“The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety”, said once Felix Mendelssohn, an artist from the 19th century. This year’s ELC was a stark example of such a statement. Young people from all over Europe and beyond gathered to give their contribution to the issue of migration currently affecting the world. What harmonized a successful confrontation against all odds, was the different backgrounds of the participants, the organizers, and the speakers, a diversity that comprehensively represented the European values throughout the conference.
We had the honor to have outstanding partnerships as well, such as the one with the Taipei Representation in the EU and Belgium, where the Welcoming Cocktail and the Certification Ceremony were held on the first day, hosted by the Ambassador Dr. Harry Tseng. It was the perfect place for participants to get to know each other, helped by the warm hospitality of the Taiwanese people.
On Monday, November 27th we had the presentation of good practices in the European Parliament by some of the participants, who covered various topics, including art as well. The delegates showed a deep knowledge and understanding of the refugee crisis, as well as a great commitment to work on it. Projects and research on climate migration, social inclusion, non-formal education and integration were presented, such as the Phoebus project, led by Kate Jackson from the Brussels International Centre for Human Rights. It includes workshops addressed to migrants for them to learn new languages and have access to entrepreneurship. Building bridges between refugees and citizens was overall the main message that the participants wanted to deliver with their presentations, either through art, family integration or education.
The conference continued with the panel on Migration and Development that saw speakers such as the MEP Marijana Petir, the Head of Division Migration and Human Security Leonello Gabrici, the Senior Associate of the EGMONT Royal Institute for International Relations Marc Franco, the analyst from Elcano Royal Institute Patricia Lisa, the Senior Regional Specialist on migration for the International Organisation for Migration Geertrui Lanneau, the Director of communication for the International Federation for Family Development Ignacio Socias, and last but not least our Regional Director Hrvoje Vargic. They all stressed that the EU have to work together for the greater good. Unity and unanimity are needed during decision processes, especially because migration is affecting our society not because of migrants but because of the reactions towards them. Attitudes such as xenophobia and populism undermine the very foundation on which our democratic society is based. The need for a faster administrative process has been urged, as many asylum seekers often wait long periods of time before receiving formal access to labour and they also get different treatments according to the hosting country.
A stronger political will is needed on the part of the EU to overcome disagreements and reach a unique solution to this crisis. The contribution that migrants can offer to societies was also pointed out, as they represent both a social and a cultural capital. This is why a urge to maximise migration’s potential under a system of legal migration in Europe, instead of focusing on how to stop or reduce it, has been called for. Solidarity is in fact crucial if success is to be achieved. The issue of minors being separated from their families was also raised as the importance of family reunification was pointed out, being it a necessary requirement for social integration. Inspired by such a great panel discussion, we started off day 3 by negotiating what now is the WYAE Declaration on Migration and Development.
The debate took place at Lodzkie House, thanks to our Polish partners. Brainstorming, reflecting, assessing and advising each other on our opinions had no price and resulted in an agreement between people from 29 different nationalities, proving that a good will to fight for the greater good can overcome any difference. The declaration includes calls for integration, special protection for minors and family reunification among other equally important notions.
In the afternoon the panel on Human Dignity in the Refugee Crisis was held at the European Parliament again, whose members were MEP Lars Adaktusson from the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Subcommittee on Human Rights, the UNHCR External Relation Officer Marc Fawe, the lecturer in Occupational Health Safety and Environment from the University of Birmingham Surindar Dhesi, the legal advisor on Migration and Asylum for the COMECE José-Luis Bazán, and the Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service of Europe Claudia Bonamini.
The panel addressed many issues, from the minorities in the Middle East and the role the EU must play in their protection, to the terrible conditions of refugee camps and the psychological impact this has on both migrants and volunteers. As of today, there are too many situations in which human dignity is said to be protected but it’s not granted, as the speakers pointed out. Integration and communications between refugees and citizens through non-self-interested policies were once more called for, as well as a coordination at both a national and an international level.
The delegates questioned the panel on issues such as the refusal of some countries to open their borders and the bad conditions where refugees are living. Answers were clear and honest in ensuring that reformed have been proposed, such as one to the Dublin Regulation, but none has been approved yet. Once again, it has been highlighted that a deeper and stronger sense of solidarity is needed between countries for these problems to be successfully solved.
After the discussion and a little break, we ended the day with a wonderful dinner kindly offered by the MEP Marijana Petir, to which we want to express our gratitude once more for the great support she showed us.
On the ELC’s last day we were welcomed to Lodzkie House again for the training on WYA chapter development given by our Regional Director Hrvoje Vargic and the training on Sustainable Development delivered by our Director of Advocacy Antoine Mellado. Participation on the part of the delegates was vibrant, as always during these four days. After, we had a cheerful brunch where the staff, the interns, the volunteers and the participants could say goodbye and take the last picture together.
This year’s conference was a real success. Friendships were born, experiences exchanged and the diversity of each and every single one of us made the difference and contributed to a wonderful ending and most importantly proved that the leaders of tomorrow are united and ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
Written by Barbara Pernice, an intern from Italy in the WYA Europe office.