Launching Conference of The Parliamentary Network On Diaspora Policies
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Hosted by the Portuguese Parliament
Lisbon 7 and 8 September 2017
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”- Martin Luther King
(inspired by the speech of Ms Amina Khalid, NGO “The Somali Initiatives for Dialogue and Democracy”, UK)
Background and rationale
The Launching Conference of the Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policies (PNDP) was organised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the invitation of the Portuguese Parliament and brought together over 120 participants representing 39 countries, including 16 Diaspora NGOs, 62 MPs, high level government officials, experts and diplomatic representatives who were able to share the experience of their countries in working with Diasporas, and measures taken to overcome the existing challenges.
The PACE began its work on diaspora issues in 1999, when it adopted Recommendation 1410 (1999) on “Links between Europeans living abroad and their countries of origin”. In 2009, the Assembly adopted Resolution 1696 (2009) and Recommendation 1890 (2009) on “Engaging European Diasporas: the need for governmental and intergovernmental responses”. The Recommendation invited the Committee of Ministers “to give further consideration to the establishment, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, of a Council of Europeans abroad, a body representing European Diasporas at the pan-European level, which could organise a forum of Europeans abroad at regular intervals”. Subsequently, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2043 (2015) on “Democratic participation for migrant diasporas”. The result of almost twenty years’ work of the PACE on diaspora issues thus initiated the establishment of the Parliamentary Network for Diaspora Policies in 2017.
European Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policies
While the bodies and the instruments of the Council of Europe are clearly relevant for Diasporas in Europe, none of them has issues of Diaspora as its particular focus. The new initiative establishing a Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policies is a timely one to enable states to come together and exchange ideas and examples of best practices in this area.
The Launching Conference of the Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policies led to a start of the work and officially recognised the existence of the Network. The adopted Declaration constituted the list of members of the Network, and remains open to new participants. It was suggested and consensually agreed that 8 September become the European Day of Diasporas, which will be celebrated in participating countries in the future.
The proposed PACE network constitutes the next step: from a broadly defined policy on institutionalised political dialogue concerning Diasporas, towards the creation of a mechanism to address the concrete issues related to inclusive societies together with Diasporas.
The network will mainly focus its work towards exchanges and cooperation with members of parliaments, diaspora associations, and state institutions from the countries of origin and host countries of migrants, with the aim of building inclusive societies through the introduction and implementation of national diaspora policies.
The Network will be empowered to promote policy and legislative reforms with respect to Diasporas’ roles in both the host society and country of origin. Annual forums will be organised with the participation of members of the Network, which will serve as a platform for discussion of issues concerning Diasporas’ involvement and participation. Specific thematic Network meetings will be organised in different member countries at the invitation of national parliaments or other organisations.
Two inter-parliamentary conferences are planned to be organised in cooperation with the Council of Europe directorates. Two regional seminars will be organised in cooperation with national parliaments with the participation of countries of origin and diaspora associations. A European Diaspora Prize will be set up, to be awarded on the occasion of each annual forum to an exemplary Diaspora association.
Current challenges of Diaspora addressed at the Conference
The first meeting of the Network created a platform for discussion and allowed representatives of Diaspora and members of Parliaments to exchange views and raise issues which they are struggling with in promoting a harmonious coexistence of societies.
Before addressing these challenges, one should clarify the meaning of “Diaspora” in the way it is understood today. Since the discussion was closely linked to migration issues; working migrants, refugees and communities living in host countries of 2nd and 3rd generation families were referred to as Diaspora communities. The movement of these groups is caused by different factors and challenges which they are confronted with. Yet, the communities remain culturally, socially and linguistically connected, regardless of the reasons of their movement, which is calling us to look at the wide range of changes as well as challenges caused by the wave of migration, refugee flows, emergence of transnational networks and, finally, of diasporic communities.
The purposes of migration differ from country to country. In Europe migration exists mostly for economic reasons, whereas in countries from the Middle East and Africa, military conflicts are the main reason for migration.
The rapid increase in working migrants has led to debates on integration, assimilation, discrimination, multiculturalism, freedom of religion and other issues. The debates of the Conference centred around the political participation and representation of migrants- most of whom are naturalised or have dual citizenship and face new challenges in the host countries and countries of origin. Also relevant are the Diaspora who wish to return to their home countries at retirement.
The presence of large numbers of Diaspora can cause tensions between and within communities. Racial hatred and prejudice can lead to incidents of hate crime and violence.
A lack of coordinated migration policy at the European level has increased anxiety amongst the European population, a fact which has been misused by certain political forces and media, who are giving migration a hostile image, and presenting them as a threat to European society. This had led to legal and administrative obstacles for migrants in accessing the labour market, hindering their harmonious integration in the host country, exposing them to vulnerability and discrimination, as well as limiting their participation in the social, cultural and political life of the country. There is a need for politicians who understand the policies and needs of Diaspora abroad.
The biggest challenge for the Network is to promote the integration of Diaspora in the host countries, while allowing them to also preserve links with their countries of origin. Sometimes tensions occur between the countries of origin and host countries, which makes it difficult to achieve true integration. It is important that Diaspora also stay loyal to their host country. Only then could they play the role of a bridge between the host and origin countries. Insufficient political, administrative and financial support from both host and origin countries also impedes Diaspora involvement and participation in the local society.
