TOGETHER with the UN – Interview with Ms Caroline Petit and Mr Fabio Graziosi from UNRIC

As the only organisation representing entrepreneurs and business professionals in Europe of all migrant backgrounds drawing its strength from the diversity of its members, UNITEE embraced the UN-led TOGETHER campaign, which supports diversity, non-discrimination and acceptance of refugees and migrants. To inaugurate the newly established partnership with UNRIC, the Brussels-based UN Regional Information Centre that promotes this initiative, The New European interviewed Ms Caroline Petit, Deputy-Director, and Mr Fabio Graziosi, Desk Officer for Italy, the Holy See, Malta and San Marino, who provided us with an in-depth overview of the campaign.

Dear Caroline and Fabio, could you briefly describe the TOGETHER process and who is involved in it?

First of all, TOGETHER is a project of UNRIC, the United Nations Communication Office working on all global and public communication campaigns organised by the UN Headquarters in New York. Our team here in Brussels works on strengthening the understanding of what the United Nations is doing around the world and, more specifically, in Europe. It is important for European citizens to know what the UN is doing to address the most pressing challenges that exist nowadays. After all, the UN was created 70 years ago to bring peace and prosperity to all the people in the world. We live in such uncertain and challenging times that we need to be aware about what the United Nations and its partners are doing to overcome problems, at a local, national and international level, to create a dialogue so that we can all cooperate.

We are currently facing a big crisis in Europe with the rise of xenophobia, of populism and of hate speech. In this context, UNRIC has a crucial role to play: it has to raise awareness, to inform, and to engage. Especially, we need to show that there is hope, by, for instance, raising the visibility of all the successful initiatives that are taking place in Lampedusa, Italy, or in Molenbeek, Brussels. The media has to shed light on such examples, refusing to be overwhelmed by fear.

In this respect, the business world is one of the primary sectors testifying how actions can bring results.

The TOGETHER campaign has a special role in this: it is one of the outcomes of a big migration summit which took place in New York in 2016, when Mr Ban Ki-moon was still the Secretary-General. It’s an umbrella initiative whose vision is, “let’s together raise awareness, since all those migrants are human beings, and need respect, dignity and safety”. It is really about putting a human face on a situation that some call a crisis, while it is a fact that we need to open ourselves to the other. Fear is all around and especially nowadays politicians can use it as a springboard for their agenda, so it is our responsibility as citizens, businesswomen and men and all actors in the society to react to that and to show the positive power of the human being.

What are, in your experience, some of the main prejudices against migrants?

It is mainly a matter of jobs: in Europe, there are newly poor people who are in a critical economic and social situation, and that increases the fear of having one’s job taken away. That is basically the fear of somebody you don’t know, who doesn’t speak the language, who doesn’t share your culture. We as United Nations, together with all people who believe in the power of dialogue, can turn it into a narrative of gain: let’s realise that migrants are helping us to become better. TOGETHER aims at providing a solution to this.  It is just necessary to shift the mindset and to realise that they are already bringing something positive. It is a wake-up call for everyone: the media, decision makers, schools, and the business sector.

In order to counter xenophobia, people need to understand that migrants can represent an added value to society. What are some examples of this value?

UNRIC is working on communication projects about debunking myths. Those migrants are the people who are bringing money, new skills and energy and who also challenge us. We all have to change the narrative and reflect all those success stories. For example, March the 21st was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and on that day we made a big event against hate speech. The EU Parliament contacted us, because they were launching a report on the issue which fell under the TOGETHER logo. Also the creative community of migrants is playing a huge role: many of those who come from outside Europe are very talented in their own way as artists, businessmen or entrepreneurs. UNRIC is organising a series of cultural events for refugees with talents, in order to leverage the creative community to leave a message in a more creative way, which resonates with the audience. There are many positive stories. Just too many times we choose to focus just on the negative ones.

What kind of initiatives linked to this UN campaign have been undertaken since its launch last year?

We have been involved in a project called “Play 4 Peace” organised by a group of sport associations and individuals based on the idea that sport is a fundamental tool to bring people together. They organised this big public event at Tour et Taxi, in Brussels, at the end of March, where five or six thousand people from all religions, races and nationalities came to play thirty different sports all together. The initiative, that will be repeated in September during the EU Week of Sport, also saw the participation of two young Belgian-Moroccan world champions: Jujitsu champion Amal Amjahid, who is also a supporter of Orange Day, dedicated to end violence against women, and Tae Kwon Do champion Jaouad Achab.

Other local initiatives are taking place, for instance, in Italy and in Greece, where some local sports associations have embraced the TOGETHER campaign. Our role is to endorse them with our logo and to give them the credit they deserve: we have to thank them for implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals while learning to live together.

Also, we just got the news that two players from the top Spanish soccer league, La Liga, have agreed to embrace the campaign. We have received so many positive responses, especially from the European institutions and other stakeholders like local entrepreneurs and civil society:  once you realise that you have the power to change things, it is empowering.

The New European strongly advocates for the role of business in fostering integration. Are there any other UN initiatives focusing more specifically on migrant entrepreneurship?

The TOGETHER campaign is not just propaganda: it also provides a number of specific tools like the possibility for migrants themselves to testify about their own experiences and put them at the disposal of the public. So, the public will see that migrants are bringing value.

In 2006, in Turin,  UN DESA, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, co-organised  a two-days seminar meant to explore the challenges of international migration. The event was called “International Migration and Development”. Many high UN personalities were there, together with almost 400 experts in more than 30 different panels, and they examined the phenomenon and its economic implications based on statistics, groundwork, data and the real-life examples of successful migrants. Particularly remarkable was the story of a gentleman who left South Africa for Italy, where he had successfully started a company of fishermen on the Adriatic coast.

It is also worth to mention the remittances sent by migrants to their home countries: they have an impact on the economy of the country of origin, as well as in their host countries. Moreover, when migrants manage to become successful, they start developing their own businesses. Not all migrants are here to crook the government and the welfare. It’s unrealistic to think that.

Among UN agencies that deal with entrepreneurship, UNIDO and IFAD have microfinance programs for development on a small scale, like in communities of fishermen or farmers. The UN is heavily involved in the economic aspect and UN agencies on the ground are facilitating and encouraging the integration process of migrants.

There are other agencies that are more involved on education. For instance, UNICEF, in some countries, is cooperating with universities to allow young Syrian refugees to continue their studies. Education has a strategic importance among the Sustainable Development Goals: if you wipe out education, then you will experience long term problems.

In the end, one of the problems of economic development, is that it takes time to be felt, and this is even more true for migrants. It is not immediate. Integration, after all, is a work in progress. Our job is to make its value added as visible as possible.