NGO: Migration is a major poverty risk in Europe

Asylum seekers and ‘sans-papiers’ are some of the most vulnerable groups of the EU population, finds Caritas Europa’s third report on poverty in Europe, which highlights poverty and social exclusion of migrants in Europe.

Migrants are at a much higher risk of impoverishment than EU citizens for a number of reasons. 

Employment 

Many countries in Europe make a distinction between the right to reside and the right to seek employment. This results in immigrants, even the ones legally living in the country, not being allowed to work. They are more likely to find themselves in so-called atypical employment situations, like temporary and part-time jobs or even informal employment. They are therefore much more likely to earn below­-average wages, to be deprived of social rights and benefits such as holiday and sick leave, and to work longer hours.

 

Housing 

Migrants are often dependent of council or social housing, of which there is, in most European countries, a shortage, due to privatisation on the one hand and, in some countries, growing poverty on the other hand. This leaves the migrants in a weak position on the private housing market. Often, they end up in so-called migrant ghettos, under poor living conditions at sometimes still unreasonable costs. 

 

Health 

As a result of poor living conditions, migrants are more exposed to health risk than the average of the population. Still, they often lack health-care insurance. In addition to that, they are sometimes discriminated by health-care personnel. For those migrants whose resident permits depend on having a job, falling ill may mean having to leave the EU. For irregular workers, it usually means being left without an income. 

 

Education 

Education and training is, as Caritas Europe says, an “essential stepping stone out of poverty”. Still, migrants have, in many countries, on average much lower education levels than nationals. Due to language and legal barriers, immigrants who do have skills and qualifications are often unable to apply them and end up in sectors of the labour market for which they are overqualified. 

 

Participation in public life

In the majority of European countries, migrants have no voting rights at all. In some countries, they have local voting rights if they have a legal status. Irregular migrants have no political rights at all. This excludes them from decision-making on the community in which they live and deprives them of means to improve their situation. 

Caritas Europa says that "the result of these factors combined is exclusion and even exploitation of immigrants. Nowadays, employment, housing or health problems are not only acute in the initial stage after arrival but they continue for many years. Evidence suggests that employment, housing, health, educa­tion and participation in public life are intertwined. People experiencing difficulties in one of these areas are likely to be having trouble in the other areas as well." The organisation concludes with nine recommendations

  1. Ensure ratification and application of interna­tional and national laws and legal instruments that strengthen the rights of immigrants. 
  2. Open channels for legal labour immigration. 
  3. Implement policies for social inclusion of immigrants, including targeted measures where necessary. 
  4. Strengthen education policies as a powerful tool for poverty reduction. 
  5. Remove barriers to the full development of the potential of immigrants. 
  6. Increase EU Structural Funds to improve the situation of immigrants in the financial period 2007-­2013. 
  7. Encourage and support the participation of immigrants in public life. 
  8. Counter the demonisation of immigration by pro­moting the advantages of an open immigration policy. 
  9. Promote Europe­wide research on discrimination against immigrants in employment, housing, health-care, education and participation in public life.

To this, Sandra Pratt, Deputy Head of Unit on Immigration and Asylum in the Commission's DG Justice, Freedom and Security, answered that after all, the relevant policy areas have been identified by EU leaders and EU policies were founded on common basic principles. She pointed out Commission initiatives such as the European framework for integration, the Handbook on Integration, of which a second edition will be published in the autumn of 2006, and upcoming policy initiatives on seasonal workers and circular migration. These, she said, needed of course to be backed up by anti-discrimination policies and legislation. 

In the EU around 20 million people are migrants. They are defined as third-­country nationals with temporary or permanent legal residence, so EU citizens cannot be migrants under this definition. The term migrant includes immigrants, refugees, persons under subsidiary forms of protection, asylum­ seekers, persons seeking other forms of protection, migrants in an irregular situation and repatriates. While some migrants come to the EU voluntarily, out of their free will, others are fleeing international economic turbulence, poverty, environ­mental decline, lack of peace and safety, human rights violations and lack of democratic and judicial systems.

Poverty refers to more than just the absence of sufficient income and material wealth. It includes factors of social empowerment such as social exclusion, dependency, and the ability to participate in society. 

While reducing inequality and promoting social inclusion and cohesion are important objectives themselves, they are also expected to have a positive impact on the economy. Several EU policies therefore deal with softening the negative impact of poverty and social exclusion.

  • Social inclusion is an integral part of the Lisbon Strategy for Jobs and Growth. 
  • DG Justice, Freedom and Security deals with integration policies for migrants, 
  • DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities is in charge of the Open Method of Coordination and of social inclusion as one of its five key elements. 

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