted an interview with Brando Benifei, Member of the EU Parliament since 2014. Currently, he is a Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. His main areas of work are Internal Market and Consumers Protection, Employment and Social Affairs, and Constitutional Affairs. He is active on youth policies, digitalisation and rights of persons with disabilities. In the previous term, he was responsible for the European Solidarity Corps and for key reports on the social inclusion and integration of refugees into the EU labour market, as well as youth employment policy such as the Youth Guarantee and the Youth Employment Initiative. He is also member of our Friends of the New European Network.
VL: We are experiencing an unexpected crisis that is leading all the major European countries towards the closure of their borders. This decision is impacting not only European citizens and their rights to the free movement within the Union but also a triggering situation in those countries hosting refugees and migrants’ camps. In what ways will the new coronavirus impact the management of migrants’ flows in the EU?
BB: First of all, I think that the virus has given clear evidence to the unsustainability of amassing people in small areas, in small territories like we have been seeing happening especially for the asylum seekers in Europe, with some extreme situations like the ones in the Greek islands. More generally, we have seen that in many European countries the situation of segregation of these people in small areas has proven detrimental to the integration. In addition, this virus has shown a lack of policies at EU level for these issues I’ve mentioned above, but also for the management of the fluxes of people. In other words, the extremely limited policy framework being in place today brings risks for refugees’ health as well as for the other people living in the countries. I think that there is new evidence of how unsustainable is not having an integrated approach to both asylum seekers and economic migrants at EU level. I hope that what we are seeing in this situation, which has led to some EU countries to unilaterally take new steps, will revive the political momentum to reform and build a real migration and integration strategy at the EU level.
VL: Media narratives play a significant role in shaping public attitudes towards migrants. Very often they are based on partially wrong assumptions or fail in giving balanced or neutral information, usually depicting the migration as a problematic issue per se. Politics often is at the very centre of this misleading communication. Do you think that better use of communication could impact the public opinion on issues such as immigration and their socio-economic inclusion into the host countries?
BB: Media has a huge responsibility that can be used for good or can end up having a negative impact on the topic of migration. There is also the risk, in this period of crisis, that we see a kind of scapegoating towards the migrants in the sense that, when in the next weeks we will see the gradual reopening of our societies, the difficulties that people will endure and are already enduring in terms of social and economic stability, perspectives and careers will represent a major factor of social tension. In this delicate framework, media can play a relevant role in addressing the real problems in our society like the sheer inequality, emerging clearly in terms of access to health and care services. Obviously, there is a risk that some politics, as well as some media channels, will point out migrants and migration as a problem, falsely stressing out the role of migrant workers as dumping actors in the more general framework of the rights of workers. What should be done instead, would be to highlight the exploitation scenario, that very often is also used against the interest of the entire working class. I think we need to reveal the truth behind this kind of propaganda and also ask the media to play a responsible role in a moment where the spreading of hate will represent another obstacle amongst the already big challenges we are facing.
VL: Portugal, regardless of its entitlements, has temporarily given all migrants and asylum seekers full citizenship rights, granting them full access to the country’s healthcare in order to keep them safe during the pandemic as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has escalated in the country. Following Portugal, Finland and France made a similar decision by taking refugees from camps and reception centres in Greece. Do you think such a gesture of solidarity from these countries will have an impact on other EU countries to act the same, but also open the floodgates for these people in normal circumstances when there’s no pandemic?
BB: Indeed, these kinds of measures can influence other countries in doing the same or at least in observing the ongoing situation in Portugal with a closer eye to understand how they will tackle it. Another similar example is coming from Italy. In the last weeks, the Government approved a new law for streamlining the regularization of irregular migrants working in certain sectors of the economy, notably agriculture and care for the elderly. The Democratic Party (of which Benifei is a member) wanted to extend this law to all irregular migrants on the territory to make them emerge from the black market. Unfortunately, being a government coalition with other parties, we needed to mitigate to let the all coalition agree on the law. Therefore, I do see these decisions taken in Italy as something positive, as it is trying to give a path for integration and an opportunity to the people who are now suffering from inequality with a larger benefit for the entire Italian population. Honestly, I do not think it was inspired by Portugal decision as it was probably linked to a specific need of Italian territory in this precise moment. The situation of illegal employment is a long due problem in Italy not only related to migration. This unprecedented experience of the confinement unveiled the need to solve a situation which was unacceptable even before the COVID.