Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

The first European Migration Forum: report and early reflections

by Giuliana Tiripelli


While the migrant boat tragedy in the Mediterranean unfolds and deepens, reaching unimaginable death tolls and quickly revolutionising and burdening southernmost European communities, positive forces within European institutions push to transform the migration emergency and its polices into a coherent and practical implementation of human rights across, and by, Europe. The European Migration Forum (EMF) is a fruit of this effort. It is an innovative body where European institutions, civil society, local authorities, and representatives of the European states meet to discuss issues of integration, immigration, border management, asylum and international protection. GRAMNet is an international participant of the EMF, and participated in its first meeting, which took place in Brussels on the 26th and 27th of January 2015. This post contains excerpts of an internal report by Giuliana Tiripelli, who participated as a representative of GRAMNet. At the end of the post, Giuliana also provides some reflections about paths ahead, in which those involved with migration could invest, in order to make the EMF a fully working and practical tool for a more coherent and human Europe. For a full report and documentation pertaining to the EMF, please see here.


Photo: Giuliana Tiripelli

Photo: Giuliana Tiripelli


Introducing the EMF

The EMF was introduced by representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the European Commission (EC), the founding institutions of the Forum. Luis Miguel Pariza Castaños (Member of the Permanent Study Group on Immigration and Integration in the EESC) explained that the EMF is a continuation of the European Integration Forum (EIF), launched in 2009 by the EC together with the EESC (see here for more information). As Pariza Castaños explained, the EMF thus represents a continuation of European institutions’ engagement with civil society, widening the exclusive focus on integration by the EIF. The activity of the EMF is organized by the Forum Bureau. The Bureau existed prior to the founding of the EMF and was composed by four members, one representative of the EC, one for the EESC, and two members from civil society with experience of integration, from a national-level organisation and a EU level organisation respectively. During the EMF’s first meeting, two additional members of civil society were elected as representatives in the Bureau.

As stressed by Matthias Ruete (Director-General of the Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs – DG HOME – European Commission), the very organisation of the Forum also reflected the desire of European Institutions to let voices from the field emerge. Alongside elections to the Bureau, this first meeting was organized into workshops for the participants, who could then illustrate their reports to the plenary. It also included plenary sessions with testimonies and witnesses, whilst politicians’ speeches followed only at the end of the second day. The 2015 EMF workshops focused on the key themes of the first meeting, which were:


  • Access to the asylum procedure at the borders;

  • Integration of beneficiaries of international protection;

  • A comprehensive approach to countering migrant smuggling;

  • Providing adequate information in countries of origin and transit. (See summary report here)


In these ways, the EMF responded to the need of the European institutions to strengthen the involvement of civil society in the European migration agenda. Ruete added that the European agenda should also reflect the ways in which the EU will embrace migration in the long term: this should be a Europe that has the ability to respond to crisis; a Europe that integrates; a Europe that also cooperates internationally.


The testimonies of the first day

Photo: Giuliana Tiripelli

Photo: Giuliana Tiripelli


The first day opened with a variety of perspectives, from the high levels of the EU section of the UNHCR and the EU Italian representative, to the perspectives of migrants who had made the journey, as well as those involved in sea rescues. Among these, Vincent Cochetel (Director of the UNHCR Bureau for Europe) spoke of the Mediterranean sea as the last open border. He explained that today the majority of migrants do not leave for economic reasons. Despite the fact that these people are largely in need of international protection, they do not apply for asylum in the EU country where they arrive, and so once they arrive in North Europe they have already been in other countries. For Cochetel, this was evidence of a broken system, which needed to develop legal migration routes and alternatives for different cases.

What followed after the institutional speeches confirmed a point made by Mr Cochetel, who explained that the people who make the journey don’t care about the risks, and that there is a strong need for offering protection, also in collaboration with countries of origin. Majid Husain spoke of his personal journey as a migrant escaping from violence. He left Nigeria for religious tensions, and saw his mother killed in front of him. He ended up in Libya, where there was a war, bombardments by NATO. He asked the plenary:

‘In what ways can I escape without risking my life again? I was obliged to take the travel.’

His journey continued on a boat to cross the Mediterranean. Husain’s group was very relieved when they encountered a Maltese vessel, which approached their boat and escorted it … out of territorial waters! He was one of the lucky ones who made it alive the other side, in Italy. Once on land, police searched him. Husain then spent 1 year 8 months without documents in Rome at the Centro Staderini, a centre where refugees and migrants are hosted to wait until their fate is decided. At the end of his odyssey, he had very clear ideas about Europe:

‘I do believe in democracy. But I could find no peace, no freedom, no equality.’

Milen Eyob also spoke of her difficult journey, and she stressed a point that Majid Husain had raised at the end of his testimony; that of the usefulness of the debate when no change is actually achieved. These words became even more striking in the light of the tragedy of April 2015 in the Strait of Sicily, which reached a new death toll only a few weeks after Eyob’s speech at the EMF:

We often go and talk. Sometimes it feels like we are talking to a wall. Nothing is done. I am tired, But if I give up, what will happen?’

