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As I have said this adds to a more comprehensive and calibrated view of immigration and itscontribution to a nation’s weal...
In the Agency’s 2008 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS),which surveyed 23,500 respondents with...
The immigrant experience and reality is more complex, varied and differentiated. There is acompelling positive narrative a...
ownership experience and their social and economic networks with countries of origins or inother EU Member States.Europe 2...
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Respect for immigrants' fundamental rights: a duty


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Presentation by John Kellock (Policy Advisor, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) on the occasion of the conference on Immigration – a source of wealth and duties for Europe organised by the EESC, the Council of Europe and the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council in Brussels on 15 March 2013.

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Respect for immigrants' fundamental rights: a duty

  1. 1. CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY IMMIGRATION – A SOURCE OF WEALTH AND DUTIES FOR EUROPE Respect for immigrants’ fundamental rights: a dutyI would like to thank the organisers for inviting me today. I believe that conferences such asthis provide us with an opportunity not only to discuss a key issue in public discourse, but toshare our understanding and knowledge and move forward with a more comprehensive andcalibrated view of immigrants and their contribution to Europe’s wealth and its globalcompetitiveness.This is a particularly opportune moment as Europe is still experiencing the financial andeconomic crisis, and the mid to long term exit strategy from the crisis has been outlinedthrough priorities, initiatives and targets under the Europe 2020 strategy for smart,sustainable and inclusive growth.It has been refreshing to discuss immigration as an opportunity and source of wealth, andalso the recognition that immigrants are interconnected globally in ways different to hostpopulations.And there is also the very practical consideration related to the reality of present dayEurope’s demographic changes – two major facts stick out, Europe’s population is ageingand living longer and migration accounts for the largest proportion of the EU’s populationgrowth.Some interesting figures emerge from Eurostat’s demography report in 2010. EU-27Member States are host to around 20 million non-EU-nationals and around 5 million non-nationals have acquired EU citizenship since 2001.As a practical thought - I do not think that anyone can reasonably argue that in the EU weshould not respect the rights of 25 million people, and that we should exclude them fromlabour markets or opportunities to contribute to the EU’s wealth – and pay taxes!Given that most immigrants are relatively young and have arrived quite recently theycontribute to the size of the EU-27 labour force. Among EU nationals, in addition to theapproximately 8% of foreign-born people residing in the EU, a further 5% have at least oneforeign-born parent, and this category is expected to grow. By 2060, persons of allnationalities with at least one foreign-born parent are expected to account for close to athird of the EU-27 population. An even larger percentage of the work-force will be of foreigndescent.Looking at migration therefore I think we can say that respect for immigrants’ fundamentalrights is not only a duty, but a necessity. 1
  2. 2. As I have said this adds to a more comprehensive and calibrated view of immigration and itscontribution to a nation’s wealth and well-being. I say this as in my experience all too oftena discussion about immigration quickly assumes a defensive posture for those who defendimmigrant’s rights. The resulting debate tends to devalue the role and contribution ofimmigrants, or assumes no long term consequences, or impact of certain actions againstimmigrants on the global stage or in the global market place.The truth is we cannot afford not to respect the rights of a substantial proportion of ourfuture workforce, and that how we treat immigrants today will impact positively ornegatively on future social cohesion, wealth creation and the EU’s global competitiveness.What I would like to do is demonstrate how fundamental rights underpins much of what wehave discussed here today and that fundamental rights is important in order for us toachieve the outcomes I believe that are beneficial for immigrants, the general population,society and the economy.Rights do four important things – they guarantee respect, fairness, opportunity andprotection. With regard to immigrants - All these things provide immigrants with theconfidence to participate actively in the social, cultural and economic life of the country,society and community.In the work of the Agency we have focused predominantly on those rights which guaranteerespect, fairness and protection – rights which are fundamental to improving the situationof the most vulnerable of the immigrants.They have formed the basis of our opinions in our reports on experiences of immigrants inemployment, the situation of immigrants in an irregular situation employed in domesticwork, accessing healthcare or in the future in relation to severe forms of labour exploitation.The Agency pointed out that while the Member States are not under an obligation to offerthe same benefits to irregular immigrants as to nationals, they must follow a core set ofhuman rights standards.And these include access to: necessary healthcare for all, including emergency as well as essential healthcare, such as the possibility to see a doctor or to receive necessary medicines; healthcare for pregnant women, and healthcare and education for children on the same basis as nationals; justice – a mechanism allowing an individual to make a complaint and get a remedy such as compensation, for example, for a work accident, and access to primary school educationThe treatment of immigrants also forms part of our views on the Seasonal Workers Directiveand the need to prevent abuse of their situation, ensure that they have adequateinformation about their rights and that their rights are protected.In addition, the Agency has highlighted that immigrants are victims of hate crimes: 2
