I thank the committee for the invitation to address it. As a younger citizen, I am particularly grateful for this opportunity to engage on such a timely policy issue. My knowledge is based on my European-funded research at Dublin City University, the University of Glasgow and Charles University, Prague. My research focuses on migration to Europe, specifically the power of the media and policy makers to shape public opinion. My current research examines the ways in which migration has been constructed as a threat and questions the dominance of this threat-centric approach.
It is without doubt that international migration and issues surrounding migrants, refugees and asylum seekers can be seen as defining characteristics of the 21st century in an era of globalisation. In the context of conflict and growing inequalities, the IOM's 2018 report estimates that there are 258 million international migrants globally. Ireland's strong cultural memory and historic trend to emigration mean that we are acutely aware of the realities of migration and displacement.
Yet more recently, Ireland has experienced increased inward migration and has become an increasingly diverse society with the 2016 census indicating that the 535,000 non-Irish nationals living in Ireland originate from 200 different nations. Such figures illustrate the increased diversity and prompt the need to examine political and societal attitudes to immigrants, and explore different ways to support integration and social cohesion within Irish and European society.
The first challenge I will address relates to the power of language and narrative. Migration has remained one of the most divisive issues for the public in recent years and this is reflected in the polarised narratives and language which frame discussions. Past decades have seen a language shift from emigrant and immigrant to the use of the word "migrant" which has effect of de-contextualising the experience of these people by removing their home location and their destination. There is also selectivity in respect of those to whom we apply these terms which often indicates a hierarchy of worthiness, suggesting that we have "good" versus "bad" migrants.
The language we use matters. It has power to reinforce negative stereotypes and racial hierarchies which permeate to every level of society. As such we must recognise and challenge harmful, polarising language and myths regarding migration. We must refrain from using terms such as "illegal migrant" in any forum of discussion and instead use "irregular" or "undocumented". We must commit to increased engagement in order to confront the myths of migration at local, national and EU levels.
There is a need to engage in difficult discussions regarding migration for policy makers, journalists and activists to maintain credibility. We must create a space where communication of the perceived and actual challenges of migration is possible, but not in a way which stigmatises or alienates communities. The creation of action plans and strategies by Government and local authorities, such as the migrant integration strategy or even the UN migration pact convey effective messages which are honest, fair and accessible.
The second challenge I wish to address is promoting integration in communities. There is increasing recognition of the inherent potential of diverse society. There is also an awareness of the difficulties associated with integration policies and programmes. The dilemma often relates to how to prioritise integration without fuelling unfairness among certain groups that feel left behind. Research has shown that encounters with the reality of migration foster a more tolerant mindset within host communities, which needs to be looked at further.
In discussions on the topic of integration, it is often said that the process is a two-way street involving the host community and the newcomer. However, we need to move away from this binary give-and-take view of integration, as it does not always capture the complex, multifaceted and dynamic process which involves a network of actors and interactions. As such we must disrupt the preconceptions that contribute to a gap between the expectation and reality of migration. We must do this through promoting intercultural competency and integration programmes, such as arts and language acquisition, for all members of society. We must aim to equip all citizens with the education to gain empathy and perspective-taking skills.
We must view the integration process in the context of the whole of society and facilitate the undoing of notion of "us" versus "them". We must broaden the view of immigration beyond simply contributing to GDP or market growth. It is not just about financially benefiting from migration, but about the overall health of our societies over the next generation. In addition we need to carry out further research into attitudes towards diversity and integration within Irish and European society, such as the recent ERSI study.
With the immense challenges facing European and Irish society, such as changing demographics, political fragmentation, labour market changes and the pace of political and social changes, we need to have broader perspectives on the challenges we are facing and also an ambitious vision of what our future communities may look like.
We should not think of integration as an endpoint, but to understand it as an ongoing, inclusive process which provides opportunities and builds resilience in communities to confront the growing range of future challenges, not just in respect of migration.
I look forward to hearing the committee's views.