While each speaker brought in his or her own sector-specific experience and background expertise, all agreed that the public authorities and supporting organisations and their staff need to be better equipped in terms of resources and manpower.
Delivering the opening keynote address, Ulrich Silberbach (President of the German Union of Municipal Workers, Komba) underlined the dramatic lack of staff in the public services needed to successfully manage the current levels of migration. Due to previous budgetary cuts and personnel reductions, he said, many local and regional administrations are not able to properly provide for the needs of the large numbers of migrants that currently come to the EU. In this context, Mr Silberbach insisted on the importance of hiring more young, well-qualified civil servants. If the EU was getting such personnel-related investments right, he concluded, immigration could actually be a great opportunity for EU.
Laura Corrado (Head of unit ‘Legal migration and integration’ in the European Commission’s DG Migration and Home Affairs) followed up on Mr Silberbachs points on overwhelmed public administrations. She noted that a more even allocation of asylum-seekers in the EU could actually take a lot of pressure off the local administrations in those regions where migrants tend to concentrate. Expressing her confidence that the Dublin system (which specifies that asylum procedures need to be pursued in the EU member state where a migrant initially arrives) will be revised by the end of next year in favour of a new permanent migrant re-allocation system, she said that the problem of lacking capacities in administrations in major recipient countries such as Germany, Greece and Italy will soon be effectively addressed.
Anna Platonova (Labour migration and human development specialist at the International Organisation for Migration, IOM) then said that restricting services to migrants will not make them leave but only make them more socially marginalised. She highlighted the importance to retrieve more information about the skills and diplomas of incoming migrants in order to help public authorities better determine necessary concrete forms of support and targeted integration interventions for migrants.
Heather Roy (Secretary general of Eurodiaconia) criticised how much public administrations have been relying on civil society organisations to deal with migration-related emergencies ‘on the ground’. While such organisations are ready to help where they can, she stressed that authorities cannot keep relying on charity to deal with migration pressures. Suggesting that “more sustainable solutions” are needed to finance migration management in the longer term, she called to end budgetary austerity in the EU member states and invest again more in quality public services. She concluded that if this is not done, integration will in the long-term come at a very high cost to the societies.”
Conny Reuter (Secretary general of Solidar) agreed with Ms Roy that a successful migration, asylum, and integration policy requires an end of austerity in the public budgets. He added that beyond more financial spending, an extended dialogue between policy makers and service providers on the ground (NGO and local administration staff) is strongly desirable if the right measures to take are to be successfully identified. He also recalled that the high level of migration towards the EU is closely related to failed external politics of the EU and its member states in the past: If, for instance, better cooperation policies had been pursued in the MENA region, many of the push-factors that now drive people living there away from their homes could have been reduced and migration to the EU minimised in the first place, he said.
Eventually, Jean Asselborn (Minister of foreign and European affairs, immigration and asylum of Luxembourg) reported from field trips which he undertook recently in his capacity as Council Presidency representative for foreign affairs to newly established ‘hotspots’ (EU-led migration centres in frontline member states to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint migrants and coordinate returns). Mr Asselborn announced that he will call for a Council meeting in due time to get a new migrant reallocation system adopted. He stressed that such a new redistribution system is needed to make the hotspot system function.
Delivering the concluding remarks, CESI Secreatry general Klaus Heeger summed up the importance of the topic of the debate for CESI. He recalled in particular that many of CESI’s members work directly with migrants and that a successful integration of the migrants mainly relies on their capacity to provide housing and access to the labour market as well as core education and health services – but that they are at the same time too few to handle their rising workloads. This led Mr Heeger to call for more staff and better working conditions in the local and regional administrations as well as other parts of the public sector – a conclusion that everybody agreed to.