Concerns were raised on the danger of “creation of parallel societies with different values”. Migrant Diasporas who are moving within European countries have a better chance of integrating in the host countries, given, besides the language, the similarity of culture and backgrounds. It would be more difficult for migrant Diaspora coming from a “culturally different area” to integrate.
Youth unemployment among Diaspora remains a huge problem in an ageing Europe.
Diaspora contribution to European societies
Countries of origin and host countries are increasingly aware of what Diasporas have to offer. The resources that flow from transnational communities across borders are significant: they include human, social, economic and cultural capital. Governments have designed and are implementing policies and creating institutions to strengthen relationships with their citizens abroad who contribute to local and national development.
The International Organisation for Migration refers to the “3 Es” to better connect the contribution of transnational communities and Diasporas: engage, enable and empower – Engage via outreach in the countries of origin through networks, investors, skilled professionals or academics, and in the host countries through embassies and consulates, migration community associations and social media. Enable by guaranteeing their access to essential public services; by ensuring respect of their social rights in return for their respect of local laws and customs. Certain policies are promoted by the IOM in order to facilitate the integration of migrants in the host countries: promoting ethical labour recruitment which protects job-seekers from abuse and exploitation, reducing costs of remittances, and mainstreaming migration into national development policies. Empower by giving diaspora communities the opportunity and capability to establish their own priorities of action via trade and investment between communities abroad and the countries of origin.
Migration can positively contribute to the economic and demographic development of host countries, where a shortage of man power in certain areas such as agriculture, construction, hospitality, as well as the ageing of the population in Europe significantly reduces the working age population. Migration should become a “win-win” factor for the host countries and the countries of origin.
Relations with countries of origin
Democratic participation of Diaspora
Migration of people changes the social, cultural and demographic structure of many societies. In many participation-friendly countries, the Diaspora is active in drafting policies of the country of origin.
There are two levels of democratic participation and implication of diaspora: political participation in the host countries where they are naturalised and have the right to political activism, participation and representation; and political participation in the countries of origin, enabling them to participate in national elections and referendums. The host countries should support the right to political participation and representation of the country of origin of diaspora communities.
Portugal is considered as an international reference in terms of the migrant integration process, offering rights and services to foreign born citizens, refugee reception, and social and economic integration. Nevertheless, immigrants are not yet very active in the political life and electoral processes of the country, which suggests that Portugal should further promote the existing policies that will deepen migrant involvement in the everyday business of the country.
Diaspora’s impact on the development of the countries of origin: the case for a European Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policies
Migration represents numerous advantages for countries of origin: Diaspora communities contribute to the development of commercial links, business relations, transfer of knowledge and know-how in origin countries.
Countries of origin benefit from direct contributions from their migrants abroad, such as remittances sent back to their families by workers, and wider opportunities for investment and growth created by nationals overseas. At the same time, Diaspora communities represent a cultural, economic and political bridge between the country of residence and the country of origin.
Diasporas have been very active in establishing and developing civil society in many European and other countries. They engage in capacity building by helping create social, humanitarian, educational and cultural sectors organisations. Within the created Network, Diaspora organisations could propose skills and help in nation-building, to advise the parliaments and governments of the country of origin on reforms. They may also serve as election observers during national elections.
Diasporas are creating foundations, organisations and associations which could assist parliaments of the countries of origin in translating and promoting laws and news among diaspora communities; as well as organise study tours, and promote thematic development programmes.
Relations with host countries
Promotion of intercultural dialogue
Policies and strategies aimed at promoting the intercultural dialogue between the host countries and the countries of origin have already been developed. The essential task is to promote transnational resources, modernise the link between national institutions and Diaspora, invest in economic, social, educational and cultural exchanges and emphasise the importance and amplify the role of Diaspora communities around the world. It is from the viewpoint of “recognition” and not “paternalism” that initiatives should be promoted by and with Diaspora.
The exercise of citizenship, representativeness of communities, solidarity with Diaspora communities around the world, investment, entrepreneurship and internationalisation will help keep alive the culture and foster intercultural dialogue between Diasporas and host countries.
Accessibility to consular services is the key to institutional and administrative contact between the Diaspora residing in the host countries and the institutions of the country of origin. The more effective and accessible these services, the better can Diaspora representatives fully enjoy their rights and duties when living abroad. Diaspora should feel as citizens both in the country of origin and in the country of residence.
Countries of origin are promoting the culture and arts of their diaspora abroad by planning, managing and executing public policies of external cultural action. A legal framework for granting support in promoting the language and culture, social inclusion, trainings and professional development should be created.
Bilateral agreements are signed by countries in order to manage policies for “New immigrants” who are in need of integration programmes, which could facilitate the study of the language, culture and legal procedures existing in the receiving countries. On the other hand, policies promoting the study of the native language, culture, historical heritage, religion, traditions and customs are indispensable for maintaining the national identity of the Diaspora.
