Extended session

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants on the shores of Europe has been dubbed the “refugee crisis”. While a large proportion have fled from the conflict in Syria, the headline-grabbing figures and tragic images mask a more complex picture of displacement and changing demographics. Given the scale of human suffering and the fact that the numbers arriving show no signs of abating, how could and should foundations respond? This in-depth and interactive discussion will explore what foundations can do and learn about effective responses to this situation in the short-term and to Europe’s changing demographics in the longer term.

Key points raised by speakers and during discussion 

Vincent Cochetel stressed the fact that the refugee crisis did not happen “suddenly” and “out of nowhere”:

  • Mega crises in the neighbourhood of Europe
  • Syria is one country away from Europe
  • For four years, Syrians stayed in neighbouring countries. They now come because there are no solutions back home. No access to primary education, food…
  • Decided to come to specific country in Europe.

While UNHCR and others have been ringing the alarm bell, European governments did not react in time and we found ourselves in a huge mess.  On a positive note he noted the huge volunteering readiness has been incredible, but needs to be harvested better

Furthermore he stated that one of the main issues to work on, especially for foundations is the public debate and narrative on this issue. It is highly toxic and we need to find a way to move beyond it. Member States will only work on better asylum and migration policies if the

Minos Mouzourakis drew attention to longer term concerns, asking what happens after reactionary responses, when the current asylum system is exacerbated. He emphasised that protection needs should be simple and that the process before people are able to attain legal rights is too complex and often fragmented across the EU. With the current deal in place, those arriving in Turkey, hoping to move through the country have to prove that it is not safe for them, having the capacity to prove this near impossible.

Yoonis Osman told his own story, of how when watching the early video he was reminded of his journey from Somalia, and his arrival in the Netherlands without papers. 10 years later, he is still living without rights in the country, unable to cross borders. His own experience led him and others like him to come together to protest the system that has restricted his rights – they wanted to make themselves visible, and began the movement Wij Zijn Hier.

Key points of learning  

After the speakers the session broke into 5 table discussion that discussed subthemes within the refugee crisis. The subthemes came from the survey EFC conducted to understand what areas of work foundations can and should tackle. Below are the key learnings from each discussion:


5 table discussions:

  1. Humanitarian and emergency responses – Annelies Withofs, IKEA Foundation
  2. Welcoming and longer-term integration – Hugo Seabra, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
    • Volunteering: very significant, how do we keep people engaged after the buzz?
    • Communities – integration process benefits from involving the local communities in the process, going beyond just offering language class support etc.
    • Training professionals: training to deal with the specific set of newcomers 3
  3. Advocacy and policy work – Maria Teresa Rojas, Open Society Foundations

This table discussed the building blocks for an effective policy advocacy programme:

  • Convening: support to civil society actors to convene and get together to build common agendas
  • Evidence: give support to gather data and evidence to help build stronger advocacy efforts
  • Capacity building: the convening space and evidence building is not enough, give support for skills and capacity building of the organisations (and people) who are on the frontline of doing advocacy work

4. Separated and unaccompanied children and young people – Marzia Sica, Compagnia di San Paolo

 5. Public attitudes and the media debate – Merel Borger, Adessium Foundation

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