Tuesday

25th Sep 2018

Opinion

Fighting the prejudice

  • EU citizens are fearful of the repercussions of the migrant crisis, but life in Europe for the migrants is often far from rosy (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

The number of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II, and migration has become a permanent fixture on the European agenda.

The vulnerability of refugees to exploitation and abuse is aggravated by the extremely limited possibilities to legally enter and stay in the EU. The total number of Schengen-area visas granted to Syrian nationals dropped from over 30,000 in 2010 to almost zero in 2013.

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While there are no perfect solutions to the crisis, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has made a number of proposals to help prevent the tragedies we’ve been seeing at ever shorter intervals for two years now, for example by increasing the number of legal avenues by which people can enter the EU.

Though such a measure may well increase the volume of refugees seeking asylum in the EU, it could equally reduce the number of deaths and cut the refugees’ dependency on smugglers, who are capitalising on the misery of vulnerable human beings.

The current rules not only turn traumatised refugees into criminals and punish them with imprisonment or fines, but often penalise those who help them. Providers of humanitarian or legal assistance, or those who help migrants in distress at sea, therefore rightly fear punishment.

The FRA argues that EU countries must not impose penalties on refugees who enter without authorisation, and that punishment should be ruled out for those providing humanitarian assistance, be it from rescue at sea through to the provision of food, shelter, medical care, or legal advice.

Reality of migrant life in the EU

Despite the vast number of articles, interviews and speeches about the EU migrant crisis in recent weeks, there has been little discussion about the reality of living in the EU with a migrant or minority background.

FRA research shows that it is anything but simple to belong to a minority group in the EU, whether you arrived a week ago or your family has been here for generations.

A survey of 23,500 people with an ethnic or religious minority background found that on average one in four Muslims had been subject to police stops over the previous year, with 40 percent believing they had been stopped because of their minority background.

There are many myths surrounding the concept of integration, beginning with the theory that migrants do not really want to integrate.

Their integration and participation in the EU countries in which they settle are vital for us to make use of their skills, knowledge and experience, all of which are increasingly in demand in our aging societies.

The major stumbling block in this apparent win-win situation is that migrants fear deportation so much that they will avoid going to the police to report a crime or even visit the doctor. This, combined with the fear of prejudice or sheer indifference from the general population, forces many migrants to keep a very low profile.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, the FRA did some snapshot research on the effect of the events on Jewish and Muslim communities around the EU.

We discovered that among both communities, the fear of antisemitism and Islamophobia had risen sharply.

Policy makers and journalists have a great deal of agenda-setting power.

Instead of outrage at the desperate people who are trying to reach Europe’s shores, public anger might be better directed at the prejudice which people from certain religions or with a certain skin colour face every day.

Katya Andrusz is journalistic editor at the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency. Any opinions expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency

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