Migrant rights could enhance intercultural tolerance

New research assessing the impact of migration as a driving force for social and cultural development in South East Europe has called for a modernised approach to migration policy, where free movement across borders is considered as a resource for Europe, not perceived to be a problem that requires a solution.

The GeMIC research project explored the role of migration in cultural interaction in eight countries of South East Europe and the Mediterranean: Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Among other things, the project findings and policy recommendations support a recent EC initiative1 to improve efficiency of travel through an amendment to the existing border regulations, established under the Schengen Borders Code (2006)2. The project also endorses a forthcoming Call for proposals, under the framework of EU programmes, to promote social inclusion and eliminate xenophobia through education3.

The aims of the research were thematically driven and covered a broad section of social and cultural life, encompassing both the ‘sending’ and the ‘receiving’ nation. This is in contrast to earlier studies where research has typically investigated the perspective of the receiving nation only.

An interdisciplinary team, composed of social scientists and researchers working across a range of disciplines, such as education, urban geography, sociology, media studies, literary criticism and political theory, collected data through a variety of methods: extensive literature reviews, direct observation and analysis of social behaviour, interviews and focus groups, discourse analysis and examination of national media attitudes to migration-relevant issues, such as perceptions of crime and employment.

Some of the project’s key findings and recommendations are summarised below:

Education

Critical evaluation of the persistent problems engendered by the application of ethnocentric, homogenised and culturalist – as opposed to anti-racist – curricula in Greek and Cypriot schools, as well as alternative examples of multi-ethnic educational reforms promoted in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), provided a model for proposed changes to European national curricula and education practices.

Policy recommendations:

  • To introduce historical migrations, minorities and race relations to European school curricula.
  • To develop ongoing training and knowledge exchange schemes, such as travel, peer-tutoring and neighbourhood collaboration.
  • To expand the range of foreign languages taught in schools.
  • To guarantee the right to education for all under-18s, regardless of legal status.

Racism, xenophobia and social infrastructure

In parts of Athens, Bologna and Barcelona where funding for public facilities was restricted, or non-existent, the incidence of hostility towards migrant populations was found to be higher, often with the blame for the devaluation of the area placed on the migrant population.

Policy recommendations:

  • To invest in renovations of free-access public areas, i.e. parks, squares and community centres, to create mutual meeting grounds.
  • To implement migrant-sensitive housing policy, including social housing, access to loan facilities and temporary shelters for people in transit.

Intercultural violence

Many migrant women working in the domestic, care or cleaning sectors have no official status and therefore, no rights or legal protection against exploitation, poor conditions or abuse by an employer. The GeMIC researchers call for as much recognition for these gendered issues of inter-cultural violence as for sex trafficking and other more visible concerns.

Policy recommendations:

  • Inclusion of domestic and care workers into health and retirement insurance systems.
  • Reduce the vulnerability of migrants in domestic and care work, particularly women, through funding of self-help networks.

Religion

A lack of national support for the practice of different faiths severely hampered the desire by religious groups to be included in the community. For example, no official mosques are permitted in Greece, encouraging forced segregation of Islamic worshippers.

Voluntary women’s groups in Italy and the Netherlands offering language courses and education to all, including those outside their religion, demonstrated where direct funding could benefit ‘bottom up’ integration.

Policy recommendations:

  • Promote inter-faith networks and collaboration, particularly between women’s religious groups.
  • Encourage participation of female representatives of minority religions in EU public debates and bodies.

GeMIC highlights the importance of not looking solely at tensions and problems related to migration, but also at identifying where migration has been successful in establishing cultural ties across borders. The media are identified as an important tool that can encourage positive perceptions of migration, and direct EU funding of collaborative schemes and partnerships within national media organisations is recommended.

The researchers also called for a modernisation of the ‘gender-neutral’ approach to migration policy. This allows the consideration of multiple, overlapping sources of potential discrimination alongside each other, not as separate, additive issues. This represents a more complex but realistic ‘intersectional’ approach that is more appropriate to the modern situation.

 

1 See: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/11/532&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

2 See: http://eurlex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:105:0001:0032:EN:PDF

3 See: http://www.enar-eu.org/Page.asp?docid=25578&langue=EN

GeMIC – Gender, migration and intercultural interactions in the Mediterranean and South East Europe: an interdisciplinary perspective (duration: 1/2/2008 – 31/1/2011). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 3 “Major trends in society and their implications”, Research area 3.3 “Cultural Interactions in an international perspective”. Collaborative project (small and medium focused research project).

See: http://www.gemic.eu/

Contact: Alexandra Zavos, azavos@otenet.gr