Christian Remøy and Haakon Svane, (Norwegian Shipowner’s Association), described the work of Norwegian ship-owners in the Mediterranean, and their encounters with migrant boats. They described the dangers of suddenly having to rescue people at sea while doing their jobs, and the difficulty of making choices and finding solutions in this context. Too many people are often present on the boats, and when they see the ship they start to jump into the sea, or lean on one side of their small boats. This is very dangerous for the migrants and the ship’s crew. In one case, they had to withhold drinking water for those who were jumping in the water, to have them under control without causing problems for the boat and safety of all. In addition, they explained that in most cases, rescuing migrants’ boats requires smart and intelligent leadership and interaction management. The presence of hundred of scared, harmed, and confused people alongside 17 member of staff increases exponentially the risk of insubordination to the captain’s orders, and can create the basis for rebellions which can endanger the life of many, or all, individuals. They highlighted the fundamental role played by the Italian navy in rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Their staff is used to working at sea for days without sleep, but despite this they find rescuing a really difficult task, which also entails a lot of emotional work.


The politicians speak

The second day started with the presentations from the workshops (see here), and was followed by two great speeches, one by EU MP Kashetu Kyenge, and one by Henri Malosse (President of the European Economic and Social Committee). Malosse’s strongest point was the idea that EU does not need a communication strategy for migration and does not need communication channels to present its truths to its audience, but it needs dialogue in order to develop effective policies. He also urged his colleagues to take immediate action in place of words. His speech highlighted the distance between EU institutions and the political fragmentation of Europe. In order to show solidarity, its states should show internal solidarity. He asked Commissioner Avramopoulos to act immediately and to focus especially on the wave of nationalism, which he considers a threat to Europe and effective migration policies. EU MP Kyenge made some additional, but fundamental points for an effective European migration agenda. The first was the need to abandon the emergency logic because migration is a natural phenomenon and migration policies are planning tools for such a natural phenomenon. Migration becomes a crisis when we are not able to prevent conflicts and social problems. Secondly, Kyenge advocated for a holistic approach, instead of a security focused one, and she maintained that in order to have a common policy it is not sufficient to have a common strategy: a common vision is the fundamental requirement for developing such policy and making it effective. Kyenge also suggested that such vision can only develop politicians stop fearing election defeat, and genuinely invest in a better future. The third point she made was the need to put life and respect for human rights at the centre of every policy, and to distinguish categories of migrants, an argument which dominated the first EMF. The fourth point that Kyenge made was the political primacy of the welfare state and the effective protection of rights for all, in order to prevent individuals from becoming invisible. She maintained that the primacy of the security policy after Charlie Hedbo was going in the opposite direction, and it was strengthening a discourse of criminalisation which put everything in the same basket. However, the reality was that terrorists use sophisticated and different methods to remain hidden. For this reason, criminalisation threatened the European ability to act effectively and solve these problems.



Photo: Giuliana Tiripelli

Photo: Giuliana Tiripelli


The EMF offered a variety of views and prompted some reflections about the role of civil society vis-à-vis European institutions and extra-national migration polities. Among the most important points reached in the workshops, some seemed to reoccur more often and to have wider support. The importance of creating a range of legal and safe routes was widely discussed. This was considered by many as a fundamental requirement of the European migration agenda, especially in order to develop communication strategies which could actually have something useful and respectful to say to migrants. A second point was the need to exit the narrow emergency logic and also tackle the structural causes of migration, supporting social and economic renewal in countries of origin. The problem of differentiating messages for different migrants (seeking protection, economic migrants, etc) was also a reoccurring argument among the participants.

A final argument which gained strength during the EMF was the need to not overlap and add new structures, but develop synergies. This also matched what Majid Husein and Milen Eyob had highlighted during the first day: the need for effective and quick advancements in migration policies and interventions, alongside testimony and events about migrations.

Bringing active civil society together in Brussels, the EMF also revealed to its participants the presence across Europe of a myriad of organisations working on the same topics and developing knowledge on similar problems, among which is the growing intolerance towards migrants among local communities in the areas they operate. While European institutions are burdened and slowed by their high-level structured nature, these organisations are burdened by the need to quickly respond and find autonomous solutions for problems which, however, are common, or complementary, among those working with migration at local and national level. This means that a waste of precious energies is occurring across Europe, one which also weakens the conditions and possibilities for a fruitful collaboration between European institutions and civil society. This waste of energy is even more important now, when active civil society needs to raise its voice across Europe in front of the interpretation of migration as a security problem, to be militarily managed by European countries. Civil society can rely on the EMF as a fundamental basis for the validation of their work at European level. However, in order to develop synergies, the organisations and individuals composing it also need flexible platforms to connect with each, in order to share experiences and knowledge, to highlight problems in different regions across Europe, to unveil the links between experiences at the borders and experience at the centre, to improve practices, and to develop a strong, unified voice at multiple levels. Social media can provide a fundamental basis for this purpose, and a space that the participants to the EMF should make their own as soon as possible, strengthening a European civil society network. Developing flexible networks can then help civil society to connect and support those European representatives who keep pressuring for comprehensive solutions from within, strengthening their voices and fastening the achievement of a European migration agenda strongly informed by civil society.


Please follow the links below for more information about the European Migration Forum:

You can follow the EMF on twitter at : @EurMigrForum / #EUMigrForum


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This entry was posted on May 7, 2015 by in Comment and tagged , , , , .
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