» Migration an opportunity, not a threat to sustainable development
08.07.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

Migration an opportunity, not a threat to sustainable development

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The huge numbers of refugees and displaced persons around the world today are sparking renewed debates in many countries. The situation is exacerbated by questions of social integration and the media narratives, which require concrete solutions to avoid divisions forming between people.

In this context, on Wednesday 6 July UNESCO held a landmark conference entitled “Migration for Sustainable Development: Social Transformations, Media Narratives and Education”. Experts from a wide range of backgrounds came together to discuss how civil society and the media can contribute to greater understanding and tolerance in societies facing migration-related challenges.

Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Communication and Information, opened the event, imploring people to understand that “we should not see migrants as victims, or much less as a threat. Migrants are people with an identity and rights like anyone else.”

Her Excellency Ms Eleonora Mitrofanova, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO, shared her concerns about the social backlash occurring in many countries. “We are seeing a growth in the violations of migrants’ human rights, anti-immigrant policies, and a growth in discrimination and xenophobia,” Ms Mitrofanova said. She also pointed to an increasing “feminisation” of migration, with women often representing a majority of many migrant and refugee groups.

Alexander Boroda from the Russian Federal Research and Methodology Centre for Tolerance, Psychology and Education shared the experiences of the organization, which has positively influenced the discussion in Russia surrounding the issue of migration. “The idea is to help people better appreciate and respect others, and the opinion of others,” Mr Boroda said.

The first panel discussion was related to improving public perceptions of refugees through more nuanced media narratives, training and education.

“There is a lot of skilled labour in the refugee community – doctors, labourers, journalists,” said Arman Niamat Ullah, a journalist with Refugee.tv, an online outlet staffed almost entirely by refugees. Mr Ullah himself came into Europe through Greece as a refugee three years ago, and has since travelled back to document the individual stories of those passing through now. “We have 55 journalists, and 50 of them are former refugees. The mainstream media has to provide a platform and training for these types of people.”

This was echoed by Lisa Söderlindh from the Swedish Migration Agency, who called for identifying refugees with key skills and experience, providing training and then connecting them with employment opportunities. “The important thing is to get refugees and asylum seekers who have journalistic training behind the editorial desk,” she said.

The second panel addressed the drivers of migration and the need for social science to inform policy-making.

The panel was moderated by Prof. Mehmet Akif Kireçci, from Bilkent University and Vice-President of the Intergovernmental Council of the MOST Programme, who emphasized the priority given by MOST to Migration.

Dina Ionesco from the International Organization on Migration addressed migration, noting its environmental character. She underscored the multi-causality of migration. She noted specifically that “sudden-onset climatic events, including floods and diseases, can lead to forced migration, while slow-onset degradation makes it difficult for people to live, causing them to move as well—but it is much harder to manage”.

Mernard Mumpasi Lututala, Director of UNESCO’s Category II Centre on Women, Gender and Peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region, addressed tensions in Africa between tribal and national identities. He further noted the rapid development of African cities and the pressures on infrastructure. He highlighted the increasing complexity of migratory flows, especially in Africa, where many migrants are in “limbo, comfortable neither in their host countries nor their countries of origin”.

Arno Tanner of the Finnish Immigration Service noted both push and pull factors driving migration to Northern Europe such as persecution, insecurity, social causes, opportunistic smuggling, work and greater opportunity, and a combination of any number of these. He also cited population growth, high rates of youth unemployment, environmental causes and subsequent food price increases as drivers of migration.

Finally, Adebayo Clement Akomolafe related migration to broader questions about identity. As he said, “the identity of a thing is dependent on the conditions that create it”. He encouraged the audience to look past the sterile methodologies currently used to research migrants to reach out to migrants’ narratives and thus get a much fuller picture of their situation.

The round table event was an intersectoral initiative organised by the UNESCO Sectors for Social and Human Sciences (SHS) and Communication and Information (CI), and was supported by the Russian Federal Research and Methodology Centre for Tolerance, Psychology and Education. It builds upon previous work undertaken by UNESCO on the topic, including a major event in March on media and migration, and through the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme.

The first round table featured Andreas Wolter, Vice-Mayor of Cologne in Germany; Ms Lisa Söderlindh from the Swedish Migration Agency; Alla Semyonysheva from the Russian Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs; Arman Niamat Ullah from refugee-led agency Refugee.tv; Emmanuel Boutterin, President of the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC); and Syrian journalist Iyad Kallas.

The second panel was moderated by Prof. Mehmet Akif Kirecci, Associate Professor of History, Bilkent University, Vice-President of the Intergovernmental Council of the MOST Programme, and the speakers were Dina Ionesco from the International Organisation for Migration; Bernard Mumpasi Lututala from UNESCO’s Category II Centre on Women, Gender and Peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region; Arno Tanner from the Finnish Immigration Service; and Adebayo Clement Akomalafe from the International Alliance for Localisation in India.

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