Migration

I join my colleagues in extending a fáilte to the witnesses. I especially welcome the three speakers for this section, Ms Sara Thompson from UCD, Ms Laura Bartley from DCU and Ms Maeve Richardson from UCC. It has been a very interesting and illuminating morning for the members listening to all of the witnesses' contributions. I also welcome the presence of an ever-depleting number of my colleagues from the Dáil and Seanad. Such is the draw on all our time here in the Houses. I represent two Ulster counties, Cavan and Monaghan, and have been Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality since 2016.

Migration is the final topic of today's session marking Europe Day 2019. This is a very important topic, especially on this day, for as Europeans we have known the reality of migration, most often forced migration due to war, conflict, famine, disease and escape from poverty across the centuries. It is beyond dispute that the people of Ireland have known migration and its causes like few others across the Continent. This generational awareness, experience and knowledge should contribute to our being a truly welcoming people, giving truth to the claim that this is an Ireland of the welcomes. Sadly, of course, this is not always the case.

While we have some time issues, there will be no restriction in respect of the three speakers. If I have to restrict anybody it will be my colleague, Senator Devine. I call on Ms Thompson to address us.

Ms Sara Thompson

I thank the members for having me here today. I will present some facts and numbers and some challenges that the EU is facing in respect of migration. The 2015 migration crisis became a starting point to a wider debate on migration in the European Union but also on burden sharing and the member states' responsibilities. The lack of joint action between the member states has shown that in 2015 the EU was unprepared to handle this issue, which resulted in disorderly migration, human trafficking and tragedy. In respect of the numbers, 2.5 million immigrants entered the EU from non-EU countries in 2017; and 4.4% of people living in the EU on 1 January 2018 were non-EU citizens, which is 22 million people out of a total of 512 million. The European agency for human rights has pointed out that the number of irregular migrants crossing the borders dropped in 2017, when 200,000 people crossed the EU borders, in comparison to approximately 500,000 in 2016. The number of deaths at sea has also dropped; however, the emergency remains as the deaths are continuing, mainly in the central Mediterranean.

Also concerning is the fact that migrants arriving within EU borders have been mistreated. This mistreatment worsened in 2017 with Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia as the leading countries of migrant mistreatment. Another issue is the relocation of immigrants and the problem of overcrowding. This has been critical in numerous locations, especially in Greece, France and Italy. Providing adequate housing remains a challenge and the lack of co-operation between member states has a significant impact on how immigration is handled in the EU. The European Council established a temporary relocation scheme with a plan to relocate 160,000 people in need. This was not accomplished due to lack of co-operation from the member states. President Antonio Tajani has stated that migration is our biggest challenge and that it is putting at risk the very future of the European Union. As a result of intense migration within the EU in recent years, EU internal borders have been subject to additional border controls, which is putting the free movement of EU citizens at risk. There is a need for better co-operation between member states with regard to border management as the migration crisis has put major pressure on the member states' border authorities. The European institutions responded with a call for strengthening the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, however this remains a work in progress, with a plan of giving the agency a standing corps of 10,000 border guards by 2027, which is a bit far away. A Eurobarometer survey has reported that 73% of European citizens want the EU to do more on the issue of migration and 58% described EU action on migration as inadequate. There is a need to do more on the part of both member states and the EU as a whole. Reaching agreement on migrant issues has been a challenge for the European Union. It is a sensitive issue and member states have different views and policies on migration, making it difficult to negotiate co-ordinated common positions. The migration crisis in 2015 showed that the EU was not prepared to handle a humanitarian crisis. Plans to relocate migrants, strengthen the borders, integrate refugees and much more are still a work in progress.

Member states and their representatives have to become aware of the next upcoming crisis, which is climate displacement. This crisis is not spoken about or understood by many. It is not defined or backed by international law. It is true that civil war and unrest in Syria, Libya and the Middle East are reasons for the migrant crisis but there are deeper reasons for current migration from these places. These areas are experiencing rainfall patterns, unbearably high temperatures, floods, droughts and all sorts of natural disasters which lead to major changes in farming, fishing and herding, causing migration from these areas to more developed ones. Reports on climate displacement presented by the EU are often very generalised and do not provide clear solutions to the problem. Following the 2015 migration crisis, it is clear that member states are not united with regard to burden sharing and this has to be addressed in order to prepare Europe and help those in need.