An important role should be given to young immigrants in an open Europe: the prerogative should be “the capacity of each one to structure his/her own identity”. The cultivation of a plural identity and of cultural links with the country of origin builds the basis for successful integration. The challenge to preserve links with the country of origin is especially felt by the youth of second and third generation. The Diaspora Network and associations, as well as the host and origin countries have an important role to play in this regard.
Role of Diaspora in building cohesive societies
Host countries reap the rewards of diversity and the rejuvenation of the workforce through motivated immigrants who are seeking to improve their lives. Building cohesive societies constitutes the ability to look beyond state borders towards Diaspora. Religious institutions could also play a role in certain situations to assist in the Diaspora’s integration.
Today it is important to review the issues and prioritise the creation of a global Network which will unite Diaspora around the world. A new innovative educational network, economic market, and social, cultural and political preconditions need to be identified in order to create cohesive societies.
Diaspora’s involvement in the state economy is one of the main conditions for building strong and successful cohesive societies. Diasporas can participate in investment projects aimed at attracting investments for the economic development process of the country of origin.
The role of diaspora in managing the migration issues is crucial. Migrants are confronted with various administrative, bureaucratic and financial obstacles, including the erroneous perception of “danger” that they have been labelled with. It is essential to “detoxify” this perception of migration and valorise the advantages that migrants can represent for our societies. In order to better benefit from the opportunities that migration offers, countries should work with relevant stakeholders: Diasporas and their associations, authorities from the host and origin countries, as well as with NGOs.
The Network will give a new sense to the term “Diaspora”, by bringing people together freely with the humanistic purpose of uniting the intellectual potential to work for a better life in Europe.
Power, liberty and human rights are the driving forces of coexistence between societies. Attitudes cannot be legislated. They should be cultivated through education and practice. Instead, human rights should be legislated. We should forget about the word “tolerance”: it should be replaced by respect, collaboration, peace and unity.
Integration of diaspora should be promoted via democratic participation, access to education, the labour market, and strong dialogue between the host countries –diaspora – and countries of origin.
For countries of Origin
– Eliminate barriers to money transfers and bank accounts;
– Provide incentives for diaspora investment in business start-ups and existing small, medium and large businesses;
– Governmental diaspora-focused entities in the countries of origin need to play a dual role, by both facilitating diaspora contributions to the homeland, and serving the diaspora;
– The countries of origin need to link the skilled diaspora to national economic development priorities in business, entrepreneurship, education, fighting corruption, integrating internal and external migrants and solving social problems;
– Governments should utilise the financial and human resources of the diaspora:
- build start-up technology hubs, business incubators, engage in direct and portfolio investment, facilitate technology transfer, enrich market access, help create more jobs through outsourcing, which creates global entrepreneurs
- reform the education system by promoting leadership, initiative, risk-taking, problem-solving and creativity
- battle disinformation concerning the country of origin and host country
– Simplified consular services should be put in place in order to expedite registration in consular services, establish automatic voter registration, etc.;
For Host countries
– Involve diaspora representatives in designing and implementing Diaspora-aimed assistance projects;
– Establish a dual citizenship policy and relaxed residency requirements;
– Create a new diaspora Peace Corps on transfer of knowledge through Expat Nationals;
– Improve the national legislation on migration, by facilitating migrants’ access to the labour market, by developing inclusive societies, and by creating necessary conditions of migrants’ active participation in the social, cultural and political life of the country;
– Foster a relationship based on trust with the migrant diaspora, by maintaining sophisticated means of communication, and ultimately encouraging diaspora contributions toward national development;
– Promote systems to encourage Diaspora to be represented in governing bodies.
Both Host and Origin countries
– Encourage more Public-Private Partnerships;
– Governments need to tailor policies based on their actual needs and not on fear;
– Develop a collective approach to finding sustainable solutions for the migration crisis;
– Countries should encourage Diasporas to create associations representing their communities which cooperate with the host countries and countries of origin;
– Promote respect for Diaspora instead of “tolerance”, which has a rather negative connotation;
– Governments need to encourage “brain exchange” instead of “brain drain”. Their best practices, unique expertise, and insights need to be harnessed.
Council of Europe
– Develop a policy that would encourage interaction between the European Diasporas living outside of Europe;
– Invite the youth from Diasporas and their associations to participate in Forums, and become members of the Network;
– Youth unemployment amongst the Diaspora remains a huge problem in ageing Europe. The biggest challenge is to promote the integration of diaspora in host countries, while allowing them to preserve links with their countries of origin. Council of Europe standards and activities can provide assistance in meeting this challenge.
The Conference was concluded with the presentation of the Final Statement, confirming the establishment of the Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policy and defining the main activities of the Network. Mr Andrea Rigoni (MP, Italy) was appointed the co-ordinator of the network for the period of one year. The Secretariat of the Committee of Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons of the PACE was entrusted with the task of the Secretariat of the Network.
The next meeting of the Network should be convened in 2018. One of the topics of discussion for the next Network meeting proposed to be focused on the intercultural dialogue between different worships, religions and beliefs.
It was agreed to declare and promote 8 September, as European Day of Diasporas.