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Civil society organisations urge EU countries to honour their common agreement on relocating #migrants

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refugee crisisThe Economic and Social Committee say that the EU needs to change the narrative and share the many good stories as an antidote to the fears and worries spread by right-wing populists. It is indispensable for member states to stick to the relocation programme they themselves agreed upon in September 2015. It is unacceptable that nine member states did not relocate any refugees. Europe needs solidarity in order to handle this challenge.
 
The 3rd Migration Forum, an event jointly organised by the European Commission (EC) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), brought together over 200 experts from civil society organisations of the 28 members states to debate burning issues related to migration, such as access to basic needs, resettlement, relocation, family unification, the protection of children, etc.
 
Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos opened the event together with EESC President Georges Dassis"Migration is the most challenging and divisive issue in Europe and we need to tackle it with a unified approach. No country, no city, no organisation can deal with it alone. Civil society's work on the ground and its advice is crucial to successful European migration policy," said the Commissioner.
 
EESC President and former trade unionist Dassis reminded participants that the EESC had long ago called for an asylum and migration policy with a holistic, long-term and solidarity-based approach. "We need to clearly distinguish between refugees and migrants. Regarding refugees, we have not only a moral, but also a legal obligation to welcome them, based on the Geneva Convention." The President pointed out that the Geneva Convention had been established with the people fleeing from Communist Eastern Europe in mind, and it was therefore "unacceptable that some of those countries in particular were now refusing to take in refugees".
 
Changing the narrative – telling the truth
Reporting from the working groups, speakers emphasised the importance of changing the narrative. With growing disparities in EU societies and precarious life situations, fears and concerns about migration are rising. Bigotry and xenophobia, intimidation and lies are "weaponized" for winning elections. "Migration has become a vote-grabbing issue, widely used by populist right-wing parties," said MEP Cécile Kashetu Kyenge, "and we all have to stand up for human dignity."
 
A Syrian refugee, Muhannad Bitar, was invited to tell the story of his journey to Europe -  a journey during which he experienced violence, fear and loss which hesummed up as follows: "During my journey I've seen the best and the worst of Europe".
 
Integration is key – family reunifications and access to work foster integration
 
All participants argued that integration efforts need to be stepped up. It is also crucial to manage the expectations of both refugees and host communities. Refugees are sometimes exposed to toxic environments, particularly in large reception centres and refugee camps. Therefore it is a matter of humanity to speed up relocation. Participants also called for infringement procedures against member states that do not adhere to the 2015 agreement. The EC representative pledged that the EC will not hesitate to use its power under the treaties to enforce it.
 
Family reunification is key for integration. Participants called for safe and legal avenues to facilitate it. They also stressed the need for a more pro-active labour migration policy. EESC member José Antonio Moreno Díaz referred to the problem of labour policy segmentation, calling for a consistent European approach to facilitate migrants' access to work but also to education and vocational training.  Ms. Kyenge pointed to the demand for low-skilled manual work which many migrants were already engaged in.
 
The Belgian city of Mechelen as a role model for successful integration and a diverse society
 
Bart Somers, the award-winning mayor of Mechelen, shared his political approach to make Mechelen a clean, secure, diverse and cohesive society where 128 different nationalities live together. The most important ingredients were security, reclaiming common values and the acceptance that free societies change over time.

European Commission

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €231 million in pre-financing to Slovenia

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The European Commission has disbursed €231 million to Slovenia in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's grant allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Slovenia's recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €2.5 billion in total, consisting of €1.8bn in grants and €705m in loans, over the lifetime of its plan. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80 billion in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states. The Slovenian plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Cyprus

NextGenerationEU: European Commission disburses €157 million in pre-financing to Cyprus

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The European Commission has disbursed €157 million to Cyprus in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country's financial allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The pre-financing payment will help to kick-start the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan. The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the implementation of the investments and reforms outlined in Cyprus' recovery and resilience plan.

The country is set to receive €1.2 billion in total over the lifetime of its plan, with €1 billion provided in grants and €200m in loans. Today's disbursement follows the recent successful implementation of the first borrowing operations under NextGenerationEU. By the end of the year, the Commission intends to raise up to a total of €80bn in long-term funding, to be complemented by short-term EU-Bills, to fund the first planned disbursements to member states under NextGenerationEU. Part of NextGenerationEU, the RRF will provide €723.8bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across member states.

The Cypriot plan is part of the unprecedented EU response to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, fostering the green and digital transitions and strengthening resilience and cohesion in our societies. A press release is available online.

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Belgium

EU Cohesion policy: Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy receive €373 million to support health and social services, SMEs and social inclusion

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The Commission has granted €373 million to five European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) operational programmes (OPs) in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy to help the countries with coronavirus emergency response and repair in the framework of REACT-EU. In Belgium, the modification of the Wallonia OP will make available an additional €64.8m for the acquisition of medical equipment for health services and innovation.

The funds will support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in developing e-commerce, cybersecurity, websites and online stores, as well as the regional green economy through energy efficiency, protection of the environment, development of smart cities and low-carbon public infrastructures. In Germany, in the Federal State of Hessen, €55.4m will support health-related research infrastructure, diagnostic capacity and innovation in universities and other research institutions as well as research, development and innovation investments in the fields of climate and sustainable development. This amendment will also provide support to SMEs and funds for start-ups through an investment fund.

In Sachsen-Anhalt, €75.7m will facilitate cooperation of SMEs and institutions in research, development and innovation, and provide investments and working capital for micro-enterprises affected by the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, the funds will allow investments in the energy efficiency of enterprises, support digital innovation in SMEs and acquiring digital equipment for schools and cultural institutions. In Italy, the national OP ‘Social Inclusion' will receive €90m to promote the social integration of people experiencing severe material deprivation, homelessness or extreme marginalisation, through ‘Housing First' services that combine the provision of immediate housing with enabling social and employment services.

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In Spain, €87m will be added to the ESF OP for Castilla y León to support the self-employed and workers who had their contracts suspended or reduced due to the crisis. The money will also help hard-hit companies avoid layoffs, especially in the tourism sector. Finally, the funds are needed to allow essential social services to continue in a safe way and to ensure educational continuity throughout the pandemic by hiring additional staff.

REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) to Cohesion policy programmes over the course of 2021 and 2022. Measures focus on supporting labour market resilience, jobs, SMEs and low-income families, as well as setting future-proof foundations for the green and digital transitions and a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

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