I will present a couple of recommendations made by the Mary Robinson Foundation on Climate Justice in its 2016 position paper. Above EU national level, the rights of climate displaced people have to be respected in the same way as human rights in general. The burdens in respect of dealing with climate migration have to be addressed together as a Union. There is a need for engagement with already displaced people but also with those who are vulnerable to climate displacement, in order to protect the rights of people who are at risk of climate displacement. The most important action the countries can take is to reduce the impact of climate change at all costs. This will reduce the threats in areas at risk.

Ms Laura Bartley

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.

Ms Maeve Richardson

I echo my colleague's views on migration. I am honoured to be addressing the committee today. I am a BSc student in University College Cork in the second year of my undergraduate studies. Appropriately we are speaking on Europe Day about a month before the European Parliament elections. Given the changes in the political climate, it is now more important than ever to use the ballot box to have our voices heard in Europe.

The Treaty of Rome established the freedom of movement in respect of goods, services, capital and, what seems to be getting most attention lately, the movement of people, as we have seen from our colleagues in the European Union. Migration has many different definitions and comes in many types, including economic migrants, refugees and ex-pats. The perception of migration is intriguing as to whether it is harmful or positive, and what are its economic effects and difficulties. Many people see the advantages of labour gaps being filled and society becoming more diverse. We also see the negativity that jobs are being take away by members of the migrant community or that there is a social pressure on civic services along with an increase in racism and discrimination.

The cross-national Role of European Mobility and its Impacts in Narratives, Debates and EU Reforms, REMINDER, study shows that more than half of EU citizens regard the freedom of movement as positive for Europe despite an increase in support for far-right parties which has the effect of making mainstream parties take tougher stances on immigration. European countries tend to view the effects of migrants in two ways - cultural and economic. More recently we are starting to think about safety and terrorism. The REMINDER study took place across seven countries in western Europe. Apart from the UK, most countries showed more than 50% in favour of the freedom of movement. These viewed most immigrants to western European as beneficial and not an economic or cultural threat. Africans were viewed as most threatening to the economy while Middle Eastern migrants were considered the most threatening to safety and culture. This has been as a result of the image of migrants portrayed in our media.

Europeans perceive that migrants from outside Europe make up 16.7% of the EU population. The reality is that it is about 4.4% as of January 2018. The representation of migrants in the media has had a profound effect on how we view our migrants. The media provide both a human face in the form of refugees but also a mild terror attack in the form of big news headlines which terrify us.

Migration is an important topic for us all. It has been shown to be a top priority for countries in the southern coastal part of Europe, namely in Croatia, Italy and Greece. It is not so much of an issue in Ireland and is not a voter priority. This is mainly due to the fact in the late 2010s it is shown that the majority of non-EU migrants arrive by sea.

Our landscape is changing through climate change and we need to become proactive rather than reactive if we are to prepare for another migrant crisis such as we saw in 2015. We need to make sure that with coming of an EU army we are not creating a fortress Europe but rather creating a Europe that is open to all and not just Europeans.

I thank our three contributors. I am getting numerous messages that we have very little time. I ask the two remaining colleagues to just take one minute for the most succinct responses. Lunch or something is beckoning.

I thank the witnesses for their very interesting contributions. This is not my area of expertise. The Seanad has a public consultation committee. In the autumn I plan on opening a conversation by inviting representatives from the direct provision system, which is a shame and stain on our country. I would like to invite the three witnesses present to come to talk about migration and how people get to that point of desperation. We are displaying inhumanity to people who need embracing, care and love, and a shelter from the horrific circumstances they left behind.

The witnesses talked about climate displacement - which could have been appropriate to the previous speakers - the greed of the developed world and our destructive impact on those less fortunate.

