Changing Perspectives on Migration in Europe

Written by Paula Ganhão, Hello Europe Intern 

(Article in Spanish here)

On July 23rd, a talk was held at Librería +Bernat in Barcelona where representatives of Ashoka Spain (Ana Enrich), Hello Europe (Kenny Clewett) together with Rafael Vilasanjuan, who is a journalist and director of the Global Analysis and Development department in the Global Health Institute of Barcelona (ISGlobal), and Abdoulaye Fall, who is director of Winkomun or ACAF (Association of Self-Funded Communities), one of the most promising solutions of migrant empowerment in Europe, presented a different perspective on migration.

The talk was centered on the clarification of doubts and the somber tone associated with migration and refugee movements, particularly with the wave of refugees and immigrants that have arrived in Europe since 2015. In response to this “Refugee Crisis” Ashoka launched an initiative focused on the migration, integration and refugee movement called Hello Europe, which started in Germany, and is now found in more than 8 European countries.

The current narrative of migration and refugee movement is very negative since it tends to define it as a very complex problem, a “crisis” that has no solution. Most often what we hear is talk of the need to close borders, abandon values and entrench ourselves. But from the perspective of Ashoka and working with social entrepreneurs, the opposite can be seen: one sees hope, solutions, empowerment, and an enormous opportunity for social innovation.

Rafael Vilasanjuan, who, thanks to his experience with Doctors Without Borders, the CCCB, and now with ISGlobal has worked with migrants and refugees for a good portion of his life, shared facts of the migratory situation in Europe. Vilasanjuan described the differences between refugees and immigrants, and spoke of the difficulty that both face in getting out of their turbulent environment and in arriving in Europe where they find themselves face to face with a harsh reality quite different from the peaceful place they so desperately hoped for. The problem, according to Vilasanjuan, is the lack of social support for refugees in Europe, especially in Spain, where they are often denied the right to asylum, something that, combined with being accompanied by family and the traumatic experiences they have experienced, prevents them from moving forward in their country of arrival. Vilasanjuan believes that the active participation of civil society is crucial to create real integration and progress of immigrants and refugees.

After hearing the facts stated by Vilasanjuan, the audience had the opportunity to listen to the experiences of Abdoulaye Fall, who emigrated from Senegal to Spain. Fall took every opportunity that presented itself to him, from washing dishes to painting houses, until he had the opportunity to study thanks to a scholarship provided by his CAF with which he obtained a first master’s degree. After that, his self funded community helped him pay for a second master’s degree in Immigration Management from Pompeu Fabra University and then, once again funded by his community, he obtained a PhD in Demography at the Center for Demographic Studies of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It was this opportunity that, in his opinion, changed his life and opened doors that he could never have imagined.

Today, Fall leads Winkomun or ACAF, a cooperative organization with the objective of fighting against financial and social exclusion through the creation and support of self-financed communities, often led by immigrants. A model that  has been promoted since 2004 by Jean-Claude Rodriguez Ferrera, an Ashoka Fellow. In ACAF, Fall serves as the Program Manager, combining this responsibility with the creation, training and evaluation of savings groups with follow-up and organization of training activities in the field of microfinance and community organization. Abdoulaye is currently vice president of the European Financial Inclusion Network (EFIN) and works alongside Ashoka in supporting Hello Europe.

Reflecting on his own experience, Fall emphasized that instead of providing continuous assistance to immigrants and seeing them as victims, they should be encouraged to be more resilient, and their spirit of entrepreneurship should be nurtured. In other words, they should be encouraged to be Changemakers. If every immigrant and refugee were empowered to contribute more quickly to society, not only would the narrative of migration change, but the social fabric of European society would be significantly strengthened, since it would be integrating many more people with a wide range of skills and experiences that would enrich European society in multiple areas.

Finally, the director of Hello Europe, Kenny Clewett, spoke a little about what is being seen from Ashoka’s perspective. He emphasized that the best way to face the problems associated with the integration and progress of immigrants and refugees is by looking for solutions that touch the different aspects of the system that is society. Such solutions have to be not only anecdotal, but they must also have principles and replicable elements that that can scale their impact on a large scale. In fact, this is why Hello Europe began: to scale proven, impact driven solutions across borders.

In the process of scaling these solutions, Clewett described how Hello Europe has began to build spaces where different stakeholders can come together and look at the complex problems underlying migration movements together, and figure out what new solutions are needed and how to implement them together. This process has already begun in Spain and enabled scaling a number of solutions here.

Throughout these processes, Hello Europe has observed a certain trend in how effective solutions work, a new “Framework of Change”. These are:

  1. Creating new changemakers. In this framework, people on the move are no longer perceived as helpless objects of pity, but rather as resourceful changemakers, eager to contribute to their communities.
  2. Empathy as the foundation. These initiatives intentionally provide ways for empathy to be fostered in both host communities as well as for people on the move.
  3. Collaboration across sectors. The challenges that emerge from massive movements of people across borders cannot be solved by one actor or the status quo. It is essential to build new spaces for collaborative thinking across sectors.

Kenny argued that this is the framework that needs to be spread and supported throughout Europe, in order to build a society with spaces and solutions to enable migration to be a positive force. This includes supporting these organizations locally (what Hello Europe does through its accelerators), and getting these ideas into public policy (for example, through the EU Migration Policy Summit).

All this suggests that the “Refugee Crisis” will not be solved if it continues to be labeled a crisis. Instead, a narrative and trajectory of empowerment for immigrants and refugees must be created to then generate innovative solutions with tangible results.

A special thanks to the speakers for their contribution and above all to Librería +Bernat in Barcelona for providing a space for discussion and inspiration, and to the Artisan Photo Studio for the pictures.

Photos by the Artisan Photo Studio.

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