» Refugees and Migrants: assets for social, cultural and economic development
11.05.2016 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Refugees and Migrants: assets for social, cultural and economic development

Irina Bokova © UNESCO / P. Chiang-Joo

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Benedetto Zacchiroli, President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR), launched an initiative on “Welcoming Cities for Refugees: Promoting Inclusion and Protecting Rights” with a roundtable at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 9 May 2016.

UNESCO, the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation and ECCAR work hand in hand to bring a shift of focus about, moving away from the negative perceptions of refugees and migrants to the assets and advantages generated by human mobility. This relates inter alia to demographic trends in many European countries and their need to receive an additional working force to support development and growth.  

For Marianna V. Vardinoyannis “responding to the ongoing refugee and migration crises is first and foremost a matter of human dignity”. For her Foundation this partnership is an extension of the “We Care” programme which provides, in cooperation with Greek municipalities, basic medical care, vaccines and psychological support to children of refugees.

The current situation of refugees in Europe “…touches the core foundation of our humanity, our capacity to express empathy, to show solidarity”, said Irina Bokova in her opening statement.

Research carried out by Patrick Taran, President of the Global Migration Policy Associates, within the framework of this partnership, further underlines that the current situation of refugees in Europe is a crisis of perception and values. Data provided by ECCAR member cities (Graz, Malmö, Uppsala, Erlangen, Karlsruhe, Metz, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Ghent, Bologna, Esch-sur-Alzette) and other findings prove this point.

The roundtable addressed the role of culture in promoting inclusion and changing negative stereotypes about refugees. A prerequisite for such a shift is to recognize the diversity of cultural identities but also their fluid and evolving nature. Public spaces like museums, libraries and exhibition premises are ideal settings to stimulate cultural exchange and foster convergences between newcomers and inhabitants of a receiving community. Interaction among people may cause friction but can also trigger understanding and rapprochement. Media has clearly a critical role to play in this respect. The language used by media should contribute to inclusion and the eradication of stereotypes, and bring to the fore the human side of the predicaments of migrants and refugees.

Panellists of the roundtable were Susanne Asche, head of Cultural Affairs Department, City of Karlsruhe (Germany), Parvati Nair, director of UNU Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility, and Ralf Gruenert, UNHCR representative in France.

In concluding the event, Benedetto Zacchiroli insisted on the role of cities to help those who flee war “...to continue dreaming, to build their dreams inside a community… “” while Marianna Vardinoyannis made an appeal:  “We have to respond without closed borders. We have to open our minds and our hearts”.

Experts and city representatives will gather in Athens (Greece), in November 2016, to develop policy and action recommendations and contribute to the elaboration of guidance instruments for municipal authorities and city level actors.

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