Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a high-level symposium on migration for senior policy makers, NGO leaders, and academic experts organized by the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity at the University of Oxford. The event took place at Lady Margaret Hall – the first Oxford college to educate women and establish a Foundation year for under-represented students. The symposium explored the opportunities and challenges that are raised by cooperation between government and civil society in the management of migration and Eurodiaconia was one of two members from civil society representing faith-based organisations that were invited to participate.

Some of the topics discussed that directly relate to the work of Eurodiaconia members included: (i) cooperation in refugee resettlement and private sponsorships; (ii) contrasting national approaches towards engaging NGOs in the management of migration and integration; (iii) cooperation in assistance to children; (iv) cooperation at the municipal level; (v) cooperation in the context of emergency; and (vi) cooperation between civil society and government in the policy-making process.

There was a lot of rich exchange between government, academics and civil society representatives during the four days of the symposium with some key themes emerging from the discussions. There was a clear sense from participants that the rapid speed in which the migration context is changing is putting an enormous pressure on the system and more reliance on civil society to deliver services to migrants where the government does not have the capacity or is unwilling to do so. Representatives discussed some of the positive initiatives happening at the local level and talked about the challenges as well as advantages of decentralizing responsibility to the local level in terms of integration and the opportunities that cooperation between civil society and local authorities can create for both the host society and migrants.

There was a significant discussion on the need to change the negative narrative around migration, the need to work across silos and bring in other partners in the conversation, and the need to strengthen solidarity across the NGO sector when it comes to communication.  Participants also talked about the effectiveness of including the grassroots and hosting communities in communication strategies and saw a need to expand efforts in this area. Representatives of civil society operating in European countries where the narrative around migration is very toxic also discussed the challenges of working in these contexts, where space for NGOs to act and be an advocate for issues related to migration is becoming increasingly narrow.

There was discussion on the possibilities of replicating and adapting schemes and partnerships that work, for example, refugee resettlement schemes in Canada, Italy, and France, migrant NGO involvement in policy-making in Portugal, and successful partnerships between municipalities and civil society organizations in Utrecht and Athens – keeping in mind the political context in the hosting countries.

It was encouraging to see that much of the work that Eurodiaconia members are doing on the ground with migrants and host communities – although not as visible – is already seen as a good practice that could be replicated and adapted to other contexts. As social and health service providers with extensive experience working at the local level and deep roots in our communities, we should strive to make our good work more visible at the national and European level and not shy away from advocacy initiatives. There is an opportunity to work with other civil society actors to start changing the narrative around migration, to advocate for better cooperation between civil society and government and for a more inclusive participation of faith-based actors in the policy-making process – who together have a wealth of experience working with migrants and host communities.

Have a great weekend,