  3. 3. In the Agency’s 2008 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS),which surveyed 23,500 respondents with an ethnic minority or immigrant background,found that more than one in four respondents considered themselves to have been a victimof ‘racially motivated’ in-person crime (assault or threat, or serious harassment) over the 12months preceding the survey.And immigrants still face labour market discrimination with persistent patterns of inequalitybetween immigrants and minority groups in the labour market and the overall majoritypopulations, in particular migrant and minority women.Yes, we still have a long way to go.Recalibrating perceptions of immigrantsAt the Agency we are now complementing our focus on respect, fairness and protectionwith an emphasis on the way rights guarantee opportunity whether through education,access to goods and services, freedom of expression or the freedom to conduct business,rights create an enabling environment in which entrepreneurship and innovation, forexample, can be nurtured.We therefore have to be careful how we define or perceive immigrants – yes, immigrantscan be in vulnerable situations due to a variety of factors such as social status,discrimination, prejudice, residential status, cultural difference, language etc., but weshould be careful about institutionalising an image of all immigrants as poor, low skilled, loweducated and dependent on social protection. Immigrants are different and they come tothe EU with different sets of skills, education levels and connections – policy makers need torecognise this if we want to ensure that immigrants contribute to society and the economyas effectively as possible.Immigrants need the acknowledgement of their contribution and they need to know thatthey have potential similar to others in society. We need to start saying that immigrants arealso job and wealth creators, that they contribute to innovating goods and services, thatthey are high achievers as well whether, for example, in education or commerce.Identikit images of immigrants and an overwhelming at times emphasis on becoming to allextents and purposes identical with the majority population through integration approachesneeds careful consideration. The danger is that there is a devaluing or disregard for thosequalities, skills, contacts and ways of doing things of immigrants – the very things that canadd to a nation’s abilities to connect and compete in a globalised market. Rights provide aframework and context to respect and protect those qualities, skills and contacts.Greater consideration of immigrants as people in their own right and with a set of usefulqualities, skills and connections needs to be promoted more actively. The task of policymakers is to devise ways to tap into this potential and channel it into economic growth andsocial cohesion. 3
  4. 4. The immigrant experience and reality is more complex, varied and differentiated. There is acompelling positive narrative about immigration and its benefits which can get lost in thepublic discourse about immigration.As we have heard immigrants contribute to national wealth, economic growth, job creation,innovation and global interconnectedness whether socially or for business. Immigrantexperiences and networks can influence foreign direct investment.From a rights perspective we have to ensure that those rights associated with dignity, equaltreatment, non-discrimination, opportunity to contribute to economic activity, socialcohesion and participation in decision-making structures in society are respected andactionable.Rights such as those related to access to education allow immigrants over time to movefrom low skilled work to high skilled work and contribute to innovation and knowledge.Rights associated with the freedom to conduct business, equal treatment and non-discrimination allow immigrants to be entrepreneurs and to found a business. It involvescreating an enabling environment for immigrants to access goods and services equally inorder to support entrepreneurship and business.This means ensuring for example:1) that bank lending policies and access to finance are available in a non-discriminatory wayto immigrant business,2) thatimmigrants receive the same support as other small businesses during the crucialphases of the business life cycle, and3) a better understanding of the immigrant market by lenders and venture capitalists.Similarly a different narrative and approach about integration needs to be developed. Thediscussion on integration needs to move rapidly from a narrative about integrating lowskilled and low educated people to one about harnessing the economic and social potentialof newcomers, thinking that is focused not only on integrating, but in renewal andopportunity. Many current policies, from this narrow perspective, have inadvertently led towhat is in effect a one-sided welfare discussion, which has inflated the negative views ofimmigrants. The reality is more complexand can be more positive.The debate on immigrant workers therefore needs to be complemented by a discussion onimmigrants’ connections in the global market place, immigrant’s contribution to economicgrowth, on immigrant business leaders and on immigrant-led workplaces in the EU. Let’sbring the smart as well as inclusion into our integration thinking and policies.Smartintegration for the knowledge and networked world.A useful way to understand the potential and obstacles that immigrant entrepreneurs andbusiness face would be to collect European wide data on immigrants’ attitudes to businessopportunities, experiences of bank lending practices, access to business finance, business 4
  5. 5. ownership experience and their social and economic networks with countries of origins or inother EU Member States.Europe 2020 provides an important framework to highlight the contribution of immigrantsand immigration, and immigrants should not be parked exclusively under inclusive growthand poverty reduction. There needs to be greater acknowledgement of their role now and inthe future labour and knowledge markets, their potential contribution to smart andsustainable growth and the Union’s flagship initiatives.The Fundamental Rights Agency is currently undertaking a project on the freedom toconduct business which will include data collection on legislation and procedures withrespect to opportunities and constraints to conduct business. The project identifies bothbarriers as well as good practices concerning the freedom to conduct business. Immigrantswill be one of the groups addressed in the project. Hopefully this can contribute torecalibrating the image of immigrants in the European Union. 5