Making the Case for Vulnerable Migrants in European Policy-Making

Europe has entered a new chapter in its history. As this story unfolds, its protagonists—currencies, markets, political leaders, activists, disgruntled voters—are rarely far from the headlines. Yet, one group, acutely affected by developments within the European Union (EU) remain either absent or scapegoated in these discussions—immigrants. Asylum seekers and undocumented migrants are just two of the categories of vulnerable migrants that risk being further marginalised from mainstream society as policy-makers struggle to find solutions to keep Europe’s economies afloat. 

Many of the more than five million undocumented migrants estimated to live in Europe, and the approximate 250,000 asylum applicants being processed each year in the EU, struggle to maintain a basic standard of living and access their fundamental rights. Enormous strain is thus put on local authorities as well as health care and educational professionals working with ever more limited resources.

However, with populism on the rise across Europe, increasingly polarised political and media debate and plenty of home-grown problems to contend with, those prepared to make the case for migrants grow fewer and fewer. NGOs are at the front-line trying to advocate for constructive policy-making when it comes to migrants. But, it takes time and energy to build relationships and consolidate positions and ideas that can have a long-term impact on policy-makers and the public. The 12 Partner Foundations (including Open Society Foundations) behind the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM) have long understood this challenge and have just awarded 10 new grants to NGO advocacy projects working on asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and the equality, integration and social inclusion of vulnerable migrants.

From 197 applications, 10 projects were chosen. They include pan-European organisations—Médecins du Monde; PICUM; ECRE; MIGREUROP; European Network of Migrant Women — as well as national-level organisations — Aire Centre; Irish Refugee Council; Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej; Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati; Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen.

The organisations behind each project, along with their project partners, will take part in EPIM’s capacity building programme over the next three years. This will provide opportunities to further develop knowledge and skills within and between these civil society organisations.

It is as important now as it was in 2005, when EPIM was first created, for NGOs to be an effective counterbalance to official institutions when policy is being discussed. While it is true that the Lisbon Treaty has opened up new avenues for NGO advocacy, by conferring legal status on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and increasing the powers of the European Parliament in this area, NGOs have struggled to find sources of funding for advocacy work.

Strengthening the advocacy capacities of NGOs at a European level is crucial if we are to achieve balanced policy-making. Doing so allows national NGOs to bring their knowledge and best practices to the EU level. The Programme also encourages national NGOs to partner across the EU in order to build effective coalitions for advocacy and to learn from each other. Likewise, pan-European NGOs are urged to take advantage of national experiences to seek out and develop European solutions to core challenges. Earlier experiences with funding in this area demonstrate that NGO-input can assist the EU in developing more progressive and open approaches to these challenges.

Sheena McLoughlin is a Programme Manager with European Program for Integration and Migration.

European Program for Integration and Migration is a collaborative initiative of grant-making foundations from a variety of European countries. Created by a group of foundations in 2005 as an activity of the Network of European Foundations (NEF), EPIM is a unique joint funding initiative of the following: The Atlantic Philanthropies, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Compagnia di San Paolo, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, Fondation Bernheim, Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, King Baudouin Foundation, Fundació “la Caixa”, Robert Bosch Stiftung, Oak Foundation and Open Society Foundations.

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