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Source: European Economic and Social Committee

Holistic strategies and harmonisation of action plans for integration could be the way to go, EESC members explain. EU Member States deal with integration policies in widely different ways, based on their specific circumstances and migration histories. Yet the specific needs of women and children striving to overcome discrimination or obstacles to their integration are not always fully taken into consideration. However, the EESC put forward ways to address these shortcomings in an opinion presented at the October plenary session.

The German Presidency of the Council of the European Union is aware of the problem and has asked the EESC to discuss in an exploratory opinion the specific measures provided for in the Member States for the integration of women, mothers and families with a migrant background.

This opinion was drawn up by Indrė Vareikytė, who was an EESC member until September 2020, and was presented by the rapporteur-general, Ákos Topolánszky, on 29 October during that month’s exceptional plenary session, which inaugurated a renewed EESC under stringent measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Topolánszky was especially moved by the hardships of migrant women and children who strive to make themselves at home in Europe and warned his peers about the fact that fewer than half the Member States have enacted policies that explicitly address the plight of women and children of migrant descent who face discrimination and barriers to integration. Uprooted and isolated, they are too often victims of loneliness and violence, he said, adding that this opinion is not only meant to highlight problems, but also to provide solutions.

In this regard, Mr Topolánszky stressed the importance of adopting integration policies in a holistic approach, encompassing labour inclusion, education, health, justice and housing and emphasised that migrants themselves should be involved in the design of integration plan, insisting that integration is a dynamic, continuous, two-way process between migrants and the receiving society.

Similarly, improving the language level of migrants in the Member States is the key to better communication between newcomers and receiving societies, as other speakers expressed during the debate, saying: Language training is critical for integration and for further participation in our democracy. Evidently, EU countries face common challenges in integration. Therefore, by exchanging good examples, we should hopefully be able to reach common targets.

Language learning: a cornerstone of integration that should be streamlined

The EESC believes that language training should include guiding and informing migrants and explaining to them the objectives of language training and the associated benefits for their daily lives, thereby encouraging them to be more active in the process. The Committee also encourages further investigation into whether the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CECRL) could be used to streamline the migrant language training process and ensure a more tailor-made approach.

Overcome gender-based discrimination as well

Usually, equality bodies in the Member States only report in their data cases of discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, but migrant women, particularly those of minority ethnic origin, face multiple or intersectional discrimination in many areas of social life.

Acknowledging this gap, the EESC encourages Member States that have not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention to reconsider their position and calls for all Member States to ensure that migrant female victims of violence have the same access as native-born women to appropriate services, support and facilities.

COVID-19 as an additional stress factor

The European Union is already committed to the Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy in the EU, but as this opinion explains, there are discrepancies between the policies actually enacted by national, regional and local authorities. The diverse approaches are discussed in the European Integration Network. Furthermore, the EESC notes that the COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected vulnerable communities, especially ethnic minority migrants, and migrant women in particular. The EESC therefore strongly encourages the Commission, in developing its new initiative on integration and inclusion, to take into account the lessons learnt from this crisis and showcase the best approaches taken within the Member States.

Social projects

In its appendix, the opinion lists a series of inspiring examples of social projects in which migrant women and children are supported in their integration and language training.

Among them, there is a social enterprise in Malmö called Yalla Trappan: “trappan” means “steps” in Swedish, as this non-profit organisation helps migrant women with little education and work experience to learn Swedish and take more responsibility in the company step by step, even at a mature age.

Another initiative is the Multi Kulti Collective, a Bulgarian NGO that empowers migrants and refugees by offering and promoting their culinary services. Food, a topic of common interest, creates connections and helps combat discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech.

In a quite different field, Arsenal Double Club Languages is an innovative, award-winning educational programme combining football and language learning in the UK, and is funded by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communication.

Finally, five more projects are listed, including the EESC’s thematic study group on immigration and integration (IMI), which organises activities on various integration-related topics and works with external partners from civil society, academia, and national and EU authorities.

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