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UNA Young Professionals Debate Immigration and the EU

August 4, 2011

by James Aldworth, European Affairs Committee Member

On July 20, 2011, fhe Kosciuszko Foundation hosted a UNA Young Professionals event organized by UNA-YP’s  European Affairs Committee.  This focused on the challenges facing the European Union and its immigration policies. It could not have been timelier. Recent press coverage has focused on an increase in asylum applicants to the EU, due to the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric from political leaders within the Union.

The evening started with a short film called Dead End: Afghan Migrants in Greece, which was introduced by Caroline Petit of the UN’s Department of Public Information. This film framed the subsequent panel presentations by providing a stark example of the issues and conditions that greet immigrants when they first try to claim asylum in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. Grainne O’Hara of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees started the panel presentations with insightful facts and figures around refugee populations, while speaking specifically to the film and the issues it raised. Professor Aristide Zolberg of New York University (NYU) provided an enlightening anthropological background to immigration, citing examples in history of forced and unforced migration.

Professor Colette Mazzucelli of NYU opened the debate to European identity and made an impassioned case for a common European identity. She spoke with great energy, and her comments on self-perception resonated particularly with me, also a European. She particularly observed that outside of Europe Europeans tend to “feel” more European and identify with this, however, when in their home countries there is a reversion to a more nationalistic identity.

Emma Diaz, a graduate student at NYU’s School of Global Affairs and a student of Professor Mazzucelli, spoke on the subject of right-wing politics, specifically mentioning the increased political influence that some right-wing parties are enjoying in certain EU countries. Nationalism is a highly emotive subject and one that cannot be separated from the debate on immigration and assimilation. With at least two high-profile political leaders now claiming that “multiculturalism” has failed, this topic clearly requires further attention. Finally, Michael Hodin of the Council of Foreign Relations succeeded in summing up the panelists’ presentations and leading the group into an animated questions and answers session.

Finding the right balance to such a panel is very difficult but the evening, generously hosted and supported by the Kosciuszko Foundation, was stimulating and insightful. A special thank you to our panelists for giving up their time, to Alex Yennimatas from the Greek Permanent Mission to the UN for taking position from the floor, and to the audience for their challenging questions and their support of UNA Young Professionals (formerly YPIC)  of the United Nations Association Southern New York State Division (UNA-SNY)

To contact the European Affairs Committee, please email Committee Director Matthias Resch at ypiceurope@unasouthernny.org

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