When many of the world’s ministers gather this week for the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, migration will be high on the agenda – but for all the wrong reasons.
The phenomenon of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria – small in number but significant in political impact – is likely to dominate the agenda. European delegates, in particular, will reflect on the apparent failures of integration that have radicalized some immigrants and their descendants. It is likely that a line will also be drawn between irregular migration, asylum and the risk of importing terrorism.
Each of these links between migration and violent extremism is relevant and needs to be confronted; but to cast migration as only a negative influence would be wrong. In at least five ways, migration should be part of the solution, too.
Five truths about modern migrants
First, history demonstrates that migration is the most effective way to generate tolerance and cross-cultural understanding. For every failure of integration there are countless successes, manifested through mixed marriages, hybrid arts and cuisine, and cosmopolitan global cities. Far from being a reason to stem migration, the rise of violent extremism should be a reason to promote it.
Second, migrants – and in particular, migrant entrepreneurs – provide an inroad into partnership with the private sector, something US Secretary of State John Kerry identified as critical in his speech on countering violent extremism in Davos, but that has so far proved elusive. Typically, the private sector has been leery of partnering in international initiatives on security, and especially counterterrorism; apart from enterprises led by migrants and their descendants, who often have a personal as well as business interest.
Third, migrants represent the most authentic voice when it comes to speaking out against the propaganda and narratives so effectively espoused by certain violent extremists and terrorist organizations, especially those that purport to speak on behalf of Islam. Controversially, this may also include returning foreign fighters who have been exposed to lies and deception, and whose counter-narratives are likely to be particularly powerful.
Fourth, and given that a significant proportion of violent extremism in Europe and the US currently stems from excluded and disillusioned migrant communities, it is these communities more than any other that truly understands the drivers of radicalization. No amount of university research or think-tank analysis can reach the same level of understanding as the mother of a radicalized son, or wife of an extremist husband.
Fifth, it is likely that the real potential for finding solutions lies within these migrant communities. The Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, which I currently lead, has been established specifically to provide funding for communities to help them counter violent extremism.
This week’s White House summit presents a valuable opportunity to mobilize international support and combat this generational challenge. It is important that the process turns migrants into stakeholders, not scapegoats.
Author: Khalid Koser is Executive Director, Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), Switzerland, and chair of the Global Agenda Council on Migration.
Image: Rescued migrants, who claim to have come from Syria, wait to disembark from an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) patrol boat after arriving at the AFM’s Maritime Squadron base at Haywharf in Valletta’s Marsamxett Harbour, August 28, 2014. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi