by Margaux Fontaine
On Friday, October 7, Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service partnered with the OECD Washington Center to present a discussion on “The Integration of Migrants and Refugees.” International migration experts gathered to share their knowledge, discuss challenges, and find possible solutions.
The event opened with remarks from SFS Dean Joel Hellman, who spoke about the importance of issues regarding migrants and refugees in the context of the school’s broader mission.
“As we look to the next century’s challenges to peace, and as we are a school dedicated to peace, we are increasingly focusing on these core global issues,” Hellman said. “These days, there could be no more important and challenging issue than the issue of migration, resettlement and integration across boundaries and borders.”
Keynote Address: Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD
The keynote address was given by Angel Gurría, who has been the Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006. Prior to joining the OECD, Guría served a distinguished career in public service, notably as Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (1994-1998) and Minister of Finance and Public Credit (1998-2000).
“Today’s discussions will focus on one of the most complex challenges, and one of the greatest opportunities, of our era: the integration of migrants, and the integration of refugees,” Gurría said. “Effective integration policies can transform people’s lives for the better; they can enrich countries economically, socially, and culturally, generating unprecedented opportunities for development.”
He touched on the importance of international cooperation in migration issues, along with domestic approaches concerning employment and education. A recurring topic throughout the morning, he also addressed the emotionally charged discourse surrounding these issues, and how organizations like the OECD seek to provide facts and resources to help drive effective policy.
Local and Global Response Measures to Migration and Displacement
Following the Secretary-General’s remarks, MSFS director Professor Anthony Clark Arend joined Peter Boehm, Deputy Minister of International Development and La Francophonie of Canada, for a special discussion on local and global response measures to migration and displacement.
Boehm emphasized the importance of integration on a local level: working with municipalities and community organizations to welcome immigrants and refugees and promote acceptance.
“Even in small towns, you’d have the headline, ‘Our two Syrian families are coming today,’” Boehm noted. “And the mayor would be out to greet them.”
The event then went into a series of two panels featuring prominent migration and refugee experts from both governmental and non-government organizations. The panels were moderated by Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, and were followed by questions from the audience.
National Action to Promote Refugee and Migrant Integration
The first panel focused on actions taken at the national level to promote the integration of refugees and migrants into the labor market. This panel featured Mark Storella, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR Regional Representative for the USA and the Caribbean; and Joel Charny, Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (USA).
Panelists noted the importance of placing refugees in communities where job opportunities would match their skills. They also discussed how, in contrast to popular belief, the arrival of refugees and migrants is usually economically beneficial for the host community.
“I think we really need to look at the history, recognize that what we’re experiencing now is not anything new, and learn from the experience we’ve had, which is extremely positive in assimilating new immigrants and new refugees in the United States,” Storella said.
International Cooperation On Refugee and Migration Integration
The second panel discussed international cooperation on the issue. Panelists included Dr. Elizabeth Ferris, research professor at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration; Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International; and Eskinder Negash, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Senior Vice President for Global Engagement.
Dr. Ferris noted the ways in which the international community is improving.
“I think you see that we are moving – imperfectly, incompletely – to a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we address both refugees and migrants,” Ferris said. “[We’re starting to see] refugee issues as development issues, and not just ones of logistics and responses.”
Other panelists also addressed the importance of finding long-term solutions through integration, such as by investing in education and employment opportunities.
Negash, a former refugee himself, connected the conversation to the human side of the issue.
“I think part of the crisis we have is [that] the international community stopped seeing ourselves in the people we are trying to help,” Negash said. “All of a sudden, they are becoming a number, and not people.”
The morning served as both a pragmatic discussion on the challenges facing governments and a stark look at the difficulties faced by migrants and refugees themselves. Still, speakers expressed optimism, and presented a variety of solutions for addressing these issues.
Secretary-General Gurría summed up the goal of the event in one key phrase: “We need to move the debate from managing threats and managing costs to seizing opportunities; from one of managing fears to one of seizing hopes.”