Dr. Theodoros Fouskas*
The article examines the participation and representation of immigrants in local public life in Greece. Through 27 semi-structured questionnaires, this research (Fouskas, 2013) is the first attempt to evaluate the operation and representativeness of the Migrant Integration Councils (MICs) of the municipalities of Greece. Research evidence proves that there are serious difficulties and enormous weaknesses regarding immigrant communities and immigrant representation in the MIC. In the majority of the researched municipalities (74%) not all immigrant populations in their jurisdiction are represented in the MIC. Moreover, it is crucial to note that of the immigrants who participated in the process of the formation and further operation of the MIC, the majority (56%) were not elected representatives of immigrant communities. There are severe problems of representation and participation of immigrants in their community associations which raise doubts as to the actual and official representation by those acting as immigrant representatives.
Through the research, concerning the operation of the MICs, the following are established: The lethargic intervention of the institution in the life of local communities is usually justified due to lack of resources; an independent and autonomous budget in municipal financial plans would overcome difficulties and practical weaknesses. However, a significant number of successful activities have been implemented under the current institutional framework with extremely limited financial means, a consequence of the ongoing economic crisis. The difficulties regarding the administrative and scientific support of the interventions planned by MICs are sometimes deal with whilst municipalities do not have the capacity to exclusively appoint specialised personnel for the MIC’s needs. The existence of permanent specialized staff and the necessary administrative structures would ensure institutional memory and viability, strengthening the institution and releasing its function from clientele relations or personal aspirations of MICs participants.
Regarding the immigrant community representativeness in MICs there are enormous weaknesses. The need to establish common criteria for representation of individual groups is imperative, which should not, however, lead to the conclusion that there should be common procedures. Apart from practical unfeasibility, the aim is to implement efficient processes tailored to local cases and the individual characteristics of immigrant communities. An important finding is that there is significant delay in activating the institution, in conjunction with an increased degradation of its operation. In many cases, municipal authorities do not embrace the institution with the necessary trust and do not pursue its operation, which negatively affects the perceptions that immigrants themselves shape about this. The need to establish constant communication bridges with local immigrant communities and associations, to transfer paradigms, practices and solutions at local level between MICs, is of great importance and gravity.
The present economic crisis has urgently put forward the need to establish local policies for social integration of vulnerable groups, especially immigrants. In this context, the MIC’s advisory and consulting role will be vital in the local policies if it is operated with adequate staffing, expertise and the will to contribute, and provided there is true immigrant representation. If MIC is formed as above it could contribute decisively in crucial sectors for the social integration of immigrants, e.g., formal labour market integration, combating undeclared work, actions against racism and xenophobia, fostering of trust in their communities, organization and coordination of immigrants in their associations, revival of immigrants’ interest to care and participate in local matters, removal of barriers that prevent harmonious co-existence, etc. MIC contribution should take place in the frame of deep knowledge of the local area and the particularities of its native and legal immigrant population. The MIC may face limitations in two main areas: its representativeness and its advisory role. Some immigrant communities are not represented despite all efforts. It is important to mention that the main goal of MICs is to increase the participation of foreigners in local public life. The creation and the operation of an MIC must be supported by genuine political will on behalf of the City Council. In some cases, despite the presence of an MIC, local elected representatives do not consult it or do so only after already deciding on matters. Hence, in order to optimise the usefulness of MIC, their role as a consultative body must be placed on an institutional basis, with certain rights and obligations of its members and its associates.
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*Dr. Theodoros Fouskas is a Lecturer at New York College, Greece.
Fouskas, Theodoros (2013) “Representing the unrepresented? Operation and representativeness of Migrant Integration Councils in Greece”, Social Cohesion and Development, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 127-150, ISSN: 1790-9368, words: 7.000.