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Munich Security Conference : Changing the Narrative on Migration

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Migrants waiting to be rescued by a ship run by SOS Mediterranee in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast Bild: dpa

Migration is not a phenomenon that is gonna vanish. We better get used to it and treat it as what it is: a translational task which no country can tackle alone.

          3 Min.

          Migration is a global phenomenon that is here to stay. Europe currently faces the fourfold challenge of expanding legal pathways, addressing root causes of migration, securing its borders and integrating migrants into their home society. Unfortunately, migration is increasingly being viewed as a threat rather than a source of opportunity and I am keen to counter that. 

          Particularly, in Europe, several populist parties tactically exacerbate the narrative on migration, feeding off the creation of “the other” by spreading the myth of a homogenous society. In the light of larger numbers of asylum seekers and migrants, it became increasingly appealing to political influencers, in a desperate move to take action with tangible solutions, to build border walls thereby reviving the symbolism of “Fortress Europe” fostering an isolationist policy. 

          History however has proven many times that walls and border protection solely act as a short-term deterrent. What is yet urgently needed are sustainable long-term solutions with the understanding that migration is a constant and cannot be tackled by one state alone but only through cooperation across borders. The current migration movement which is being accelerated by the force of globalization, can only be successfully approached if the international community manages to change the understanding on migration. The discussion needs to focus on the positive contribution of migrants both in their home and host countries. My own family history encourages me daily to be an ambassador and proponent of a new, constructive narrative on migration.  

          Alike many Tunisians in the last fifty years, my family too had to flee from political persecution. I was 14-years old when we joined my father who was in political exile in Italy at that time, where l pursued my studies. I chose to  go back to Tunisia after the  revolution to help shape this new democracy in the National Constitutional Assembly and the Tunisian Parliament. As a young Muslim Democrat of the Ennahdha party, I am part of this new bridging generation between two realities, between the south and the north of the Mediterranean, experience it as a personal enrichment, and feel it is of utmost importance to promote the image of young "Ara-peans" (both Arabs and Europeans) that are home in more than one country.

          Migration and the labor market

          When it comes to migration, Tunisia is dominantly present in media publications. Even as a rather small country, it has been host, home and transit country all at once. As one of the greatest accomplishments Tunisia has been hosting up to a million Libyans since the wake of the Libyan revolution – 10 percent of our own population. It can however be observed -my personal story serves as an example – that once conflict in the home country has been resolved, migrants are eager to return home to build their nations. Hence, I advocate to look more positively towards the opportunities and chances that lie within migration. Particularly, the host community bears a responsibility to equip migrants to the best of their knowledge which will have a wider impact in the long term on global development. In light of Europe’s rapidly ageing population migrants can make up for the shortfalls in the workforce. It should not be forgotten that migrants arrive with skills and contribute to human capital development of receiving countries.

          In the short time, migrants can help meet the need for qualified and unqualified work force in host countries. In the long run, migrants can gain experience and practical education that after their return will fit to the needs of foreign investors. 

          Imen Ben Mohamed is Munich Young Leader 2018 and member of the Tunesian parliament for the Ennahdha party.
          Imen Ben Mohamed is Munich Young Leader 2018 and member of the Tunesian parliament for the Ennahdha party. : Bild: Marc Darchinger

          To fully seize these opportunities of migration, the EU and its neighboring partners must develop an intensified and comprehensive framework for organized migration. In which migrants are seen as a transnational social network strengthening their local socioeconomic activities as well as a source of investment as through remittances they send tremendous amounts of capital back to the countries of origin fostering economic growth. 

          Building bridges between the EU and Tunisia

          I envision that countries like Tunisia that are characterized by the rule of law, democracy, freedom and civil liberties and that share a common value base with the European Union can benefit from preferential associated partnerships. These partnerships could entail extended exchange programs such as Erasmus to the academic and business spheres boosting interaction and diversity. In doing so, the European countries could also further encourage and support their companies to invest in these partner countries. Both will lead to skilled labor forces that benefit all parties involved. 

          In my view, it is not time to build illusory fortresses – it will remain indispensable that we respect the migrants’ rights that are protected by all states party to international conventions and treaties. What we really need to build are intensified and comprehensive partnerships aimed at seeing migration as a positive and necessary cause. I therefore, want to make my case for Tunisia becoming EU’s prime strategic partner in dealing with this issue. Europe and Tunisia alike are facing the same challenges exacerbated by globalization, from terrorism to migration, and therefore can in the long run only tackle these with a common migration and security policy that also benefits all partners on the social and economic levels alike. 

          Imen Ben Mohamed is Munich Young Leader 2018 and member of the Tunesian parliament for the Ennahdha party.

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