Our objective in having a public consultation in the autumn will be to challenge perceptions in this country and reach out to the 40% of people who feel afraid of and unsure about migration. It is about getting the media to respond and to counteract some of the hysterical and hateful headlines we have seen. The witnesses noted that voters in several European countries have elected more delegates from right-wing, fortress Europe parties. My colleague, Senator Gavan, was in Hungary recently and may speak about what he saw there. I will be happy to extend an invitation to the witnesses, who have made an excellent contribution to this debate, to attend the public consultation later this year.

I congratulate all the speakers on their contributions and apologise for having to leave a few times to attend other meetings. We have had very impressive contributions from all the witnesses. As part of my work as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have witnessed teenagers the same age as my own children being kept in cages, for more than six months in one case. That is what is happening in parts of Europe to migrant children. The witnesses have played their part today in seeking to break the shameful silence around this issue. I am interested in the witnesses' views on the EU's deal on migration with Turkey, which is deemed a third country of safe origin. It is no such thing but is, in fact, a dictatorship in which horrendous human rights abuses are taking place. It suits the EU to do that deal, however, because it keeps people out and there is apparently little interest in how migrants are being treated in Turkey. It is an appalling human rights situation and the EU is utterly complicit in it. It is a situation that must be ended. I thank all the speakers for their contributions.

Ms Maeve Richardson

I am delighted there will be a public consultation in the Seanad on direct provision, a system which brings shame to our country. However, compared with countries like Hungary and Turkey, there are ways in which we can seek to integrate people into our society as much as possible. We have seen great projects, for example, from Scouting Ireland and the Irish Second-Level Students Union. However, if we remain silent on what is happening in other countries, what is the point of any such efforts? We should be taking the lead by saying we will not stand for this. We are a Europe of peace but there is no point if we are not working to keep the peace between people internally in our member countries.

Ms Laura Bartley

I echo what Ms Richardson said about direct provision, which will be 20 years in operation next year. It is timely, therefore, to have a public consultation on the issue. I agree that the EU seems to be outsourcing many of our problems with migration to a neighbourhood comprising Libya, Morocco and Turkey. There needs to be a re-engagement across European society on the values we are meant to uphold, such as strength in diversity. The actions being taken in the EU at a high political level do not reflect those principles. Likewise in Ireland, the refugee programme has reached only half its quota. We need to reflect on our claim to be the island of céad míle fáilte. A public consultation will be very helpful in that regard.

Ms Sara Thompson

On the EU agreement with Turkey, it is a question of whatever is suitable for Europe. On burden sharing, as long as countries do not take responsibility for that at European level, nothing will change. As it stands, burden sharing is voluntary. We must push at European level to make such commitments binding and ensure we take responsibility for the care of migrants. In the context of climate displacement, we in Europe are the lucky ones who are safe for now, but we must take responsibility for the damage we are doing to the planet and to the people who will be displaced by climate change.

I thank the witnesses for their contributions, the main points of which I will briefly recap. Ms Thompson clearly linked increased migration with the climate crisis, especially as it affects less developed and impoverished parts of the globe. Ms Bartley spoke about the importance of language and how "illegal migrant" is an inappropriate and stigmatising term and one we should not use. I thank her for that strong message. She spoke, too, about how an "us and them" outlook is blinkered and serves to feed prejudice and racism. Ms Richardson noted that the free movement of people is one of the key principles of the European Union and, like her colleague, linked migration to the importance of addressing the climate crisis.

In the absence of my Co-Chairman, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, it falls to me to draw the meeting to a close. The witnesses have distinguished themselves and their respective colleges and organisations. It is a great pleasure for us as Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas to welcome young, focused and enthusiastic voices from across the length and breadth of the island of Ireland. That has been an important feature of today's discussion. I especially welcome the fellow voices from Ulster, which makes me feel at home. Every time I cross the Boyne Valley Bridge, I let out a small cheer that I am heading there again. I thank colleagues for their part in marking Europe Day so well as we have done. I hope it will be the first of many years of interesting engagement between ourselves and witnesses like those we have heard from today.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.10 p.m. sine die.