Grassroots NGOs: the lungs and heart of the migration system

by Catarina Caldeira da Silva - Senior Policy Advisor for Strategic Relations with the USA and advisor to Action for Education.

My professional experience has exposed me to a political environment that directly impacts the lives of millions of people. Legislation is passed, funds are allocated, monitoring and oversight are at the core of our daily business. Migration issues have been at the forefront of the political debate in the European Parliament since 2015. Having been exposed to the intensity of this debate and the complexity of the choices legislators face, I am not able to identify any other such contentious issue.

I am well aware of the dire situation people fleeing war, terror, devastation, instability and abuse are facing. I am equally aware of the pressure this displacement of people is causing on EU countries, particularly Greece, Malta and Italy. I learned more about the situation in Chios through my daughter, who volunteered there with Action for Education and thereafter being there myself.

This exposure was a unique learning experience, a truly compelling one that has led to a more proactive engagement on my side. It’s hard to be indifferent when you see it first hand.

During my stay, one thing that became clear to me was the unique role that grassroots organisations play.

As I wrote in a small book that collects my impressions on the island, it is hard to imagine the life of refugees on Chios without the hard work of the grassroots groups that provide, with very small means, a daily space of safety and opportunity. I am adamant that these groups are best placed to tell the story to which policymakers should listen attentively. They are stubborn agents of hope, delivering on many fronts with dedication, respect and courage. They work tirelessly behind the scenes, providing the necessary structure and care that separates the dire reality from chaos. They are an asset to the system and therefore they should be recognised accordingly.

If the institutions at the centre of the decision-making process do not open up to the people on the ground we are losing a cumulative intelligence that is invaluable to lawmakers. In the same way that health workers and first responders are indispensable to national health systems, grassroots organisations and their volunteers are the lungs and hearts of the migration system.

A robust migration policy should therefore further empower these organisations, recognising and engaging with them at all relevant levels. Collaboration drives consensus and leads to best practices, optimization of resources and priority setting. This consensus is critical to advance policies and achieve more.

Migration issues will stay with us in the 21st century. But effective answers to this immense challenge - or opportunity! - can only be impactful if they are carried by a broad coalition of stakeholders across economic, political and cultural fora.

Grassroots organizations must not be confined to a small niche. On the contrary, these organisations, and those with whom they must collaborate, must identify new ways to collaborate.

If, like us, you believe in the power of the grassroots in supporting refugees and asylum seekers, join our winter campaign and support increased human rights provision in 2021.

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