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“A successful integration and inclusion policy is essential for well-managed and effective migration and asylum”

On 23 September 2020, the European Commission presented the Pact on Migration and Asylum, a project for reforming European migration policies. Sport is mentioned here several times in the “Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027”. As part of our FIRE and FIRE+ projects, we spoke to EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, responsible for Home Affairs. She gives us an exclusive insight into her vision of sport as a tool for inclusion.

What is the European Commission proposition for the new Pact on Migration and Asylum?

YJ: One point I will always be happy to make is that migration is normal. Part of being human is wanting to move, explore and better oneself. In the modern world that means moving to lands of economic opportunity. For the EU that means making sure that those who arrive here to work, do so legally. This is better for those arrivals and better for society. Irregular arrivals only promotes risks.

Sadly, another part of being human is that sometimes the biggest threat we face is from other humans. The EU has an international obligation to provide protection to those facing such threats, be it through war, or through political, religious or sexual persecution.

Last September, the European Commission proposed a new Pact on Migration and Asylum, covering all of the different elements needed for a comprehensive European approach to migration. It sets out improved and faster procedures throughout the asylum and migration system. Central to this is a balance between the principles of fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity. This is crucial for rebuilding trust between Member States and to instil confidence in the capacity of the EU to manage migration.

Following extensive consultations and an honest and thorough assessment of the situation, the Commission proposes to improve the overall system. This includes looking at ways of improving cooperation with the countries of origin and transit, ensuring effective procedures, successful integration of refugees and return of those with no right to stay. No single solution on migration can satisfy all sides, on all aspects – but by working together, the EU can find a common solution.

Could you tell us more about the new Commission’s Action Plan on integration and inclusion?

YJ: In November 2020, the Commission presented a new action plan on Integration and Inclusion for the period 2021-2027. The action plan promotes inclusion for all, recognising the important contribution of migrants to the EU. It also looks at the barriers that can hinder their participation and inclusion in European society. It is built on the principle that inclusive integration requires efforts from both migrants and the host community. That creates a win-win scenario.

A successful integration and inclusion policy is essential for well-managed and effective migration and asylum. It is also necessary for social cohesion and for a dynamic economy that works for all.

The action plan proposes both actions to make policies in the field of education, employment, housing and health overall more inclusive, as well as targeted and tailored support that takes into account the specific needs of migrants. This is a long-term commitment.

National governments are primarily responsible for creating and implementing integration policies. The EU supports them through funding, developing guidance and fostering relevant partnerships. The main actions are based around:

  • Inclusive education and training
  • Improving employment opportunities and skills recognition 
  • Promoting access to health services.
  • Facilitating access to adequate and affordable housing.

In this plan, what role can sport play?

YJ: Sport is an excellent tool to create links between people. This is valid in all contexts. But it can be especially relevant for migrants’ integration. Sport breaks down barriers. Locals and migrants often share the same passion for sport and this helps to go beyond some of the negative narratives to divide people.

More than that, sport is an international language. Football even more so. And because of this everyone is literally on the same pitch. Sport is indeed a great way to talk positively about migration. This is why we cooperate with the UEFA, for example by supporting the project “Football for Unity”. Sport and youth associations will organise this summer football festivals on diversity and inclusion in several European cities (Rome, Budapest, Dublin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Munich and London) in parallel to the UEFA EURO 2020.

Regarding the FIRE project, what is your opinion on initiatives using sport as a mean of inclusion?

YJ: Sport is also great because you do not need to be fluent in a specific language to do sport. It is actually a great way to learn a language. This is valid for both adults and children. Regarding children, sport and playtime in general is very important to complement more formal education times for their development and their inclusion in our societies.

Another very important aspect is that sport always needs volunteers and there are many stories of migrants that became the essential person in charge of the football or judo training in their local communities. It is also important to support sport organisations in training staff, for example through diversity management.

The Commission has funded in the past sport related integration project, under the Asylum Migration and also under Education and Sport related fund. We encourage national authorities to use the funding provide by the EU to support such projects.

As an honorary member of Hammarby Fotboll, would it be something that you would like to see in our club, if it does not happen already?

YJ: Yes! We at Hammarby have a close involvement in the local community in Stockholm. The club have initiated “Society-game” (samhällsmatchen) where the club and the players engage in helping young unemployed people to get a job and also visit schools to engage in preventing dropouts. I would love to see more active initiatives to integrate people through our shared passion in football.

Hammarby is in a part of Stockholm that is quite mixed, with people from many different backgrounds. We have learned to make this a strength, and inclusiveness is a central part of our clubs’ ethos. I am proud to have been involved in a number of integration efforts with Hammarby. Their success really underlines the principle that all integration efforts are local.

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